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Faculty Joint Committee

Our priority is our students—their learning and their success. This priority drives all of our decisions and is at the heart of everything we do, from increasing scholarship opportunities to investing in new academic programs and developing new resources that support students.

The changes we are experiencing at PLU right now are about proactively taking control of PLU’s future and setting our own path. Our ultimate objective is to ensure that PLU remains a sustainable learning community that fulfills our mission with exceptionally strong academic programs grounded in the liberal arts, informed by global perspective, and delivered by faculty members uniquely committed to guiding students on their vocational journey.

Click to watch a video with PLU faculty members—all who have experience serving on the committee—explaining the FJC process.
A changing higher education landscape and PLU

The higher education landscape is changing. Colleges nationwide are facing rising costs, decreasing revenue, and, demographically, a smaller pool of applicants—trends that were emerging before the pandemic.

Changing demographics have led to smaller cohorts of students entering college over the past 10 years or so, a pattern we know will only accelerate as we approach 2025 and beyond (given the dip in birth rate that accompanied the 2008 recession). Simply put: we have fewer undergraduate students at PLU now than we did 10 years ago, and we anticipate that trend will only continue into the next decade. We made an initial adjustment for these shifts in 2016-2017, and have determined that it is time to do so again. This time, armed with projections about enrollment trends into the next decade, we will make adjustments to see us through and beyond the 2025 demographic “cliff.” 

Is this happening because of COVID-19?

The higher education landscape is changing. Universities nationwide are facing rising costs, decreasing revenue, and a smaller pool of applicants. COVID-19 has certainly accelerated our need for a long-term solution, and there is reason to imagine that the pandemic may change the immediate plans of students who would otherwise be college-going, but the circumstances we are addressing are not solely related to the pandemic.

Faculty Joint Committee process

One way we have responded to these challenges is by engaging an established faculty process that considers these questions. The faculty at PLU are now involved in an intensive, university-wide process of reviewing and revising our academic programs. The purpose of this initiative is to make sure we’re offering the programs that best respond to student interests while effectively stewarding our resources and aligning with our commitment to offering liberal arts and professional education in the tradition of Lutheran higher education. This work will pave the way for continued growth in new fields that our 21st-century students are interested in studying, and that meet the world’s greatest needs.

The project will began in November, when the president convened the Faculty Joint Committee to ensure that PLU has fiscal alignment between the programs it offers, the faculty needed to support those programs, and the demand for those majors, minors, and graduate programs by students. The committee—composed of twenty faculty representatives from every academic division and school—will review enrollment data, solicit reports from academic leaders to understand their connection to the university’s educational mission, and analyze PLU’s place in the higher education landscape to develop its recommendations. Once that work is completed in mid-March, the committee will make its final recommendations to PLU’s president for review. After thoughtful consideration, the president will make formal recommendations to the Board of Regents, with a formal vote tentatively scheduled for late March/early April.

This page will continue to develop throughout the FJC process with updates and resources. (Last update: March 30, 2021)

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the FJC? Why is FJC Happening Now?

What is PLU doing? Why now?

In November 2020, PLU announced plans to take the next steps in fulfilling its vision for the future. In addition to a comprehensive approach to growth, the university has established a committee of faculty representatives charged with reviewing current offerings and recommending changes, including reductions, to realign academic programs in its new strategic plan.

We’re engaged in a faculty-led process to review our academic programs. PLU regularly assesses the possibilities of adding new academic programs to ensure we offer degrees that students are seeking while building on the university’s strengths. The members of the committee, formally called the Faculty Joint Committee, will evaluate programs that are already established.

Our goal is to offer programs that respond to student interests in a way that efficiently stewards resources, including time and tuition, and aligns with our commitment to offering liberal arts and professional education infused with a tradition of Lutheran higher education.

Over the next several months, members of the committee will assess current programs to ensure they align with the needs and desires of today’s students. That review will include exploring the demand for majors, minors, and graduate programs students are seeking, as well as the faculty needed to support those programs.

You may have heard from friends attending college elsewhere that other institutions are going through a similar process. The difference with PLU’s process is that it is led by faculty. Our process has clearly delineated steps with multiple opportunities to consider new and existing data about programs, and to offer responses to recommendations.

The committee—composed of twenty elected faculty representatives from every academic division and school—will review enrollment data, solicit reports from academic leaders to understand their enrollment trends, and analyze PLU’s place in the higher education landscape to develop its recommendations. Once that work is completed in mid-March, the committee will make its final recommendations to PLU’s president for review. After thoughtful consideration, the president will make formal recommendations to the Board of Regents, with a formal vote scheduled for late March.

