Butler University expects $5 to $6 million losses in revenue

Butler has enacted a hiring freeze, as well as other measures, in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Collegian file photo. 

JESSICA LEE | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | jelee2@butler.edu

In a video message from Butler President James Danko to faculty on March 31, Danko said the university may face a budget cut of at least 20%, but likely more. This is due to a predicted loss of $5 to $6 million in revenue from student housing, dining and other expected streams of income during the summer, such as summer camps, summer housing and campus events.

In response, Butler University has put in place a hiring freeze, meaning the institution will not fill an open position unless it is absolutely necessary.

The hiring freeze is one of the three immediate steps — the other steps being suspending both university travel and campus master planning — the university has taken in preparation of a loss in revenue. 

“It’s just not prudent to go ahead and hire people,” Danko said of the hiring freeze in the video.

In the video, Danko said 60% of expenses go towards faculty salaries and benefits; he and the senior leadership have also discussed salary cuts at their level.

The video is not available on Butler’s public YouTube channel and was obtained by The Butler Collegian.

Kathryn Morris, provost and vice president for academic affairs, confirmed that the university is preparing itself for a 20% loss in revenue.

The hiring freeze especially affects those who are hired on a semester-to-semester basis, such as adjunct faculty.

According to the Butler University Fact Book’s Common Data Set in 2019-20, about 41% of faculty was part-time in the fall. There is no available data for the spring semester. It defined part-time as “adjuncts and other instructors being paid solely for part-time classroom instruction.” A third of part-time faculty is counted toward the 11-1 student-faculty ratio.

Morris said the university has, in general, been able to offer the same courses, although the instructor, time or room may have changed.

“So our goal was to say, if somebody hasn’t been hired for the fall semester already, we’re just gonna not hire them unless it’s absolutely critical,” Morris said, adding that this is a practice to “preserve the resources.”

It’s not entirely true that the university is not hiring adjuncts, Morris said.

If an adjunct instructor was already hired for the fall semester, they will continue to work. If a full-time faculty member has external funding for scholarly work or research that provides for someone to replace them in a classroom, then an adjunct instructor could be hired. If nobody else on campus is capable of teaching the course, then an adjunct instructor could be hired.

“We have a lot of really excellent adjuncts, and I am certain that there are some cases on campus where it would be better to retain an adjunct that we’re not retaining right at this very moment,” Morris said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t ever hire them again in the future, and hopefully things will settle down and we’ll get back to a more normal operational system. But I would say that by and large, that is not something that I am concerned about.”

***

The hiring freeze was put in place right when students were about to register for fall semester classes, and some faculty positions were not filled yet. 

On April 3, students in the school of music received an email stating that all secondary lessons taught by adjunct faculty have been suspended for the fall semester.

Students in the school of music take secondary lessons to learn about another instrument in addition to their primary instrument. According to the Music Faculty & Staff webpage, a count of 35 out of 70 of their faculty are adjuncts.

David Murray, director of the school of music, said adjunct faculty will still teach classes that are required, such as primary lessons. There are some adjuncts — two to four that Murray thought off the top of his head — that only teach secondary lessons.

“They know it’s a temporary situation, and I don’t think it impacts them too much,” Murray said.

Richard Dole, a trombone adjunct instructor, has taught only secondary lessons for the past few semesters at Butler. 

He does know that he would have taught two, maybe three students, in secondary lessons, but is unsure if he is going to teach a major lesson.

Dole said the whole situation is frustrating, and everything is up in the air.

“Because we had talked so long about how to improve the department and things we can bring to the table,” Dole said. “And like okay, well now there’s a budget crunch though. All of you are gone.”

Dole said he received an email from Murray — to either all faculty or just the adjuncts, he was not sure — about the suspended secondary lessons. He, along with his other colleagues in the jazz studies department, was surprised and confused.

“Maybe if they had said like, ‘Hey, we don’t know what’s going to happen, this is our plan A and plan B,’” Dole said. “If there’s a budget crisis, then all of us would say, ‘Okay, yeah, that would make sense.’ You know? It sucks for us but it makes sense. But we could we could deal with it as it came, but this has no preamble anything just — bam. It’s kind of shocking.” 

Dole has been an adjunct for 20 years for various schools, and he knows by now that some years, there’s a lot of classes and some years, there’s none; it’s nothing that he relies on for a living, he said.

Annie Brown, a junior jazz studies major, said the expertise adjunct instructors like Dole bring is valuable.

“I speak for all of them when I say that they’re both amazing educators and performers,” Brown said.

Dole is also a freelance musician. The money he made being an adjunct was just a nice bonus, something that he forgot he was getting at the end of the month. So it hasn’t affected his planning for the fall.

“I make my living playing my instrument,” Dole said. 

He supposes he could take the “jaded musician approach.” It’s like this at every place he, and the other musicians, has taught at Dole said. So they’re used to it — on the other hand, though, it’s still frustrating.

