Response from Deborah Norden, Professor, Department of Political Science, and Chair of the Faculty

Jan. 25, 2023

Dear Whittier College Friends,

I’ve read your recent letter to the Whittier College community, and wanted to send a brief reply.  I see in the list of signatures many names that I recognize- trustees whom I’ve had the privilege to work with in the past, wonderful former students and colleagues, and even the daughter of a cherished friend and colleague.  I truly appreciate your continued commitment to the College, and your concern for the welfare of the faculty and staff.

You are correct to note that faculty and staff morale is low, and that many have either left or are considering leaving.  We also are having challenges with respect to enrollment, both recruiting and retaining students, which, in a tuition-dependent College, unavoidably contributes to financial challenges.  Some of these challenges undeniably have external and historic causes:  the pandemic and demographic trends have not been kind to small liberal arts colleges, and Whittier’s relatively small endowment has meant that the College has struggled financially throughout my two-plus decades at this institution (or, at least, that’s what the faculty has always been told when we’ve pleaded for more competitive salaries!).  Given this, it is of course important to evaluate how the current Board and Administration have been and are dealing with these issues. 

Our questions then need to be directed at assessing decision-making process, evaluating the outcomes of decisions, and figuring out what could be done better.  Do the dramatic decisions that we are aware of, like canceling some athletic programs and selling Wardman House, indicate financial desperation, or are they measures taken to strengthen our longer-term financial stability? What will be the impact on enrollment, and what steps are being taken to address declines in enrollment? I would agree that it’s problematic to dismiss concerns and critiques as “a malicious attempt to discredit the president.” But, let’s focus on the policy analysis and problem-solving questions. Ultimately, what matters most is improving the campus climate and strengthening the future of the college.

The Faculty Executive Committee is currently carrying out a survey of the faculty to identify not just levels of confidence, but what measures might help improve confidence in the administration and the College.  Ultimately, any such survey can only have an impact if it reaches those who are in decision-making positions.  We plan to share a summary of our findings with the Administration and the Board of Trustees, in the hopes that a good faith, collaborative effort might actually generate a response. Along the same lines, I would encourage you to reach out to the current Board of Trustees to ask them to partner with you in any survey of students and/or staff. I would also consider asking questions that go beyond just assessing satisfaction to actually soliciting ideas. What could the College do to improve students’ and staff experience here?

Thank you again for your ongoing dedication to the College, and for your offers to help.


Deborah Norden
Professor, Department of Political Science, and Chair of the Faculty

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