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NC college may cut hard science majors but keep gender and sexuality studies

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Leaders at a liberal arts college in North Carolina want to remove some of the school’s oldest majors like math and physics while leaving new disciplines like gender and sexuality studies untouched, upsetting many faculty members and students.  

Faculty at Guilford College, a 183-year-old liberal arts school in Greensboro that has about 1,500 undergraduates enrolled, passed a vote of no confidence Wednesday after the college's interim president, Carol Moore, announced proposed budget cuts and layoffs impacting tenured faculty across 15 majors.

Moore released an initial series of recommendations to the Guilford board of trustees on Nov. 6 as the college, like many others, searches for ways to get on track financially during the pandemic. 

The proposed fiscal cuts come as the school faces a million-dollar budget deficit. 

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, college enrollment has dropped across the country. Online classes mean that schools have to pay for new technology even as they lose income from students not being able to live in campus housing.

For Guilford, which already faced budget problems before the pandemic, these trends forced leaders to take decisive action. Under Moore’s proposed plan, Guilford College would remove 15 majors. After the cut, the school will have 23 majors. 

“There is nothing easy about parting ways with great people who have served our mission and students so well,” said Moore in a statement. “Everyone in our community feels that sense of loss. As we support our colleagues in transition, we must also rally together in pursuit of necessary changes that position us to thrive while navigating a whole new world of opportunities and complexities.”

According to The College Fix, majors threatened by Moore’s plan include physics, chemistry, science education, creative writing, community and justice studies, forensic biology, geology and earth sciences, history, mathematics, modern language, peace and conflict studies, philosophy, religious studies, sociology and anthropology.

Among the 23 majors that would remain are African American Studies and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Moore, who was named interim president in August, told the news outlet that the cuts are part of her plan to bridge a $7 million budget deficit. 

According to a statement released by the college, her proposed plan came after "extensive analysis of academic and administrative programs and structures" that began in September. The findings of which were said to have been reviewed by faculty committees, the program prioritization task force and the president’s cabinet. 

If the school discontinues a major, students currently studying the subject can continue their work in it, the announcement stated. Even after the cuts, students will still be able to take minors in the discontinued subjects.

“If a major that is reviewed is removed, students will still be able to graduate with their major and the program will continue to be available as a minor,” Moore clarified during a town hall meeting on Zoom. “This is a standard process. Every institution goes through this on a cyclical basis. Majors come into popularity and then they fade out of popularity and the institution cannot be all things to all people.”

Concerned students responded to the proposed cuts by forming a Facebook group titled “Save Guilford College.” They wrote an open letter to the school’s leaders.

“We recognize that some change is necessary to ensure the college is sustainable during this current inhospitable climate for small liberal arts schools. But the draconian cuts that are currently being considered threaten to destroy the very identity of the school we love,” the letter reads. 

“We fear that this new ‘version’ of Guilford will be so academically impoverished that it will have lost its credibility as a true liberal arts institution, and it will fail to attract the necessary number of students to even sustain the debt that recent administrations have incurred.”

Many former students in the Facebook group said they want to give the school money to help fix the budget gap. Still, Moore told The College Fix that the deficit wasn’t a temporary problem. Without a major financial change, the school would have to fill it every year.

During a meeting on Wednesday, faculty members voted to issue a vote of no confidence in both Moore and the board of trustees.

“The vote of no confidence reflects a deep dissatisfaction with the interim president who was hired in August by the Board of Trustees without a traditional national higher ed search process,” Guilford College Professor Heather Hayton told FOX8. “It also reflects a deep distrust of the board’s leadership, and their ability to govern the college.”

Faculty members told The College Fix that some of the cuts don’t make financial sense.

Guilford Physics Department Chair Thom Espinola said he was “perplexed” by the school’s decision to cut physics as a major and that a cost-benefit study he commissioned demonstrated that cutting the department would cost the school more money.

The majors aren’t the only subjects under school scrutiny. Guilford College’s school newspaper reported that the college will also review administrative departments and school-funded student groups.

The school’s board of trustees will meet in December to further discuss how to approach the school’s budget issues.

“It’s very hard to say, ‘Oh, my major that I love so much and my professors that I love so much at Guilford are now no longer popular,’” said Moore. “But when you get down to the numbers, the college has the budget, and like everyone else, we have to pay our bills."

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