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The Next Chapter for Gordon: The Priorities Committee Process and Outcomes

On January 14, the Gordon College Board of Trustees formally initiated an institutional welfare financial review process for the College, to take place over the spring semester and reach a final recommendation to the Board by May. The institutional welfare financial review involves a formal set of protocols by which a committee of faculty and staff colleagues assist the administration in finding ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues that go beyond the annual budget-planning process. Institutional welfare financial review is less “severe” than a process that might involve financial exigency for the College, and it has a specific timeframe and specific financial goals set by the president and Board of Trustees.

An Overview of the Priorities Committee

A Priorities Committee of 26 individuals met regularly and worked diligently between January 17 and March 28. The charge to the Priorities Committee was to make reductions to build a platform for reinvestment and growth and to reduce the College’s operating budget of approximately $58 million by 7 percent over two years (five percent to be realized in the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2019, and the remaining two percent the following fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2020).

One subcommittee worked with achieving the needed savings through the academic division, while the other subcommittee focused on achieving a $2 million savings through expense reductions or new revenues within the non-academic side of the College’s operating budget. The president met with the Priorities Committee twice to hear of their progress, but did not serve on the committee or have a role in formulating their recommendations. After extensive data review, deliberation and much prayer, the Committee was able to achieve its budget and reinvestment targets in this planning process, which they presented to the President’s Cabinet for further deliberation and review on March 28. The Cabinet deliberated for approximately six weeks, and then the president presented a final recommendation to the Board of Trustees on May 7.

The Outcome of the Committee’s Recommendations

This budget restructuring was a combination of streamlining operating budget lines—which in many cases were already lean—and considering position reductions that involved a combination of attrition (open positions that we decided not to fill), planned and voluntary retirements, and—as the last consideration—involuntary separations. 

On May 10, the outcomes from the Priorities Committee process work was shared with the campus community. The net impact on positions at Gordon from this process: 

  • On the academic side, 11 faculty positions were part of the involuntary separation process, with two of these individuals being offered other options at Gordon. Two additional faculty retirements that will not be replaced are scheduled to take place in 2019. 
  • On the staff side, six positions were reduced as part of an involuntary separation. Another 17 positions (vacancies or planned retirements) were part of budget savings via attrition, as they will not be filled.
  • In total, this means that three percent of the College’s full-time equivalent workforce were part of the involuntary separation process. Another 3.5 percent of vacant (or soon-to-be vacant) positions will not be filled.

Caring for the Gordon Community

Because of the strict parameters in place regarding personnel decisions (both legal and HR/personal privacy reasons), the College, cannot disclose the names of individuals impacted. Even though these positions have been eliminated as part of a budget reset, we care deeply about these colleagues and friends who have served so well in these roles. The College is very grateful for their many contributions to our community. As a token of its gratitude Gordon has sought to offer generous separation benefits to assist these colleagues. Benefits include severance payments (and a fully funded, yearlong terminal sabbatical for faculty), stipends to assist with healthcare coverage and transition expenses, reimbursable tuition scholarships for individuals who want to take classes at Gordon or elsewhere, and a full tuition scholarship for departing employees who have children pursuing an undergraduate degree at Gordon presently or who have students in high school who might want to do this in the coming years. We are able to offer these benefits, in part, thanks to an anonymous donor who shares the College’s desire to ease the transition for these affected colleagues. Departing colleagues also have the opportunity to choose how they say goodbye to the campus and their colleagues; if desired, the College will provide appropriate funds to underwrite these farewells on campus or in smaller settings. 

Evaluation Framework

Both subcommittees approached this important task from multiple perspectives. For the non-academic (known as Administrative and Student Life) subcommittee, this included reviewing services and positions, considering the impact on the campus community, evaluating the impact on revenue generation and exploring areas where efficiency gains were most likely as well as areas most likely to be impacted by the College’s vision for the future.

The challenge for the Academic Subcommittee required even greater levels of data and analysis and a framework by which to evaluate programs and outcomes. Position impacts were not even considered until after the full analysis process was complete. The subcommittee relied on the Dickeson Model of carrying out program prioritization (Dickeson, Robert C., Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services). Additional information and data relating to the mission and context of Gordon College were incorporated into this model. Elements of the subcommittee’s analysis included the following: 

  1. Programs/Majors: History, development and expectations of the program; size, scope and productivity of the program; impact, justification and overall essentiality of the program in terms of other campus programs, the campus as a whole and the community beyond. 
  2. Market Demand: External demand, internal demand and student recruitment.  
  3. Cost: Expenses to teach and support the program and other related expenses. 
  4. Faculty: Academic expertise and availability of faculty; vision for the curriculum and connections to preparation. 

The analysis also included input from several external consultants in terms of identifying opportunities within our context and market, and the College’s former CFO provided senior-level financial analysis for the subcommittee, working full-time on the project for nearly two months. The dean of faculty also solicited input from department chairs to provide information for the committee.

Although this extensive process was thoughtful, strategic, thorough and vetted by multiple stakeholders, it was nonetheless personally and professionally challenging for everyone involved, especially for a highly personal community like Gordon College. Making strategic choices and targeting areas for investment is—unavoidably—a matter of choosing one option over another. This means inevitably making difficult decisions that impact excellent areas of study and personally affect outstanding individuals and teachers.

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