Opinion: Behind the BS — A closer look at DR’s memorandum

Sure, DR sent out a carefully worded memorandum regarding the faculty cuts.  But what was she really thinking?  Check out the bold.

To: Faculty, Staff, and Students

From: President Donna Randall

Date: February 22, 2010

Re: Important Anouncement from the Albion College Board of Trustees

As I have noted in previous communications (I’ve warned you that what I’m about to say is going to suck, so you can’t get too mad), we are living in economic times that present both challenges and opportunities (I took a pay cut last year —  and as a president.  It’s a tough life, living on only a few thousand more than $250,000 per year including benefits*). Our state and our nation continue to struggle with the effects of the recession and, as has been widely reported, colleges and universities across the country have been severely affected by this downturn (You can’t get mad because this is happening to everyone, I swear.) While we are seeing signs of improvement in some sectors (I hope no one notices that purposefully I’m being ambiguous about what’s improving…) we still face months—or perhaps years (Better be safe with that estimate! Can’t have people holding me to a time frame) —of economic uncertainty.

Celebrating our strengths

I want to assure you that Albion College is fundamentally strong. (We’re screwed.) We have an exceptional faculty, firmly committed to teaching and to making meaningful scholarly and creative contributions in their fields (I can still say that.  They’re not gone yet.). Our students’ talents and achievements make Albion a remarkable place to live and learn; these young people are not only able performers in the classroom but they are avid campus and community volunteers. And our alumni continue to be engaged with their alma mater, faithfully investing in the College’s future (Since I’m not using numbers, The Wall Street Journal can’t say that I’m lying this time) and proudly bearing Albion’s name (Thank goodness for giving away all of those free shirts to first-years) around the globe as they pursue distinguished careers.

On the financial side, our endowment is rebounding as the stock market improves, and now stands at nearly $150 million (If I throw in a big number, people will definitely feel better). To further strengthen the College’s financial position, over the past 18 months we have taken significant measures to increase our revenues (Like hiking up student tuitionmwahaha) and decrease our expenses (Baldwin did go trayless). Our Admission Office has stepped up efforts in student recruitment, introducing a new branding program, expanding our reach in the Midwest and internationally (Is Ohio international?), and we have reorganized the staff in the Institutional Advancement Office for greater focus on fundraising (So after graduation, expect calls from daily phone-a-thons). Last year, we reduced costs by trimming programs throughout the College and eliminating some faculty and staff positions (And since we didn’t hear too much complaining last year, we don’t want any this time around either). Albion’s executive team and I took these latter steps carefully and deliberately (Albion: Always Thinking.  It’s just so obvious, sometimes, that I was the inspiration for our slogan), at each point assessing the impact that any cuts would have on the student experience, both in and out of the classroom. Our goal throughout this process has been to preserve those programs that are essential to our operations and critical to educational quality. At the same time, we have also increased our institutionally-funded financial assistance for students (Gotta keep them enrolling somehow).  

Tackling the financial challenges before us

Even with the actions we have taken to date, we still have a structural imbalance between revenues and expenses that must be addressed for the long-term financial health (Hopefully, when I say the word health, they’ll think about the threat of H1N1 and washing their hands instead of what I’m actually saying) of the College. At their February 2010 meeting, the Albion College Board of Trustees (Phew – finally, a scapegoat to take the blame off of me for all of this) determined that a realignment of our budget was necessary to address this imbalance. While reaffirming their commitment to Albion’s educational mission and acknowledging the exceptional achievements of faculty and students, the trustees noted that they are also charged with maintaining the College’s fiscal integrity. Based on a review of current staffing levels and anticipated enrollment (Which might be better if we would just keep pushing for these non-native English speakers that we’ve been getting this past year — this letter would be putting a language barrier to good use) the trustees have mandated a reduction of the equivalent of 15 full-time faculty positions from the current level of 162 full- and part-time faculty. These personnel reductions will be accomplished through a voluntary retirement program and elimination of some full- and part-time positions. Tenured and tenure-track faculty may be affected (If I only say one sentence about this, people will skim over it too quick for it to register, right?). Albion is conducting an institution-wide program review to evaluate how best to make these reductions. We intend to complete this process by early summer. I assure you that we will work diligently to minimize the impact on current students (Although I cannot assure you that our work will actually minimize anything at all).

The board’s decision regarding the faculty reductions was extraordinarily difficult (But not as difficult as it was for my letter-writer to make this memorandum as PC as possible), and the trustees and executive team appreciate the impact these moves will have on faculty members and their families. We will work closely with the individuals affected to help smooth their transition (A few pitchers at Cascarelli’s should do the trick).

