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Bradley faculty plan a walkout as president defends proposed cuts

Jeff Smudde

Faculty and students at Bradley University are planning to walk out of classrooms and protest propose academic cuts throughout the course of several hours on Tuesday.

It's the latest sign of public discontentment since President Stephen Standifird first announced the cutbacks in late July. Standifird said the university is running a $13 million operational deficit and needs to shave 10% of its costs to balance the books. Most of those cuts are expected to come from instructional costs. He wants to have that process wrapped up by the end of the year.

Faculty have been skeptical both about the "urgency and magnitude" of the proposed cuts, and the process used to determine which programs are up for discontinuation. Standifird proposed ending 17 programs, and scaling back an additional five to become part of the core curriculum, rather than freestanding majors or concentrations.

Sarah Wilhoit is an assistant visiting professor of integrated humanities in Bradley's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her position will be terminated in May. Neither the Women and Gender Studies nor English programs she teaches classes for are up for discontinuation.

She said many of the cuts are impacting affiliate faculty who work on a contractual basis. Wilhoit said it's unclear who will be teaching classes if departments don't have enough faculty to staff them.

"You can imagine that class sizes are going to increase, and that there is not going to be enough professors to have this sort of one-on-one individualized attention that Bradley's students expect," she said.

The universityis proposing the elimination of 68 positions, including 47 current employees and 21 vacancies or known upcoming retirements. Standifird said that count does include affiliate faculty.

Standifird said the number of affiliate faculty positions are something the college Deans assess regularly as part of their normal processes.

"That's something we will look at every single year, actually. So these, they're obviously being discussed as part of these cuts. And that's appropriate that we do so," he said. "It's the kind of thing that we would look at on a continuous basis to make sure that we are staffing at the appropriate level in the right areas."

Wilhoit is organizing the walkout, which will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Founders Circle. She said she wants students, faculty, and staff to speak out with one voice against the plan.

"A major concern of the proposed program discontinuations and layoffs is that it's going to irreparably harm Bradley University's academic reputation. And that's something I've been hearing a lot from students in particular. So I think that needs to be addressed loudly and clearly by those who come to Bradley expecting a particular type of institution, and that promise is not being met," she said.

Standifird said he's aware of the planned walkout and protest.

"I really respect the interest of my colleagues wanting to express their concerns," he said. "I will say that they have been very thoughtful about working with us to make sure we have specific rules, regulations around how you do protests on campus, and they've been very thoughtful about working with us to make sure that's done an appropriate way. And I support the right to do so."

Standifird said Bradley University remains in a strong position, but he believes tough decisions and changes must be made to continue founder Lydia Moss Bradley's vision to prepare students for success in today's environment.

"I don't talk about being optimistic. Optimism assumes hope. Confidence suggests you have a plan. And we have a very clear plan on how we're going to move forward. And I'm very confident that we're going to get there," Standifird said.

But Wilhoit has her doubts about if what's happening at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for one, truly aligns with Bradley's intentions. She said there are fears Bradley may shift more towards vocational education.

"The liberal arts part of this liberal arts college is what's taking the hardest hit. So I think there's a fear that we're moving away from Lydia Moss Bradley's sort of vision for the college," Wilhoit said. "She describes the central vision as centering on the useful arts and sciences. And those are the exactly the programs that we're losing."

A long-form interview with President Standifird will air in Tuesday's episode of WCBU's All Things Peoria at 5 p.m.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.