“We’ve been working hard to create a culture with the students and between the faculty and just to know that you — to feel like you’re expendable is…” Dole trailed off only to say, “I thought maybe this is going to be different, but I don’t know.”

Dole — who is uncertain of his own semester at Butler and freelance opportunities — said his biggest concern, though, is whether Butler is delivering the education and experience the school promised to students.

“I think the most important thing is just the students’ access to the education that they wanted and were told that they could have,” Dole said, adding that students have a lot of choices on where to go to school, and they chose Butler — which doesn’t come cheap.

The benefit of secondary classes, Murray said, was very simple: “knowledge is power.” 

Secondary lessons are not a degree requirement for all majors. In fact, Murray said they are usually not a degree requirement — “it’s just for their extra knowledge, their extra fulfillment personally.”

It is, however, required for Brown’s jazz studies degree. In fact, students pay for secondary lessons on top of their tuition. Brown had originally thought the fee covered paying adjunct faculty, but now she isn’t sure.

Jonathan Padgett, a sophomore music education major with a jazz music studies emphasis, said he takes secondary lessons “as more of like a therapeutic thing.”

Padgett is considering just taking lessons from an adjunct who was supposed to be his secondary lesson instructor and paying him out of pocket.

“It’s hard enough to pay for the lessons, because we pay for the secondary lessons on top of, like, our tuition already,” Padget said. “But if I have to do it out of pocket, then my scholarship can’t help me out at all. It just made it harder financially.”

Underclassmen wouldn’t just be missing out on the lessons and learning from the adjunct instructors, but they would also be missing out on networking. Brown credited a lot of opportunities to her adjunct instructors.

“Music is a performance-based occupation,” Dole said. “I think it really helps to have people that are working in that field professionally, to show the students how it’s done, a different perspective of how to make a living in the industry.” 

***

Janet Clifton-Gaw, an adjunct instructor in health sciences, was slated to teach three labs in the fall. She will no longer be teaching them.

“My gut instinct is this was a big dramatic step, instead of a death by a thousand cuts, to try to make sure that financially [Butler was] responsible with what was happening,” Clifton-Glaw said. 

Clifton-Gaw is currently working on the front lines at a hospital. She isn’t working with respirators or ventilators, but she said she is the one who limits access to those patients.

“It’s been a cascade of terror,” Clifton-Gaw said.

This isn’t her normal full-time job, though, nor is it her normal part-time job. Clifton-Gaw’s full-time job is being an athletic trainer at Hamilton County schools; her part-time job is teaching human anatomy and physiology labs at Butler.

She’s assuming that she’ll be back in high school come fall, and if that happens, she’d like to volunteer to teach at Butler — but it would be without pay.

“I’m very fortunate in that I have the capability and a very strong desire to continue to teach for Butler,” Clifton-Gaw said.

Clifton-Gaw sends videos to her lab students through Canvas, often in the setting of the hospital she’s working in, to tell them about her work and what she’s experiencing so they can get a perspective from somebody with “boots on the ground.”

Senior biology major Mercedes Vasquez is currently in Clifton-Gaw’s lab.

“We’re looking to gain experience and learn from people who have experience treating patients,” Vasquez said. “So I think her perspective from treating patients helps us develop skills as we’re learning new information.”

Clifton-Gaw hasn’t sat down with her supervisor yet to ask if she can volunteer to teach next semester, but she said the offer was in a memo that went out to faculty.

“It was very hard — probably the best supervisor I’ve ever had in my 30-year professional career — to have to have her tell me that there were gonna have to be changes,” Clifton-Gaw said. “And she didn’t want to do it.”

Provost Morris said departments have asked their full-time faculty to teach more classes in absence of adjuncts.

“I think it was a stressful experience to go through for our teams, for me, for our department chairs and for our faculty,” Morris said. “We don’t want them to teach as much as they are in the fall semester in an ongoing way because our faculty are teacher-scholars.”

Professors who are on a tenure track, Morris said, have been protected, in that they are still encouraged to progress toward tenure and pay attention to their scholarly work to do so.

In a lot of cases, Morris said, Butler doesn’t need to offer those classes in which adjuncts provide special expertise.

“In a lot of cases, it’s actually they’re helping to supplement what we’re already doing, that there are plenty of other people on campus who have that expertise,” Morris said. “For that reason, I don’t think that students will, in a general way suffer from us not hiring adjuncts for the fall semester.”

Dole said when the opportunity arises, he can’t wait to get back.

Clifton-Gaw remains hopeful that she will be back at Butler, and that the Bulldogs will be together soon.

“So, it’s — change is hard, and it’s painful on so many levels and I think that having the carpet pulled out from underneath everybody at the same time is what makes this frightening,” Clifton-Gaw said. “But I think things will be better.”

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