Pacific Lutheran University will cut 36 positions, eliminate majors to fill budget hole

TACOMA, Wash. — Pacific Lutheran University will cut 36 full-time positions to stabilize its budget after a months-long review by faculty of potential reductions.

The cuts will eliminate majors in German and Nordic Studies, minors in Classical Studies, German and Norwegian, and the Master of Science in Finance degree, according to a news release shared with The News Tribune.

“Our campus continues to embrace our commitment to be an inclusive, rigorous, and innovative university in the Lutheran tradition,” PLU president Allan Belton said in a statement. “PLU has always been accountable to the needs of our students and the vision of our faculty. While difficult, this work is an essential step in our strategic plan, and will allow PLU to remain true to its mission.”

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Course offerings won’t be impacted until the 2022–23 academic year, according to PLU. In other words, the university will work with students to complete their major or minor if they are already enrolled.

The cuts will also not impact graduation plans, scholarships or other student aid.

The reductions impact not just one department but departments across the university, according to Antonios Finitsis, an associate professor in PLU’s religion department. Finitsis also served as chair of the Faculty Joint Commission, which is composed of 20 faculty representatives and was responsible for reviewing PLU enrollment data, the demand for majors, minors, and graduate programs and the faculty needed to support them.

“Even though it was painful, upsetting, anxiety-generating work, we did the absolute best we could,’' Finitsis told The News Tribune. “I handed in the recommendations knowing we couldn’t have done any better.”

The committee shared the recommendations at the end of March, which was approved by the Board of Regents.

“We are confident that the alignment of this difficult work with other important initiatives taking place around campus will help sustain PLU for many years to come,” Ed Grogan, chair of the PLU Board of Regents, said in a statement. “This pandemic has taught us with certainty that we must continue to innovate in ways that build on our strengths, live our values, increase student opportunities, and expand equitable access to transformative education.”

The Parkland university’s budget totals about $85 million. PLU employs more than 300 faculty members and serves roughly 3,000 students.

Belton told faculty last November that the university was facing financial exigency stemming from declining enrollment, anticipated budget shortfalls and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

PLU’s Faculty Handbook defines financial exigency as a “situation in which the university faces an imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole … .”

Leaders determined the university needed to shed $4 million to stabilize its budget.

The FJC previously estimated a minimum reduction of 40 full-time employees, but was able to save some positions by finding ways to boost the university’s revenue generation, such as adding courses with high demand. PLU recently added a new major in criminal justice.

PLU and other colleges across the country have faced decreasing enrollment. Post-secondary enrollments declined 2.5 percent in fall 2020, nearly twice what was reported in fall 2019, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

PLU leaders say the cuts were necessary to ensure the university can thrive into the future.

“I believe that the Board of Regents’ decision finds the balance between preserving our academic richness and achieving the savings we need to ensure the long-term financial stability of the university,” said Belton.

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