Responding to a changing environment

Albion College is positioning itself for a vibrant future (Still screwed). To enhance Albion’s competitiveness in the higher education landscape and better serve students, we will soon be launching the Albion Advantage, a new four-year program fully integrating academic and career exploration. Based on our preliminary market research, we believe that the Albion Advantage will prove highly attractive to students looking for an exceptional liberal arts education coupled with the experiential learning (Because we won’t have professors for classroom lecture) and thoughtful mentoring that will enhance career success. With the introduction of the Albion Advantage, Albion will be poised for leadership among its peers. While the Albion Advantage (Yep, I just said Albion Advantage four times without telling you anything about it) begins with the class entering in fall 2010, upperclass students will also benefit from many aspects of this new initiative.

Moving forward

Once our restructuring has been accomplished, we will look to a future marked by increased financial stability and strategic investment in areas of excellence and future growth (Areas like medicine and business, duh), a competitive niche among higher education institutions, and a heightened sense of confidence and pride in who we are and where we are going.

We know you care deeply about Albion College and as we move through this difficult time, we will keep the lines of communication open with you. I am very optimistic about the future of this wonderful liberal arts college as we celebrate 175 years of academic excellence. I encourage you to contact me by e-mail at president@albion.edu (That way you won’t clog my REAL inbox) if you have questions (And I’ll talk you in circles until you agree with whatever I say).

*According to the Chronical for Higher Education 2009 report.


  1. I am also deeply concerned about this issue since 2 of the 4 professors in my department are up for tenure this year, with another one going on sabbatical next year. Cutting any one of them would have serious consequences for the students in the department. While I understand that people are upset and angry about this decision, this is not the way to handle it. Criticizing the administration with biting sarcasm and snide remarks is, quite frankly, immature and ignorant. If we want the administration to listen to us and take us seriously, we must communicate in a firm, yet professional manner. I for one am shocked at some of the outlandish and downright false statements made in this article (and not the ones made by Dr. Randall). I always believed if enough students united over an issue that we could possibly have an influence in the decisions of this college (probably a small influence, but an influence nonetheless). This article has greatly diminished that belief.

  2. Samantha —

    I’d like to ask you about the downright false statements that you cited as being present in this article. The Pleiad is committed to providing accurate information, and if there are errors, I’d like to correct them.

  3. Samantha,

    Satire is pretty a-okay. http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html


    I’m hoping that this elusive Albion Advantage is going to make Albion more like a prison. Remember in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne taught that hot-shot Tommy how to read and write and do math real good so he could get his GED? I suggest we all crawl through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.

  4. I agree that satire is okay, but the degree of satire in this column may not be appropriate for this delicate situation. It is still evolving and the emotional wounds it has caused are still fresh. I was simply suggesting that a more tactical approach may be prudent, at least for now.

    I apologize if I sounded harsh in my previous post. I am merely trying to say that poking fun at this situation does not put the students in a good light. We are all certainly entitled to our own opinion, and I do agree that this is an outrageous decision. However, if we want something to be done about it, we have to take the high road and adopt a more diplomatic approach.

  5. satire is the best way civilized humans have devised to constructively minimize the pain of entirely awful situations – basically, by replacing the desire to cry with impetus to laugh. i’m a fan.

    that said, i’m sure DR feels awful enough about this already, considering she had limited ability to influence its outcome and was saddled with the responsibility of relaying this decision from the board to albion’s students, faculty and alumni. this piece is definitely on the vitriolic side, and i’m sure it’s not going to make HER feel any more like laughing.

    that said, one of the biggest aspects of her job – something she knowingly signed up for – is that she gets to take the credit for major institutional successes in the eye of the public, in exchange for occasionally having to take the fall for institutional shortcomings. she’s albion’s president. if that ain’t enough to give a person a thick skin after the past couple of years…

    as someone who ISN’T donna randall, i think it’s worth it for the chance to cheer up any number of students and staff members stressing out about the decision. keep up the great work, lisa.

