Featured image: Student Ananya Fernando protests with other students on the edge of Guilford College’s campus on Nov. 11 (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
The rain couldn’t stop them.
On Wednesday afternoon, a little more than a dozen students gathered on the edge of Guilford College’s campus to protest the proposed changes to their school.
“Save our school!” shouted multiple students as cars honked their horns in support.
According to changes announced by school administration last week, at least 15 tenured professors will be laid off, and several staff positions will be eliminated. The school administration also plans to cut almost half of its majors, including ones that many faculty, alumni and current students say are vital to the college’s core values and identity.
Connor Potts, a senior majoring in physics and minoring in math, told Triad City Beat that both their major and minor would be eliminated, according to interim President Carol Moore’s recommendations.
Based on a list posted on the college’s website, both STEM as well as humanities subjects will be cut as majors if the board votes to accept Moore’s proposals. Chemistry, creative writing, economics, history, mathematics, philosophy, political science and religious studies are just a number of the majors that would be eliminated.
Moore, who came in as interim president in August, held town halls with students and faculty at the end of last week and noted that many of the majors that were being cut were because of low enrollment numbers. The proposed changes come in the wake of the pandemic, when funds are low for colleges like Guilford and follow years of financial distress for the small private school. According to a post on the school’s website, extensive analysis of academic and administrative programs began in September.
“There is understandable anxiety that goes with the major transition ahead of us,” Moore writes. “But there is also excitement. This is a necessary, timely opportunity to pivot toward a more promising future. Guilford College is positioning itself to grow as we move through the 2020s.”
These cuts are the latest batch of changes that have faced Guilford College in the past several months. In July, the college laid off 47 staff members and five visiting professors due to revenue losses, according to reporting by the News & Record, and laid off James Shields, the director of the longstanding Bonner Scholars program. In the N&R article, Moore is quoted as saying that Guilford’s annual budget was balanced before she arrived, but that recent construction spending ballooned the college’s debt to $73 million. The article also states that since the school’s enrollment peaked in 2009 with a record of 2,833 students, numbers have fallen each year for 11 straight years.
Multiple emails and calls by TCB requesting an interview with Moore were not returned for this story.
In addition to Potts’ major and minor, other departments like the Community and Justice Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies which students and faculty say are essential to Guilford’s identity would also be eliminated if the board of trustees votes to enact Moore’s proposed changes.
One additional major that has been proposed to be cut is political science, which according to the college’s data factbook, currently has 48 students enrolled as majors. Community and Justice Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies have 30 and 10 students enrolled this semester, respectively.
Maria Rosales, a political-science professor and the clerk of faculty, said that if majors are being cut due to numbers, it doesn’t make sense that her department would be eliminated.
“I can say that we’re a relatively large major,” Rosales said. “The president also said she would look at the Bureau of Labor statistics, so it seems strange because the field is growing.”
Rosales, who is just one of four faculty in the department, has not been laid off, but she said that it upsets her that her department could be eliminated. According to Moore’s announcement last week, any students who are currently in majors that are scheduled to be eliminated “will still be able to complete those majors or choose an alternative.” Any faculty who remain will be invited to teach general education courses, according to Rosales.
“It makes me really sad because I went to graduate school to teach political science,” she said. “To think that I’ll never again teach upper-level political science classes just makes me really sad.”
Rosales said she’s not currently considering moving or taking another job because her family is rooted in Greensboro. But for freshman Isaac Collins, that’s not the case. On Wednesday at the protest, Collins told TCB that he had planned to major in political science or Spanish, but that both would be eliminated as majors according to Moore’s proposals.
“I’m planning to stay until the spring semester,” said Collins, who is from California. “But I don’t know what I’m going to do after that. It’s just really frustrating.”
Ananya Bernardo, a junior who is majoring in sociology and anthropology, and is working on a Spanish minor, said that both of her majors are ones that have been proposed to be cut.
“I had no idea that they were planning on cutting majors,” Bernardo told Triad City Beat on Wednesday. “I knew that they had to recover financially but I didn’t know that they were going to cut half of the majors at the school.”
Bernardo, who is from Maryland and was also a Bonner Scholar, said she came to the college initially because it was small and she felt that there was a strong community feel to it. Now, she said that the things that drew her to Guilford College are being taken away.
“I’m heavily considering transferring at this point,” Bernardo said. “I’m really close to finishing but at this point, if everything I love about this school — the faculty, the staff, my friends, the sense of community is gone — I don’t want to be at a place that doesn’t have any of those things. I don’t want to be in a place that has so much uncertainty and just wait and see. I’ve been waiting and seeing for three years and every time, someone gets cut; someone is lost.”
In addition to the changes themselves, Bernardo said she feels there hasn’t been enough transparency to students or faculty about the administration’s plans for the future of the school. Last Friday, Moore hosted a town hall with students via Zoom, but Bernardo said students’ questions weren’t answered and that Moore abruptly ended the meeting while students were still expressing their concerns.
Faculty expressed similar sentiments about their feelings not being heard by school administration.
“There have been maybe three town halls, and the interim president is very good at making sure that there is space for questions and comments, but she says things that end up not being true,” Rosales said. “Like there is no appeals process for staff.”
Alumni have also mobilized online by creating the Facebook group Save Guilford to express their concerns and come up with ways that they can help save the college.
Emily Martin, who graduated in 2011 as a double major in philosophy and sociology said that rather than cutting faculty and majors, she and others want the administration to consider other options like fundraising campaigns and salary freezes.
“The faculty was aware of the financial issues stemming back from Jane Fernandez’s time at Guilford,” Martin said, referencing the former president who stepped down in August. “They suggested partial furloughs, progressive salary cuts, certificate programs to increase enrollment, the Guilford Woods being sold to a land conservancy — all of that was rejected. No one knows why…. The main message we want to send is that there are other options.
“We recognize that small private colleges are in a tough position right now,” Martin continued. “But there has been no transparency about the college’s true financial condition and no major fundraising campaign.”
Martin said that many professors have expressed interest in taking pay cuts or going into early retirement to help save their colleagues’ positions. She also said many alumni like her are willing to give to save the school, but they want to know where their money is going.
“I think it’s absolutely doable,” she said.
Both Bernardo and Potts said that they want to see a commitment from administrators who make more than $100,000 to cap their salaries rather than cut faculty and programs.
“I personally don’t think that the college is going to make it if they stick to these changes,” Potts said. “I don’t see how cutting the valuable parts of the school is going to be able to fix the financial problems.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the students aren’t going to stand for this,” she said before going to the protest. “I know that these budget cuts need to be made because we are so much in debt but there was a way more ethical way to go about it. Students are angry, they are hurt. Guilford is nothing without their students and without the faculty and staff that they have.”