Religious Community Reacts to Hiring Freeze

Geoff Guenther

One of the first tangible signs of the poor economic climate’s effects on Colgate came earlier this month when President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp announced that a “hiring freeze” would be implemented in order to stymie layoffs. The repercussions of this new policy are now being felt on campus.

Vice President for Finance and Administration David Hale explained that this new policy means that only teaching faculty positions will be filled if left open. All non-teaching positions in the University that become open will be left unfilled and will not be included in the University’s budget for the upcoming academic year.

In addition to positions in various offices throughout the University, including the Dean of the College Division, the Office of Residential Life, the Athletics Department, Outdoor Education and Buildings and Grounds, the position of Protestant Chaplain will be left unfilled at the end of this semester as a result of the hiring freeze, and will not be included in the budget for the 2009-2010 academic year.

The position was left vacant at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year when Mark Mann accepted a position at another college, and was filled for this year on an interim basis by Dearthrice DeWitt.

As a result of this hiring freeze policy, the remaining Chaplaincy offices at Colgate will undergo a shift. University Chaplain and Catholic Campus Minister Mark Shiner will step down as University Chaplain and take responsibility for the Protestant community, effectively representing all Christian students on campus, and Associate University Chaplain and Director of Jewish Life David Levy will become the new University Chaplain, thus becoming responsible for public prayers, budgeting for religious life and management of staff, and will represent all non-Christian religious groups, including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu students. Levy has long been slated to take over as University Chaplain, and it was assumed that with this move Shiner would take on additional responsibilities, so that aspect of the rearrangement is not a new development.

As a result of his new responsibilities and devotion to the Chaplaincy, Levy will not be teaching Jewish Studies classes in the coming fall semester.

“The plan now is to hire a person to come in and do Protestant services on Sundays and spend a few hours each week for education and spiritual formation with students,” Shiner said.

Hale explained that the controversial decision is purely an economic one. As of December 31, 2008, Colgate’s endowment is down 21 percent, a figure that is typical for many of Colgate’s peer schools.

“Faculty and staff compensation is the single largest expense for us as well as for our peer institutions,” Hale said. “This hiring freeze is about trying to avoid layoffs. If [non-teaching faculty] positions come open, we will look for creative ways to maintain the University’s mission using less resources.”

“This policy is fiscally responsible,” Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said. “As difficult as these decisions are, they are ones that we unfortunately have to make.”

“Everyone at Colgate is intelligent and can understand the situation,” Levy said, “but that doesn’t diminish the disappointment when something that you are a part of is taken away….It will be challenging, but I think it will give each religious community a chance to stand up and help out.”

Johnson echoed this sentiment, and emphasized the fact that the policy has not singled out the Protestant community in this matter, but that ramifications are being felt in every part of the University, including her own office.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the Protestant community is upset,” Johnson said, “but this decision is not meant to be personal. We’re committed to keeping the University Church community strong, and it will really take that community working together to make sure we move forward.”

Hale explained that this policy has been designed to impact students as little as possible.

“We are absolutely committed to financial aid, and work-study programs will not be shrinking at all,” Hale said. “The challenge is to continue to make sure that Colgate can maintain its academic excellence while operating in a difficult, less prosperous [economic] environment.”

Despite general understanding on the part of students, many maintain the attitude that this is a definite loss for the University.

“Regardless of the fact that Mark Shiner is great, if Catholics and Protestants wanted to be grouped together they probably would have figured that out a long time ago,” member of the Interfaith Council and president of the Colgate Jewish Union sophomore Samantha Steinfeld said. “I understand the budget constraints and I understand that [the University] is trying to apply this rule across all disciplines to impact the community as little as possible, but I think that the Protestant Chaplaincy is a special case. … I’m proud of the vibrant religious life at Colgate and a lot of that is because of the students involved, but a lot of it is our solid [faculty] leadership….I know that if it had been Rabbi [David Levy] who was not being replaced, that would have been a big problem for me. Having a chaplain, a kind of ‘regular person’ to be able to talk to, is really important, and I think that this decision might deter Protestants from applying to Colgate.”

“I feel that the University’s decision to not fulfill the position of [Protestant] chaplaincy was more a move of convienience than of just simple necessity,” University Church deacon sophomore Medvis Jackson said. “I think it is ridiculous that the university can contend that two chaplains who have their own sizeable religious communities to care for on campus can pay adequate attention to the protestant community of University Church, despite their best efforts and best intentions.”

Many are surprised at the decision to eliminate the Protestant Chaplaincy given the religious history of the school.

“Given [Colgate’s] history, if there is anyone on this campus who would expect to have a permanent position devoted to them, it would be the Protestant community,” Shiner said. “The Protestant Chaplain position was originally created to relieve the need to hire a Baptist University President….My hope is that the Protestant community will be able to rise to the occasion in faith and courage.”

Devoted groups of students, and not just Protestant groups, have launched an effort to reverse the decision regarding the Protestant Chaplaincy on campus, and have met with Chopp on the subject. As of print, the decision stands.

“In the end, the troubling economic times we are in impact us all,” Johnson said. “It will take all of us working together to get through them.”