Last month, the Ohio State College of Arts and Sciences Interim Executive Dean and Vice Provost Janet Box-Steffensmeier gathered the chairs and directors of all 38 departments within the college for a meeting.
The issue at hand: The college has lost nearly $10.5 million due to a steady decline in enrollment, measured by credit hours, since 2015.
While other colleges saw an increase in enrolled credit hours and related revenues, Arts and Sciences has lost 26,175 credit hours since 2015. This follows a national trend that shows arts and sciences majors are becoming less popular compared with other disciplines, such as engineering and business majors, Box-Steffensmeier said.
As a result, the college will strategize, restructure and rebrand, Box-Steffensmeier said to the crowd. It is restructuring its general education curriculum. She announced a “hiring hold” for some vacant faculty positions and said that the college will look for ways to consolidate jobs.
Unclear is how long the hiring hold will last, and how many positions could be affected. Box-Steffensmeier said, however, that there will be no layoffs.
“I do think Arts and Sciences are at a crossroads right now, for a number of reasons,” Box-Steffensmeier said. “We’re redoing our [general education], so we have to make some decisions about where we’re going as a university and as Arts and Sciences.”
Making revisions to the GE curriculum is a start to how the college plans to increase enrollment and, in theory, revenues.
“More and more students at Ohio State, because of our access and affordability initiatives, are coming in with one or two years of college already done,” Box-Steffensmeier said. “That’s not going to decrease; that’s going to increase. In many ways, the large GE courses help pay for smaller, upper-division courses and one-on-one instruction in music or small language instructors and writing instructors, and has subsidized our research agenda.”
At the heart of the GE curriculum changes is Richard Fletcher, associate professor in the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy, chair of the ASC Faculty Senate and member of the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee.
He said in an email that while the planning committee focused on the vision for teaching and structure of the curriculum, it did not analyze costs or consequences or examine how to implement the solutions that needed approval.
“While we are working towards the best possible GE curriculum for every student at OSU, and hope that the proposal will lead to positive impacts for the College of Arts and Sciences, in order to do our work, we have to ensure that, at a minimum, it does not result in a negative impact for the college,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the ASC Senate needs a “clear written description of expected impacts” as they would affect financial and human resources, teaching resources and infrastructure, so the Senate can make a responsible and educated decision to create a unified GE structure for the university.
“I am both hopeful, but also wary given that we cannot at this time know the impact on the college if we proceed with this GE proposal as it currently stands,” Fletcher said.
Another concern Fletcher said he has with the GE proposal in its present form is that it omits a world language requirement from the university GE, which Fletcher said has come up many times in ASC Senate meetings but still does not appear in the proposal.
“We have not been afforded the necessary time and opportunity to make our case to the rest of the university and, as such, have not been invited to play our leadership role in the creation of the new GE,” Fletcher said. “So, even beyond the budgetary impact & other practical issues of implementation & impact, there are still many questions that we as a college need to work through before the proposal can live up to its vision for a GE for the whole university and for current and future students as global citizens.”
Another issue the college must deal with is the attrition of faculty and staff members in the past decade. The only group of employees that has increased is associate faculty members, which are not permanent positions, although they are important in the functioning of the college and its research.
“The term staff that is going up is actually considered a good thing because it reflects research growth,” Box-Steffensmeier said. “Most of the staff that are in term and temporary positions are on grants.”
Term and temporary faculty have increased by 20 people, from 304 in fall 2011 to 324 in fall 2018.
“You have the same amount of work and fewer people to do it, so how exactly will that work out?” —Lauren Squires, tenured associate professor in the Department of English
Kevin Leonardi, senior director of communications and marketing at ASC, said the increase in staff as it relates to research funding could consist of faculty principal investigators getting an outside funding award for a project to hire someone for help. Last year was record-setting for research funding awarded to the college, which was $105 million.
Meanwhile, tenure-track faculty — professors, assistant professors and associate professors — has decreased from 991 in fall 2011 to 919 this year.
Leonardi said that in some cases, faculty members retire and their positions are not replaced.
Lauren Squires, a tenured associate professor in the Department of English, said that in the six years she’s worked at Ohio State, she has watched her department shrink due to retirements and people leaving for teaching opportunities at other universities.
Squires said she, along with other faculty members, are concerned about bearing the extra workload these absences create, especially since it is unclear if there will be additional compensation.
“That’s just a natural question, right?” Squires said. “You have the same amount of work and fewer people to do it, so how exactly will that work out?”
Box-Steffensmeier said one strategy being implemented to help consolidate jobs is the creation of “career pathways,” which provide room for growth among faculty and staff in the college.