Why are we doing this?

It’s part of our ongoing mission to make the university affordable by offering substantial scholarships and financial aid in order to fulfill our commitment to accessibility for students, guiding them on their path to purposeful vocation. To meet this goal, it is essential that our budget remain balanced.

Changing demographics have led to fewer students entering college over the past decade. Like many of our peers, we have fewer students at PLU now than we did in 2010. During that same time the overall size of our faculty has remained relatively consistent and our course offerings have not been reduced (in fact, they have grown). Our commitment is to deliver high-quality programs, offered by talented faculty with deep expertise in teaching and their disciplines, in an affordable, community-centered way.

Colleges are working harder than ever to attract students from an increasingly limited pool of students. This is particularly true in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest, which have experienced little to no population growth. As a result, colleges in those parts of the country are recruiting here in Washington. A recent survey showed that fewer than half of all midsize public and private colleges met their enrollment goals last year. That being said, PLU is in a relatively advantaged position, given that we are in a modest-growth market; we continue to invest in programs that support diverse and military-affiliated student access and success; and we have built forecasts based on the reality of the number of high school graduates plateauing through 2023 before dropping sharply in 2025.

Given the current financial situation, does this mean PLU is at risk of closing?

No, however, loss of revenue due to declining enrollment requires an equal and opposite fiscal response. We face the same enrollment challenges as the vast majority of institutions of private higher education, but we are taking control of our future by responding strategically to the needs of today’s students and our investment in their learning and success. We view the FJC process as necessary in light of our current budget environment, but also as part of a larger effort to build an organization that will remain fiscally strong beyond our current forecast horizon.

What is the FJC and what does it do?

The Faculty Joint Committee on the Reduction and Reallocation of Force (or FJC for short) is composed of the members of three faculty standing committees: Educational Policies, Faculty Affairs, and Rank and Tenure. Faculty members are from across the university and have been elected by their peers for service on these committees. In total, there are 20 faculty on the FJC.

The FJC is currently reviewing all 49 of our undergraduate and graduate programs in order to make recommendations to the president regarding which programs might be identified for elimination or a reduction in the number of faculty positions. This is the process that our faculty approved in our Faculty Handbook. 

The need for change is being driven by shifting dynamics in the higher education landscape. Every university needs to align its offerings to meet the wants and needs of tomorrow’s students and to deliver those programs in a way that efficiently stewards university resources, including tuition.

The FJC Process

When will we know the outcome of this process?

After the Board of Regents meets to make their decisions we’ll know with certainty which programs are affected. The university will then announce these decisions to the campus on March 29. Students in affected programs will receive tailored guidance from our Center for Student Success regarding any implications for their degree progression.

Will these changes be implemented this academic year or next?

It depends on the program. In some units, for example, recent retirements have not been replaced; in this case, the change has already happened. In other units, we may see faculty remain in their positions and programs remain unchanged through this academic year and the next (2021-22). 

Because this is not a response to a crisis but rather a strategic response to the changing higher education landscape, we can roll out changes on our timeline (in accordance with our Faculty Handbook).

Are program reductions based solely on enrollment and revenue generation?

No. While data on enrollment and program cost was considered as part of the comprehensive review of programs, the goal of this process was never about creating the least expensive array of academic programs. The demographic changes resulting in fewer undergraduate students — nationwide and at PLU — called us to consider for reduction even those programs with historically high enrollments and long-standing legacies of exemplary teaching.

Impact on Students

Does this affect my graduation plans?

No. Your degree progression timeline will be unchanged, regardless of any decisions related to your program. At some universities now undergoing reductions, academic programs are sunsetted over time, such that no new students may declare majors and minors once the final reductions are announced, but students who have already declared them can complete their programs as designed. At other universities, students complete their degree programs through independent study.

How will this affect current students?

Center for Student Success staff are creating updated advising guides and will share them with you directly if you are a declared major/minor in an affected program. You can expect to see these guides in mid-April, prior to advising and registration for Fall 2021. As a reminder, course offerings will not be affected until at least the 2022–23 academic year.

How will this affect prospective students?

Our mission and core values are unchanged. PLU has been delivering quality education to students for more than 130 years, and will continue to do that. The Office of Admission will notify students who have indicated interest in any of the programs identified by the Board of Regents for discontinuation, to help them review adjacent programs at PLU, as well as programs at peer institutions that might be a good fit for them.

What will happen to students who are majoring or minoring in programs that are being discontinued?