  6. Dear Pleiad–
    I understand that you are concerned that no one reads the Pleiad now that it is online (which is a valid concern since even though I was a previous staff member, it took word of this article to get me to check it out) but this is not a very PC way to attract attention. From a student perspective, I understand how it may seem as though things have taken a turn for the worse here at Albion, but we cannot forget that this is a national problem. I may not agree with all of the things that Donna Randall does either, but cutting her down to sound like a fool and as if she is a self-interested bitch is probably not the best way to go about stating your opinion. My heart goes out to her as she reads this, which I am sure she will. I have met her on several occasions and feel as though she is a genuine person who is trying to make the most of a dire situation while pissing off the least amount of people and impacting Albion College as little as possible. There were several points in this article that got on my nerves enough that I would write on here:
    1. With our economic situation being as bad as at is here and with cuts already being made with the recruitment numbers that we have, who are you to rip apart our administration and make the school sound hopeless and stupid on a website that can be accessed by PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS AND ALUMNI. The fact is, we need more people to come to Albion (a school that I have loved being a part of for the past four years and that I feel has prepared me for a bright future) and we need financial support from alumni, who I am sure are going to be inspired to take a giant dump on the college after reading this.
    2. Stating your opinion and putting words (false and degrading words none the less) into the mouth of our administration. You are entitled to your opinion (uninformed as it may be) but to publicly humiliate and disgrace a person who I am going to say deserves her 250,000 salary and all the benefits she gets for putting up with offensive bullshit like this is reflects more poorly on this institution and the students in it than it does the administration.
    3. You accuse Randall of not elaborating on her statements enough… like the Albion Advantage, but you go on to make weighty and offensive comments like “Which might be better if we would just keep pushing for these non-native English speakers that we’ve been getting this past year — this letter would be putting a language barrier to good use” with no factual backing or further explanation. In the end, it comes off as racist, whether or not that was the intent.
    4. To say that people did not care about cuts last year, is first of all false, and second of all offensive to the staff members who were let go last year. As a student in the Psychology Department, a department that faced staff cuts, I can say (with informed backing) that other students and faculty were upset by the cuts. My favorite professor, Mary Jenson, was cut last year, and I still miss her now, but I am happy for her and her success at another institution at present. When it happened last year, I actually did some research and productive questioning and learned quite a bit about the budget at Albion and how it works. I am also a member of the Phonathon and have been since my start at Albion and I know that when alumni make donations (which will hopefully continue after this article) that they can specify what they want their money to go to, and most give to things like scholarships, athletics… and so on. That money HAS to go toward what it is specified for, which means that some departments may not get the support that others do. Hopefully, things like this don’t screw over the journalism department as I love Laura Williams and think that the Pleiad is a great resource.

    I could go on forever, but I think I have stated my case for the most part. I hope that you will look further into things in future articles and that you will put the interests of the college first and be cautious in these delicate times to not scare away prospective students or piss off alumni.

    Lisa, you know I am a fan of yours and would consider you a friend. I just couldn’t sit back without giving a little support for the college that I love and an administrator who I feel is doing the best she can.

    Best Wishes-
    Maggie Boyd
    Senior- Plainwell, MI

  7. Maggie –

    (…PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS AND ALUMNI…) – Way to call it out. It really wouldn’t have been awkward if you would have just trusted them to be capable of forming their own opinions about this column if they happened to read it.

    (There were several points in this article…) – This isn’t an article, it’s a column, written not by a journalist, but by a columnist. A column is built around opinions, not cold fact. The author was expressing her opinion, just like you did in your reply. Except YOU’RE the one who turned to explicit accusations and attacks. As a “former staff member”, I can’t believe you didn’t learn that essential difference for yourself.

    Thes cuts hurt everyone. Nobody benefits from them. And nobody is responsible, so nobody should take it personally when someone lets off a little steam.

  8. Lisa,
    I love it! If we don’t question our administration we won’t get an answers. I think it’s important to stress our concern for how they are acting. If the board of trustees has mismanaged our money, firing our professors should be a last resort, not a quick fix. The students expressing their opinions may be the only way to truly show the board the level of importance we place on our current faculty. Hiring professors to one year contracts will not build strong programs, and we pay for strong programs. Anyway, I know that the way you expressed your concern is controversial, but I appreciate it. A little civil disobedience is sometimes necessary :]

  9. Maggie – You don’t know jack about the budget. Unless you have taken a couple of econ classes, (not just 101), you wouldn’t even know how to read or interpret an income statement. Stop trying to sound like you are well-versed in this area..

  10. “And I’ll talk you in circles until you agree with whatever I say” … my brother (a student) and I (an alumni) talked my sister out of coming to Albion for that exact reason. For being such a small school the administration could – and should – be more transparent and open with its student body in all things, but especially when they’re cutting down the one thing this school has in spades: high quality faculty. She is currently enrolled at CMU, and some of the stories she tells about the “red tape” she has to deal with at her public university (enrollment of 28,000) pale in comparison to Albion’s (> 2,000 enrollment) bullshit.

