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Faculty reductions at Redeemer

Changes are underway at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. Since the 2010-2011 academic year with its record enrollment of 915 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, enrollment has decreased by 16.6 percent to its current level of 763 FTE students.

As an institution that is not publically funded and relies on tuition for approximately 72 percent of its operating budget, this decline presents immediate challenges. While the current cohort of students complete their degrees, a relatively low enrollment is expected, perhaps 720 students per year. These changes are in part due to demographic trends – the number of 18-year-olds, the typical age for beginning an undergraduate university program, is dropping in Ontario. Statistics Canada predicts an 8 percent decrease in the number of 18-year-olds in Ontario from 2010 until 2020.

In 2013-2014, Redeemer responded to the changes by removing programs that would least affect students, such as closing down the childcare centre that was operating at a loss and removing a few course offerings but retaining all full-time faculty members.

This academic year, the Board of Governors and the Redeemer Senate have agreed to more drastic measures to strive for a balanced budget and avoid a potential 1.5 million dollar deficit. These changes are reminiscent of the 2013-2014 academic year at Calvin College, when the Board of Trustees laid off five employees and chose not to hire for 17 other positions, to save $4.7 million dollars and ensure financial stability.

One department closing
At Redeemer, factors in making decisions about programs to cut included looking at programs with lower-than-average enrollment and higher-than-average per-student costs. The Redeemer Senate overturned a move to close the Political Science department, thus retaining the related full-time position. A full-time faculty position in instrumental music was removed in favour of part-time instructors, and one theology position was removed to make space for a theology position with a focus on ministry.

The most drastic move was to close the Computer Science department, removing Dr. Derek Schuurman’s position four months after his becoming a full professor. Current students will be allowed to complete their degrees, and Schuurman has the option to remain until May, 2016. New students will not be admitted into this program.

Schuurman, who is a columnist for Christian Courier, commented, “I am sad, but I still believe strongly in Redeemer’s mission to teach and pursue research from a Reformed Christian perspective.” Schuurman developed new courses, did research in computer vision, wrote and spoke to groups about faith and technology and set up a computer science lab and a robotics lab during his tenure at Redeemer. He recently travelled to Nicaragua with EduDeo ministries to give workshops and to visit Dave Stienstra, a former student and a CRWM missionary (Christian Reformed World Missions). His book, Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology, poses the question, “what do bytes have to do with beliefs?”

Sustainable strategy
Decisions such as closing the Computer Science program occur in the context of the administration’s broader plan for the future, termed “Redeemer 2020.” This plan has three main goals: expanding programs, raising Redeemer’s profile and ensuring financial sustainability. The goal of financial sustainability involves living within means, as described above, while making a focused effort to reduce debt, which currently stands at approximately 26.2 million dollars, though it has been higher in the past.

The first goal of expanding programs involves a new Centre for Experiential Learning that aims to increase students’ access to service opportunities and career counselling, as well as hands-on learning and networking through co-op placements. A new program in Media and Communications is also in development.

Major changes are underway to the core curriculum, to shift away from what Dr. Hubert R. Krygsman terms the current “distributive” model of taking a selection of courses from a variety of different disciplines. The revised core program, to be implemented in Fall of 2016, would aim to be, in Krygsman’s words, “truly core – not a taste of a number of things, but a programmatic, integrated core.”

The other major goal of the Redeemer 2020 plan, raising the profile of Redeemer, will include strengthening its presence in Christian high schools, its traditional base demographic, and being more strategic in identifying new groups for recruitment. A renewed website and digital infrastructure is one means of improving Redeemer’s local and worldwide visibility. A sample of the upcoming website is available at myredeemer.ca. Krygsman commented that Redeemer has a “story to tell, and to tell better, is about the excellent and transformative education that our students get that equips students to make a difference in society.”

Dr. Robert Joustra, Assistant Professor of International Studies, has called the institution “a sort of rare and endangered species in the world of education.” Rare it is, and worth preserving in its mission of providing a transformative Christian education.  

  • Judith Farris lives in Sarnia, Ontario with her family.

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