For example, if the fiscal human resource person in the Department of Mathematics hit their career top with no more room for promotion within their department, a career pathway will be created to absorb the same roles in the Department of Statistics as well, which would ultimately save money in both departments.
“What we are doing is trying to create better career pathways so we can give a pay increase to do the job now for two departments,” Box-Steffensmeier said.
While leaving positions unfulfilled is a method for saving money in the short term, Box-Steffensmeier said the department leadership must consider how this affects students — particularly those in the graduate programs.
Trevon Logan, a faculty fellow for special projects and professor in the Department of Economics, is working closely with developing the initiatives that the ASC hopes to bring about in the coming years.
“What’s been happening for the last several years is that faculty retires and are not replaced, because that saves us money,” Logan said. “If people want raises, then that’s where they come from. People believe that there’s a magic drawer of money somewhere in the president’s office that he can just reach into and throw it at people, and it doesn’t work that way at the university. What that also means is that we have to look at ourselves structurally, as a college. We have to also think about being strategic.”
Part of this strategy, Logan said, is to carefully look at the current market for Ph.D.s and use this information to decide how many to produce in the college’s graduate programs.
Box-Steffensmeier confirmed that admission numbers in graduate programs will be shrinking, but she does not yet know by how much. She said current graduate students will not be affected.
“People believe that there’s a magic drawer of money somewhere in the president’s office that he can just reach into and throw it at people, and it doesn’t work that way at the university.” —Trevon Logan, professor in the Department of Economics
Another issue facing the college is that its financial commitments are overwhelming the total cash balances of the college, Box-Steffensmeier said. As a result, she said the college will examine future commitments without going back on any previous commitments or money promised in previous budgets to different programs and initiatives. In the long run, she said she believes this strategy should save some money.
Box-Steffensmeier said another goal of the college is to get all of the departments on the same page and evolve as a single unit moving forward. To do this, it needs to find a way to stay in the black in their departmental financial operations.
“Some departments are deficit spending, and we’ve got to keep that from happening,” Box-Steffensmeier said. “Frankly, we need to balance it at all the unit levels to make it work at the top.”
Additionally, the humanities centers underwent a consolidation and restructuring this summer as six formerly autonomous bodies were combined into one body governed by the Humanities Institute.
Peter Hahn, professor and divisional dean of Arts and Humanities, said in an email that the new structure preserved the intellectual identities of all six centers, but placed them in a more collaborative environment, which led to higher efficiency in management.
“This change followed two years of study of budgets, academic enrollments patterns, research productivity and public programs, as well as extensive conversations with stakeholders,” Hahn said.
Despite the recent downturn in enrollment — and therefore revenue — in the eight years since the ASC’s inception, both Box-Steffensmeier and Leonardi said they are confident some of the plans developed by the ASC’s leadership will boost involvement and enrollment.
These plans include offering more summer courses, online courses, cross-college partnerships and options for students to earn certificates in order to make them more marketable and competitive employees.
“Certificates are something that most of the other colleges have been very nimble on but we haven’t, and we are hoping to soon launch two,” Box-Steffensmeier said. “The two that are closest [to launching] are sports media and diversity. These are considered micro-credentials, which seem very hot when I talk to the student advisory board. I think the sky is the limit with these.”
“What we know from the job market that you’ll pursue over the course of your career is it’s not that you just are going to hold six or seven jobs, you’re going to have six or seven careers … Nothing prepares you better for that than a liberal arts education. We have not been at the forefront of telling that story.” —Trevon Logan, professor in the Department of Economics
The advantage of offering certificates is twofold, Logan said. It gives current students across the university a way to enhance their skill sets in a particular area before entering the professional world, and creates a new market for people who are already in the workforce to take a sequence of classes that will teach them new skills to help them in their current field.
Logan said an example could be a nurse deciding that to be more helpful to and involved with her patients, she could earn a certificate in Somali language and literature in order to better connect with the patients she treats from the large Somali community in Columbus.
“Those are the sorts of really practical things that we can do to increase our reach outside of the existing student population here, or for existing students,” Logan said. “It allows them to show employers and others that they have a specialization in a certain area.”
Logan emphasized that one of the most important things the college can do is inform people of the data that suggests the value of a liberal arts education in today’s job market.
“What we know from the job market that you’ll pursue over the course of your career is it’s not that you just are going to hold six or seven jobs, you’re going to have six or seven careers,” Logan said. “Nothing prepares you better for that than a liberal arts education. We have not been at the forefront of telling that story.”