Our commitment to student success is as strong as it has ever been, and we are committed to accommodating students who are enrolled in affected units. Center for Student Success staff are creating updated advising guides and will share them with you directly if you are a declared major/minor in an affected program. You can expect to see these guides in mid-April, prior to advising and registration for Fall 2021. As a reminder, course offerings will not be affected until at least the 2022–23 academic year.

It is too early to say what exact measures we will put in place to accommodate students whose programs are discontinued or revised; appropriate courses of action will need to be context-dependent and will be thoroughly vetted by faculty and administration, with input from students, to ensure that any students who are affected by academic program changes are able to complete their chosen degree programs on their original timelines.

Will class sizes increase as a result of program discontinuation?

Even after this difficult process of aligning our faculty body with the current and projected size of our undergraduate population, our faculty-to-student ratio will be 15 to 1, and average class sizes will still hover around 16 — still among the lowest in colleges within the entire Pacific Northwest. Our university was designed for small classes, with only 4 of our teaching spaces accommodating more than 50 students.

The most significant change we anticipate with respect to class size is that students will experience fewer courses at risk of cancellation due to low enrollments.

Can students continue to declare majors/minors in areas slated for discontinuation?

Students will no longer be able to declare majors/minors in programs identified for discontinuation.

If my program is discontinued, how will I know to select courses and complete my degree?

The Center for Student Success will develop and share program-specific advising guides following the Board of Regents’ announcement of their decisions on March 29. These advising guides will be finished in the first part of April, in advance of fall registration. Having said that, we don’t anticipate changes to impact course offerings until the 2022–23 academic year, at the earliest.

What happens when the courses I need are no longer being offered?

Students in affected programs will be able to complete their degrees on their original timelines. The Center for Student Success will develop and share program-specific advising guides in advance of fall registration. We don’t anticipate changes to impact course offerings until the 2022–23 academic year, at the earliest.

How long do I have to finish my program?

Your degree-progression timeline will be unchanged, regardless of any decisions related to your program.

Will program eliminations affect PLUS Year eligibility?

PLUS Year eligibility is tied to students’ enrollment status, not to their participation in one program or another. Therefore, program elimination will not affect PLUS Year eligibility. (For more information, visit PLU Year FAQs.)

Support

Who’s going to help me figure out my academic path if my major is impacted?

The Center for Student Success will work with department chairs, deans, and faculty advisors to ensure that all current students with declared programs of study are able to continue toward their degree goals. The Center for Student Success will develop and share program-specific advising guides in the first part of April, in advance of fall registration.

How can I support my faculty when they are stressing about the FJC?

PLU students are in a great position to support faculty, by living our mission of care.  Reach out to the professors who helped shape your life, and let them know what they mean to you. The faculty have hard work ahead of them as they determine the curriculum at PLU, and there are no easy decisions. Let them know you appreciate the work they do!

Acknowledge that your professors may be taking on extra work responding to the FJC process (such as writing reports) and may be experiencing a wide range of emotions right now in this difficult process.

Appreciation. You can support them by letting them know you appreciate them. Show that you understand they may have distractions outside of classes and students.  The work they are doing to respond to the FJC is directly related to the care they have for PLU students.

How can PLU alumni help?

PLU alumni are extraordinarily engaged in powerful and meaningful ways across the university. Here are three ways that you can support this faculty process:

1) Voice your support for PLU and your faculty. Reach out to the professors who helped shape your life, and let them know what they mean to you. The faculty have hard work ahead of them as they determine the curriculum at PLU, and there are no easy decisions. Let them know you appreciate the work they do!

2) Volunteer. Raise your hand to share your professional expertise with current students and new alumni through the office of Alumni and Student Connectionsor talk with prospective students about PLU! The world needs more Lutes.

3) Provide financial support. The incredible work that our faculty and students are able to accomplish is the direct result of the support provided by our network of alumni and university friends. Please consider making a gift in the name of someone who has inspired you! You can choose specific schools, departments, and programs as recipients.

Future and Long-Term Planning

Will the reductions affect the university’s ability to provide a robust liberal arts education?

A well-rounded education — rooted in the liberal arts — will always be at the core of our undergraduate education; this hasn’t changed. We believe that the foundation for thoughtful inquiry comes from the integration of the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences. These learning opportunities, with purposeful connection to our professional studies, prepare PLU graduates to ask significant questions, engage relevant knowledge, and wrestle with complex issues. 

While we grieve the discontinuation of any program, our ability and intention to deliver on our commitments to a liberal arts education will not change. In fact, one distinctive part of a liberal arts education is the ability to invite and create new models. The expansion of our interdisciplinary programs in recent years reflects this creativity. 

