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Breaking: College may need to close academic programs, lay off full-time faculty in response to growing deficit

Lukas Katilius
President Kwang-Wu Kim listens as an audience member gives his input about the current financial state of Columbia College Chicago at the Student Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

In a surprise announcement, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim told the Faculty Senate on Friday, Feb. 9 that at the direction of the Board of Trustees, the college will start a process to determine whether its financial situation is so bad that it may need to lay off full-time faculty with tenured appointments. 

“The college is experiencing significant financial challenges which we really have to find a way to resolve and preferably resolve together.” Kim said.

The college’s “Statement of Policy” outlines the steps for making the determination of “adverse circumstance,” which could lead to the elimination of academic programs and full-time faculty. 

The purpose of the college’s “statement of policy” is to outline the rules governing the institution, including hiring and termination. 

As of last fall, the college had 221 full-time faculty. Fourteen assistant and associate professors of instruction were hired just before the start of the spring semester. 

Kim said he will prepare a report with what steps are being taken to address a growing deficit, now at $38 million, and what he recommends needs to be done in the future. That report will go to the senate by Feb. 28. It then has six weeks to review and respond. After that, Kim will present his findings to the board by May 2, he said. The board has the authority to direct him to make the cuts.

Kim said the college is not closing but the seven-week strike last fall by the part-time faculty union caused “significant damage to the reputation of this institution.” The strike cost the college $13 million in one-time costs, with more than half of that from $7.8 million in tuition credits given to students for classes disrupted by the strike.

“The board has agreed that if they ever were to come to the determination, that from a financial perspective they cannot see the possibility of an incoming class graduating, they would close admissions,” Kim said. “They’ve thought about it, and they’re confident.”

The announcement came as the college also said it would increase tuition by 5%, implement a complete hiring freeze and make $19 million in cuts across the campus to try to close the financial gap.

Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David shared in an email on Thursday, Feb. 8 that budget projections show a “continuing significant deficit.”

David said that she directed each of the college’s three schools to plan for an overall budget reduction of $3.8 million, or 6.8%, in which deans will allocate across their school’s departments. Department chairs will work with deans to manage the budget reductions.

Kim told senators that he expects the college’s enrollment to drop by 1,000 next fall, a significant decrease for a tuition-dependent institution.  Enrollment was 6,529 in Fall 2023. The college should be releasing the spring enrollment figures soon, which will give an indication of just how many students didn’t stay after the fall.

Persistence, which measures enrollment from one semester to the next, is up by 1.1% for first time full-time students from Fall 2023 to Spring 2024, the Chronicle previously reported. But it is down overall by 1 to 2%.

 In the meeting, Faculty Senate President Madhurima Chakraborty called the news from Kim “pretty dramatic.”

In an interview later with the Chronicle, Chakraborty said faculty are pushing to be part of the discussions about what will ultimately happen.

“Full-time faculty are going to do our very, very hardest to make sure that we are front and center in these conversations. I don’t think we’re okay with being sidelined again,” Chakraborty said, referring to last semester during the strike.

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About the Contributors
Vivian Richey
Vivian Richey, Assistant Campus Editor
vrichey@columbiachronicle.com   Vivian Richey is a sophomore journalism major, who reports on the college's Faculty Senate, Columbia's COVID-19 protocols and campus art exhibitions. She joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Lukas Katilius
Lukas Katilius, Photojournalist
lkatilius@columbiachronicle.com   Lukas Katilius is a junior photojournalism major. He has covered various campus and Chicago events. Katilius  joined the Chronicle in July 2023.   Hometown: New Lenox, Illinois