After meeting with the University staff on Friday, Nov. 2, President Baenninger attended the weekly Student Government meeting on Nov. 4 to discuss financial changes to Drew’s budget that have already been set in motion.
In the meeting, President Baenninger explained that the University, which has been operating on a deficit for close to a decade, has been doing so out of a need to continue “fixing what is broken.” Despite the fact that enrollment is up by 40 percent from 2015 and new programs have been created to attract more students, the university has implemented a series of budget cuts that will affect operational expenses, auxiliary services, employee benefits and staff size, with a predicted 56 cuts of staff positions.
Following a question asked by Senator Cassie Allen (‘21), the President revealed that with the new financial plan, Drew should no longer be operating on a deficit by 2022.
The revisions to the University’s budget were designed in part by using the following three principles, which were highlighted by Baenninger during the meeting: focusing on student learning, spending tuition dollars carefully and benchmarking against other universities. As part of the research process, the administration contrasted aspects such as Drew’s staffing structure to that of our peer institutions. Through this process, the administration realized that Drew offers its employees greater benefits than comparable schools and that consequently, they are a viable option to cut in their efforts to reduce the deficit.
One of the benefits that will be cut is the payment of a portion of the healthcare supplementary to Medicare for retired staff and faculty members. Additionally, in 2020 the lease for the Acorn Academy, the daycare center on campus, will expire. Since the daycare is also operating on a deficit, Drew will try to find a different provider; however, there is no guarantee this will happen. The Acorn Academy currently has 63 children enrolled, 31 of which are affiliated with either faculty, staff or alumni of Drew, and employ 22 Drew students. Shehab Marzouk (‘20), Vice President of Student Government, asked whether the President anticipated these benefit cuts would affect whether or not professors wanted to teach at Drew, impacting the quality of education. “It might have attracted some people before,” said Baenninger. “But it shouldn’t impact their decision that greatly, considering Drew’s [benefits] are just as good as anyone else’s.” President Baenninger also noted that in the long term, professors salaries should go up.
According to Baenninger, when she took over in 2015, salaries had not been raised in five years. With the new budget, there will be a three percent increase in the compensation pool so that faculty and staff can be paid more fairly.
Also through benchmarking, it was reported that Drew’s Public Safety Department is nearly twice the size as most institutions of the same size despite Drew having a lower crime rate. In order to restructure the department and reduce the size of Public Safety on campus, there will be a committee created which will appoint Student Government representatives from the three schools in order to obtain the students’ input.
Other changes the University will undergo include closing an academic program in the Caspersen School — a low residency program in poetry — and changes to the way commencement is organized. In the future, a location will be decided upon days in advance (Mead Lawn or the Simon Forum) rather than having two different setups prepared.
Cara Bradshaw (‘05), a Drew alumna, spouse of a faculty member, former university employee and parent of a current student, expressed displeasure about the changes. “Change is necessary — yes. But my concern is that while the salaries of lower and mid-level staff and faculty have stagnated, administrators' salaries have risen.” She continued, “Drew is bleeding good people and those who remain, operate in a culture of frustration and fear...It all feels too little, too late, and hinders Drew's ability to attract and retain a competitive workforce. In the end, this will undoubtedly negatively impact the student experience.”
Overall, the budgetary overhaul as a result of Drew’s static deficit will result in a number of changes in the coming months, including staff cuts, benefit reductions, the expiration of the Acorn Academy’s contract and restructuring of Public Safety. Far from being inconsequential, these changes seek to fundamentally change the operations of Drew in hopes of reducing the deficit.
This article has been updated from the previous week’s publication. It adds more detail about certain changes coming to Drew and corrects some misleading phrases in the conclusion paragraph.