Program and job cuts feared by Wells College faculty, students and alumni during spring and summer of 2010 have become a reality.

Wells College, in a press release sent Monday, announced plans to eliminate some programs and five faculty positions for the 2011-12 academic year based on student course enrollment and the majors students have chosen in recent years.

Starting in fall 2011, music will no longer be a concentration in the performing arts major. Choir, ensembles, lessons and possibly some music classes will remain, according to the release. Two tenured faculty positions will be eliminated along with this change, said Ann Rollo, vice president for communications and college relations.

French will no longer be a major and will be offered only as a minor. Courses will be taught by adjuncts. Two tenured faculty positions will be eliminated with this major, Rollo said.

Religion will no longer be a major, but the college’s provost, Leslie Miller-Bernal, recommended to the board of trustees that religion courses continue, possibly as part of a major in philosophy and religion, according to the release. One tenure-track faculty position will be eliminated along with this change, Rollo said.

In addition to these changes, the college plans for its Book Arts Center to become fully self-supporting, a change Rollo said can be supported by the center’s summer institution community offerings, fundraising efforts and the production of materials to be sold.

These changes, along with others the college is making, are expected to save the institution more than half a million dollars in annual operating costs, according to the release.

“This is very much about thinking about how we can offer the strongest, best program for Wells College and our students,” Rollo said. “Although these programs currently don’t attract enough students to make them viable, they have been great for students and faculty who’ve participated in them.”

Rollo said there are currently no French majors, and that four seniors with a concentration in music will graduate before the changes take effect.

She added that for several religion majors and a music major who aren’t seniors, individual sessions will be scheduled with each student to help them figure out a plan.

Although college officials say the changes are backed up by data suggesting the programs to be cut are those not in demand by students, Dr. Victor Penniman, associate professor of music, disagrees. Penniman is one of the tenured professors losing his job.

“I think I can speak for all the music faculty when I say we absolutely do not agree,” he said.

Penniman, who reported a blitz of e-mails from concerned music students asking what will become of their music studies, said many prospective students have asked him if they could major in music at Wells.

Music hasn’t been a major at Wells for many years, he said, and he believes the lack of support the program gets has kept it from attracting more students.

“For decades, the music program has been whittled away,” he added. “How could we possibly meet their criteria (of having enough majors to avoid elimination)?”

Penniman added that his department often operated at a cost below budget.

“We are one of the best deals they had going,” he said. “We could have done a lot better. We could have been a draw for the school.”

Penniman said he believes music, and the arts in general, are always the first to go when budgets get cut.

“I understand where they’re coming from to a certain extent, but this is tragic,” he said.

In addition to his concerns for students and the college, Penniman, said losing a tenured job and his rank in professorship is considered a travesty in his line of work.

In addition to years devoted to becoming a musician and earning his doctorate in music, Penniman has invested himself in other ways with Wells and its community. He bought a house in Aurora when he got tenure, figuring he was in it for the long haul. He also got involved with local music groups.

“I invested in the area,” he said. “I invested in my community.”

Rollo said announcing the plans a year before changes will take effect will give faculty time to look for alternatives, whether they apply at Wells for reassignment or to other jobs.

While Penniman agrees that a year is better than two weeks’ notice, he said he’s not quite sure where he’s going to go from here.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, frankly,” he said. “It (teaching music at Wells) is my whole life.”

Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or kelly.voll@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.

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