On the first floor wall of the women’s studies building, Scrabble letters – placed by students – spell out a simple message: “Help save Dr. Bon’s job.”
“Dr. Bon,” or Bonnie Morris, and Todd Ramlow, both adjunct faculty members in the program, were notified last month that this semester would be their last teaching at GW because of budget restrictions in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Students and faculty said the most recent loss of faculty demonstrates a continued shift in priorities in CCAS.
“The University won’t benefit much from cutting my little salary. They have everything to gain from retaining the face of activism and devotion to teaching,” Morris, who has taught at GW for more than 20 years, said. “It makes no sense now when I’m at the top of my game to kick me to the curb and cut my healthcare.”
CCAS Dean Ben Vinson said in an email this week that two part-time faculty members will not be teaching in the women’s studies program next academic year and the college will expand the number of courses taught by full-time faculty.
“This action also reflects the college’s ongoing efforts, in the wake of budgetary pressures, to determine the best allocation of resources in support of our academic mission as a college dedicated to rigorous scholarship and engagement,” Vinson said in an email.
He added that more than 50 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty have recently been added to CCAS, “including several who have expertise in women’s, gender and sexuality studies.”
The effects of a drop in graduate enrollment last year, which led to the second year of missed budget projections, have had far-reaching consequences across the University. GW put a hold on hiring last fall, cut each administrative division’s budget by 5 percent and trimmed $8 million from the strategic plan.
The women’s studies program cuts are also not the first in CCAS. Officials cut eight faculty members from the creative writing department last semester. Last year, officials slashed the music department by 40 percent because of budget troubles.
And just last month, University President Steven Knapp announced another round of cuts: All administrative units within the University will undergo 3 to 5 percent budget cuts every year for the next five years.
While Ramlow and Morris are both regular part-time professors, Morris said they both spent time outside of classes advising students, as well as researching and publishing. She added that they serve as mentors, especially to LGBT students.
“It’s naive for the Columbian College to pretend that as part-timers Todd and I are not doing all of the work all of the time,” Morris said.
She also serves as the faculty point-person for LGBT athletes and has developed courses specifically about women and LGBT issues in athletics.
Ramlow, who has been working at GW for more than a decade after he earned his Ph.D. from the University, said he had “no idea” budget restraints on the program were imminent until he was called to meet with the dean in December.
“It’s only the schools and only the departments that are actively bringing in money through research that are getting control over their money,” Ramlow said. “It’s part of the pattern that only programs that accumulate profit survive.”
Ramlow added that eliminating positions within women’s studies eliminates diversity within the University, a pillar of GW’s mission statement.
“This is exactly what women’s studies does. It contributes to diversity in terms of students, faculty and courses,” Ramlow said.
Together, Morris and Ramlow teach eight courses per year that count toward an LGBT and sexuality studies minor, which was created with a student. Morris said students have sought out GW for the unique minor and feel “unbelievably lied to and ripped off” by losing two of the major professors who teach courses in that field.
She said many groups on campus – including Naval ROTC, the Feminist Student Union and the University Honors Program – have shown their support for the women’s studies program. Although her contract is supposed to officially end after this semester, Morris said she’s confident that between alumni and students supporting her, the decision is not “set in stone.”
Ross Berry, the president of the Progressive Student Union, said student groups have been talking about the future of the program, but have yet to take formal action.
“What’s clear is that the administration at GW has been making up for poor financial planning with decisions that disproportionately impact programs like women’s studies, creative writing, music and others,” Berry said in an email. “In the coming weeks and months we can expect to see more outrage about these cuts, more conversation and ultimately action being taken.”