The course of action determined by the Board of Regents will be implemented over time, with no resulting changes to course offerings until the 2022-23 academic year, at the earliest. This will give PLU faculty time to consider the nuanced implications of any reductions and the opportunities for new models.

Will the reductions affect PLU's deep-rootedness in the calling of service to the community?

For our entire 130-year history, PLU has been steadfast in our commitment to Lutheran higher education, a commitment that calls us to serve so that all may flourish. A PLU education is for something: it is not only for the advancement of knowledge, but is also a commitment to using education for service with and for the neighbor, whether they are a few blocks or a few thousand miles away.

“A Lutheran education is inextricably linked to promoting life, health, and wholeness for others, other-than-human creatures, and the earth itself. Our commitment to the promotion of peace and a just and sustainable society flows from such a commitment to wholeness.”
Core Elements in Lutheran Higher Education

Core to activating liberal arts disciplines as social tools of action, the Wang Center for Global Education—now renamed the Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education, will build the capacity of faculty in the development and delivery of credit-bearing community-engaged coursework.

Even during the pandemic, our students, faculty, and staff are continuously engaged in community service and partnerships. Here a few ongoing examples:

  • Sponsored by the Division of Humanities, PLU’s Parkland Literacy Center is an education-justice partnership with the Bethel and Franklin Pierce school districts, formed as an approach to disrupting education inequities faced by lower-resourced schools through peer educational assistance in all academic areas, along with culturally responsive writing and tutoring in Spanish.
  • The Tacoma/South Puget Sound chapter of MESA is located in the Morken Center and recently welcomed Ndeye Penda Samba as its new director! MESA is a college and career prep incubator that builds the capacity of inclusion and achievement through the disruption of gender and race inequities in science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • Many academic programs are currently engaged in community service and engagement projects, including nursing, education, social work, business, and many other projects across campus.
  • Community service is a core value of PLU Athletics. Our student-athletes collectively spend hundreds of hours each year working with community organizations and groups, including the local branch of the Special Olympics.
  • This year, PLU is collaborating with Pierce County Emergency Management Services to offer bimonthly proactive community COVID-19 testing on campus. This is part of our ongoing partnership with public-health services to make testing as accessible as possible for students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding Parkland community. Additionally, PLU, Tacoma–Pierce County Health Department, MultiCare Health System, and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health joined together in a public-private partnership to offer vaccine clinics through the Equity Action Network. outreach to community members who face access and equity barriers to healthcare.

Does the Strategic Plan’s stated goal to establish PLU as “the premier private university for health sciences in the Northwest” mean that health science–related programs will be prioritized in this process?

The University’s strategic plan opens with the following: 

Pacific Lutheran University aims to deepen our commitment to being an inclusive, rigorous and innovative university in the Lutheran tradition by providing access to a transformative, lifelong, and distinctively purposeful education. As a distinguished, learning-centered university that integrates the liberal arts and professional studies, PLU will thrive by continuing to educate graduates who exemplify ethical character, care for others, global perspectives and thoughtful service to the common good… We will continue our commitment to previously established pathways to distinction, purposeful learning, and global education — and will expand upon student-faculty research to be restated as faculty-student mentoring.” 

Later, the plan suggests that one of the ways we can innovate and change is to add a new area of strength to our existing and well-established portfolio, by explicitly highlighting our expertise in the health sciences. We believe that PLU is the premier private university for health sciences in the Northwest, and that it aligns with our commitment to service and the values of Lutheran higher education. Our strategic plan encourages us to celebrate that achievement and build on that momentum.

The president’s directions to the Faculty Joint Committee included a request to consider health science–related programs for “alternative review,” focusing less on how they could be reduced/discontinued, and more on how they might be run more efficiently.   

How is PLU reimagining and restructuring academic offerings?

The mix of programs at PLU is intentionally dynamic. In just the past few years, the faculty have created the following programs:

Peace Corps Prep Certificate (Fall 2016)
Native American & Indigenous Studies (Fall 2018)
Innovation Studies (Fall 2018)
Early Christian Studies (Fall 2018)
Musical Theatre (Fall 2018)
Data Science (Fall 2019)
Latino Studies (Fall 2020)
Gender, Sexuality and Race Studies (Fall 2020)
Criminal Justice (Fall 2020) 

Just as new programs are created in a vibrant university, careful stewardship of university resources also requires us to evaluate, reduce and sometimes discontinue programs.

In spring 2021, the Provost’s Academic Council will relaunch the work of revising the academic structure, a process that will reorient our academic areas to best meet the needs of our students and faculty members.