published Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Bryan College to cut 20 positions

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    A Bryan College student walks past Rudd Auditorium.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Embattled Bryan College will shed more than one-tenth of its staff as the school continues to grapple with financial woes and campus controversy.

College President Stephen Livesay announced Friday that the college would eliminate 20 of 173 full-time positions through layoffs and attrition. Some staff members already quit in protest over changes to the nondenominational Christian school's statement of belief and alleged administrative intransigence.

Livesay did not respond to requests for comment.

But in an email to faculty and staff, he blamed the cuts on dwindling enrollment. The small incoming freshman classes in fall 2012 and fall 2013, along with this spring's graduation of the college's largest-ever class, resulted in a projected enrollment decline of 100 students, Livesay said.

"In addition, Bryan, like other small, private colleges that are dependent on tuition, is experiencing a difficult environment," he wrote. "Higher education, in general, is facing challenges including the national decline in high school graduates, more families who are unable to pay for their children to attend college, and a decrease in the amount of government aid."

In addition to cutting staff positions, Livesay said he and other top administrators would take a pay cut. He's downsizing the executive cabinet and halting contributions to staff retirement accounts for the fiscal year.

The president said the college has hired a new admissions director who will help the college in "refocusing our efforts on attracting home-school students, and continuing to work with our excellent coaching staff as they recruit to fill their team rosters."

"We are working to put Bryan back on a growth trajectory," he said.

Livesay has come under fire in recent months since he ushered in a plan to change the school's long-held statement of belief to embrace a narrower view of human origins that excludes the possibility of evolution. That move prompted some professors to leave. Two are currently suing the school to get their jobs back after refusing to sign the updated statement of belief.

Salvatore Musumeci, associate professor of European history and Italian cultural studies, said he hopes the job losses will prompt the board of trustees to act.

"I think the controversy over the clarification of the statement of belief has effectively taken the focus off of the real issue here, the one expressed by the majority of faculty, which is a disillusionment in the leadership of the school, and a disappointment in the direction we are being taken," he said. "The financial problems that Bryan is facing are coming to the surface now -- evidenced by layoffs and pay cuts, and loss of retirement contributions -- and many of us feel that the timing of the clarification was deliberately calculated to continue to mask larger financial and leadership issues, to continue the disconnect between the reality and the false front that has been in place for a while."

Ron Ruark, a 1980 Bryan graduate and outspoken critic of Livesay, said the cuts could have been avoided. He was part of a group that last year warned trustees that the school was top-heavy with administrators and recommended changes in leadership and policy.

"I'm not sure if the college can recover from this," he said. "I think Bryan is in a desperate situation. And it's in danger of going under because of a lack of leadership at the highest level."

This week's announcement wasn't the first sign of budget problems.

In January 2013, the college reduced athletic scholarships for incoming students and moved some faculty to part-time status, according to the student newspaper, Triangle. Livesay also voluntarily cut his salary by 50 percent for six months, the student paper reported, and the top 10 salaried employees of the college took a 5 percent pay cut.

In recent years Bryan has had an annual budget of about $20 million, according to IRS tax filings. Livesay reported a total compensation of $313,006 in 2012, the most recent filings available. That figure was up from 2011 filings, which reported a total salary and benefits of $279,239.

On Friday, college officials would not say how much of a pay cut Livesay intends to take.

English professor Whit Jones said the cuts are affecting beloved members of campus.

"Because we are a community, it is definitely hard to see staff members leaving," he said. "A lot of them are people we genuinely care for. There is a sadness."

But he thinks Bryan will survive the cuts and recent controversy.

"I think we'll recover from the stuff that's going on," he said. "And I think the professors in the classroom are still extremely dedicated to their students, intellectually and personally."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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