Cuts Spark Fears at Azusa Pacific

Cuts and talk of ending multiyear contracts at evangelical Christian university raise worries some faculty members are going to be targeted based on ideology.

February 25, 2019
 
Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University is cutting teaching faculty positions and considered ending a system of multiyear contracts that has offered some professors job security, moves officials say were driven by financial considerations but that also sparked fear the evangelical Christian University in California was preparing to purge progressives from its ranks.

The university has decided to cut about 6 percent of its teaching faculty positions through a combination of voluntary retirements, vacant positions not being filled and contracts not being renewed, according to a spokeswoman. Decisions were based upon “the fiscal viability of programs” and not faculty performance, she added.

Azusa Pacific’s board also signaled it wanted to eliminate a contract system known as term tenure, faculty leaders said. The university does not offer faculty traditional tenure. Instead, it uses a system of contracts stepping up between one-, three- and five-year terms, which is seen as offering some protection and freedom for faculty members. Concerned faculty worried everyone was being moved to one-year contracts, no matter how long they had been with the university or how well they had performed their duties.

The board, administration and Faculty Senate last week reached an agreement to maintain three- and five-year contracts. But the cuts and talks of changing contract structures dredged up other concerns, especially from some already worried about Azusa Pacific’s attitudes toward gender and sexuality.

A letter circulated from an anonymous professor linking the elimination of term tenure with faith statements faculty members were being asked to affirm.

“I thought you might be interested to know that APU is moving to eliminate term tenure for all faculty and will now require faculty to affirm new faith statements against LGBTQ people,” the letter begins.

It went on to defend term tenure as providing a “modicum of job security.” New faculty started with one-year contracts, then moved up to three- and then five-year contracts if they were well evaluated over time. Term tenure was supposed to be an incentive for faculty to publish more and help raise the university’s reputation, it said.

Moving faculty to one-year contracts was “absolutely a purge” to drive out progressives and cut salary expenses at the same time, the letter charges.

“They want to cut off the brewing unrest and ensure that those who stay won’t keep pushing faculty governance of curriculum,” it says. Many of the letter’s allegations have also been detailed at Rewire.News.

The letter contained numerous inaccuracies, according to Rachel White, Azusa Pacific’s associate director of public relations. Faculty contracts not being renewed are in programs or departments deemed underperforming, she said in an email. The university is not releasing a list of programs underperforming “to safeguard the confidentiality of impacted faculty who will carry out their contract through the end of the academic year,” she said.

“In early January, each dean was tasked with completing a midyear fiscal viability analysis of the programs in their college or school,” she wrote. “The worksheet includes a number of data points that assess the fiscal functioning of a program. They used an analysis conducted by the Austen Group of Ruffalo Noel Levitz to provide information on the demand, cost and yield of each program in a matrix presentation. They also used comparative data from the Delaware study, as well as internal program analytics related to average class size, number of students, etc. The Academic Cabinet used this data to inform their decisions.”

The university has not declared financial exigency and is seeing “modest growth” in areas like nursing, behavioral and applied sciences, and some emerging professional programs, she added.

Azusa Pacific has an estimated 520 full- and part-time faculty contracts. Those not being renewed will expire at the end of the academic year. The 6 percent cut in teaching faculty is calculated on a full-time-equivalent basis.

Roughly half of the university's faculty are on one-year contracts. Remaining faculty are split about evenly between three- and five-year contracts.

Talk of cuts seems to have combined with discussion about contract length and other tensions at Azusa Pacific to raise concerns from faculty members about firings based on ideology. Tensions over same-sex relationships flared just a few months ago, when the university published a revised statement on human sexuality that did not forbid romantic same-sex relationships for students. The university continued to say sex should only occur within a marriage, defined as being between a man and a woman.

Soon afterward, the university reversed course, reinstating a clause against romantic same-sex relationships. The university’s Board of Trustees issued a statement saying it had never approved the initial change.

Then in December, two trustees resigned from the university’s board, reportedly because they were concerned faculty members and administrators were promoting progressive ideology.

The way the faculty position cuts unfolded has been frustrating for Azusa Pacific faculty members, said Loren Martin, a professor and research director in the university’s department of clinical psychology who is also the moderator of its Faculty Senate. The discussion about cuts has been playing out for about a month, and many saw them as being put in place in a top-down manner, he said.

“I think what happened is basically, the board, when they announced the contract decision that has now been rescinded, they announced a number of things,” Martin said. “People put two and two together and assumed it was a coordinated effort. I’ve been assured that is not the case.”

One group of faculty, liberal or conservative, didn’t seem to have been targeted, based on Martin’s observations.

“It does appear to be financial decisions that were made,” Martin said. “The frustration is that faculty would have liked to have been a part of that through the senate process.”

An agreement to preserve term tenure is important, he added.

“For one thing, that’s how we’re able to recruit and retain a high-quality faculty,” Martin said. “And if we were to change to a model of one-year contracts, then we’re not going to be able to recruit high-caliber faculty, and we’re going to struggle to retain those faculty we currently have.”

The university’s financial performance has been flagged in recent months. In September, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Azusa Pacific’s bond rating into junk territory because of weakening operating performance, issues meeting a debt covenant, weak internal reporting and weak expense control.

Azusa Pacific told bondholders in October that it ended the 2018 fiscal year with a $9.9 million operating deficit and was pursuing numerous efforts to cut costs and put new controls in place. The 11,000-student university has collected about $230 million per year in tuition, fee and room and board revenue in recent years.

On the question of faculty being asked to affirm faith statements, the university has long required faculty and staff to annually sign a commitment to uphold its mission, values and beliefs, according to White.

She provided an excerpt from the Faculty Handbook saying faculty members are expected to sign a university statement of faith and that faculty members “affirm, support and sustain APU’s identity as an evangelical Christian university” as described in a multipage booklet titled “What We Believe.” Faculty members who “no longer subscribe” to the statement of faith are expected to resign from the university, the Faculty Handbook says.

“The language has been a part of the Faculty Handbook for many years,” White wrote. “I believe the board has recently emphasized the importance of signing this as a means to ensure that all faculty and staff are in alignment with the university's evangelical Christian mission, values and beliefs.”

Some of the content in the “What We Believe” booklet has changed in recent years. An archived version from August 2017 contains a section on human sexuality with eight bullets. They stated in part that, “In Scripture, several sexual behaviors are expressly forbidden, which include but are not limited to: fornication, adultery, incest, unnatural sexual intercourse and homosexual acts.” They also stated, “Heterosexuality is God’s design for sexually intimate relationships. Sexual union between a man and a woman is only to take place within the marriage covenant.”

The latest version the university posted only contains six bullets and contains no reference to several behaviors being expressly forbidden. It continues to say, “Sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.”

Azusa Pacific’s president since 2000, Jon R. Wallace, has announced plans to become president emeritus this summer. In October he took a medical leave of absence as he battled cancer.

Recent discussions about the faculty cuts and term tenure give the Faculty Senate moderator, Martin, hope for more coordination and engagement in the future.

“It’s been a very challenging experience,” he said. “But in recent weeks, our board has been really receptive to faculty input, and I feel like they’ve learned to recognize the value of our faculty voice.”

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