n fall of 2017, the English and Communications Department was awarded a new faculty line, and they were going to use it to find a new, full-time first year writing professor. It is now the spring of 2019, and they still don’t have their position.
When they were first awarded the position, English Professor Dr. Karen Dillon was going on sabbatical, and Communications Professor Dr. Natasha Casey was going on sabbatical the following semester. The department used its position to hire a visiting professor to cover some of the slack. He only lasted a semester, however. After that, Dillon was back from sabbatical and the department needed to find an adjunct quickly. In the spring of 2018, they conducted a national search for a new professor to fill up the full-time position. After they found one they really liked and were ready to hire, Dillon said he backed out last minute, at the end of April, to start a screenwriting career in California, leaving the department “high and dry.”
After that, now Department Chair Dillon said they were not going to try any more last minute hires. The English and Communications faculty took on a “serious overload” last semester, and now this semester as well, to conduct their second national search to fill in the position they were awarded two years ago. They narrowed it down to three candidates, and finally found one they really liked and were ready to hire in September of 2018. When it was time for the college to make an offer, they didn’t. The administration said no for budgetary reasons.
The English and Communications Department was not the only department to be denied a new hire. There are several professors retiring this year, and their departments were not yet approved either. Provost Dr. John McClusky said, “The cabinet met [Monday, January 28] to discuss over a dozen open positions across campus. Some are already open, and some are retirements that have been announced.” The cabinet has not yet made a decision. Their meeting was mainly about presenting each open position and prioritizing their importance on student success, enrollment and retention. The president made the final decision after another cabinet meeting.
The reason for the halt in hiring is because the school has been running high deficits for the past two years. Last year, McClusky said the deficit was around $600,000, and they are anticipating an even bigger deficit this year. He assured that Blackburn is not undergoing a financial crisis so much as trying to avoid one. “We’re lucky we had $4.1 million in what’s called a quasi-endowment, so financial reserves,” he added, “We have about $8 million in farms that we could sell if we have to.” Last year, they used $600,000 from the financial reserves to pay off the deficit, but McClusky said “You can’t keep running deficits forever.”
In order to balance the budget, the Board is having administration work on saving a little more on costs each year. Last year, the amount was $300,000, and this upcoming year the Board has given administration a $500,000 amount to save. “Some of that is through changes in retirement policies,” McClusky said, “Some of it came from elective courses that aren’t required for majors. It’s not a half a million from personnel.” Last year, the savings came from keeping ten or 12 faculty positions open, a reduction in retirement benefits and elective courses.
The retirement benefits are going down slightly for faculty. “Until this month,” McClusky said, “Blackburn matched a 2.5% contribution with a 7.5% match. That’s extremely generous these days, and that was reduced to 5%, which is at the high end of typical.” The courses that are being reduced are for majors that often have no students. This will not affect any students who are already enrolled in a certain major, no matter what the administration is going to cut, they have an obligation to ‘teach out’ the entirety of those courses without hindering anyone’s graduation. As far as faculty goes, only about two-thirds of the open positions will be filled, depending on salaries and whether future hires will be on part-time or full-time status. The positions are being prioritized by the cabinet. McClusky said, “They’re all important, but which are most important.”
Whether or not the English and Communications department will get the position awarded to them two years ago was determined by the cabinet and the president. “We’re a high impact department in that 100% of the school, unless you come in with a first year writing credit and a literature credit, everyone comes through our department at some point, and not everyone can say that,” Dillon said, “I think the school recognizes that we have one of the highest needs, it’s kind of like a hunger games sort of contest, but we won that contest two years ago.” Dillon added, however, that her department isn’t more important than anyone else’s. Budget cuts are necessary to keep a business alive, and even though this is a college, it’s a private college that can’t function without money..
The president sent out an email to all students and staff, telling everyone which positions were allocated for the upcoming year. The first year writing teacher position was given back to the English and Communications Department, but a few retiring professors will not have replacements right away, such as Criminal Justice Professor David Camp. The administration also decided to hire new positions in the interest of increasing enrollment and retention rates.