  11. What Will said about urging our sister not to attend Albion is true. That said, Albion is my Alma Mater and I care about this school and what happens here. The outstanding faculty here at Albion are one of the main reasons I chose to attend school here. Not just the faculty in my departments either, but all over campus. I mean, we ARE a liberal arts school, right? I’m declared as a double major in music and economics and management with a minor in religious studies. I’m pretty much the poster-boy for liberal arts, and I truly feel that we need excellent faculty in every department across the board to be able to deliver on that promise. It used to be \Liberal Arts at Work\, but I’m starting to question both parts of that statement as we head further down a path of becoming a school with \a competitive niche\. Liberal arts isn’t about a \competitive niche\ (basically economics & management and pre-med as I see it), but rather the ability to effectively recieve an education involving a little of everything while focusing on whatever your major/minor is. The part of this whole situation that bothers me the most is that they won’t release the budget to let students and faculty take a look and perhaps come up with more creative and effective solutions.


  12. Maggie,

    Let me start by reiterating something that was stated in a comment above yours:

    Even if you are not yourself intelligent enough to draw that away from this piece then you should at least have considered the option as it was posted by your fellow students. A well educated individual such as Dr. Donna Randall is more than likely familiar with the works of Jonathon Swift and just how important satire is to bringing about a change when something is clearly wrong is happening. Satire has been used to bring attention to issues people may not otherwise glance twice at for over 500 years.

    Also, unlike your post, this piece is not here simply to draw attention, in fact, it was never even listed on the main page. It is located in the opinions section as a column, not a news story. I fully understand that you may not agree with the things said in this piece, but that does not mean you have to degrade the Pleiad and everyone who works for it. This is quite possibly the biggest story to happen to Albion College since any of us have been here and the Pleiad is covering it from as many angles as possible.

    In relation to your points:
    1: Stating that this article was posted because no one is reading the Pleiad but then saying prospective students will see it is a self-contradiction. Also, would you prefer our paper to be a highly censored tool of the administration or a free press paper run by students. This is how the student who wrote this currently feels, and maybe the attention this piece gets will actually make it to the alumni and inspire them to donate a little more money so that we do not have to make these cuts, again, this is why satire is important.
    2: Firstly, the words from the original article and the words added are clearly shown to be different by the font. The writer does not claim at any point that these are the true words of Donna Randall, again SATIRE. Secondly, who are you to call people uniformed? You have no idea how much or little work was put into this and have absolutely no right to say someone else is wrong because their opinion is that the president is over paid and yours isn’t. Furthermore, the article is once again satire and should not be taken literally.
    3: While you try to draw the idea of racism into the issue, which it absolutely is not, you make no actual statement about how there really are no facts about the Albion Advantage mentioned. The only thing said is that it will be a four year program involving career exploration. How is this special at all? Isn’t that the reason we all decided to go to college to begin with?
    4: If you really did do any research into the Albion budget you would know that the most recent budget available is from 2007. This cannot give us any real insight into what is happening this year or even what happened in many departments last year.

    At no point in the article does Lisa say that we should not support the staff here or even Donna Randall, just that we want more information about what is going on and why. This is a decision that was made by the board of trustees that Donna Randall had the unfortunate position of breaking to us. If anything, the Pleiad taking a stance like this should show both prospective students and alumni that we truly care about our school and want to keep it from going a direction that will degrade the value of our degrees after graduation.

  13. Stephen,

    Just as Lisa has every right to make “satire” of Dr. Randall’s letter, Maggie has every right to say that the satire is on the cruel side. I’m sure Lisa understood when she wrote this that there would be many conflicting opinions. There is no reason for you to be rude about it. The article may not say that Lisa doesn’t support Dr. Randall, but because this is the internet, your readers are free to interpret the voice that Lisa uses. When I read it, it seemed very sarcastic and mean to me and implied that Lisa was very upset and didn’t support Dr. Randall.

    I have to agree Samantha and Maggie on this one.

  14. I also agree with Maggie and Sam on their comments. It is extremely unfortunate what is going on at Albion and I would hate to see any of the faculty be forced to leave. One of the things that attracted me to Albion is how diverse the campus was. Consider, though, that was four years ago and look at how much the world’s economy has changed. Whether or not Albion has 162 faculty members, it is going to have a difficult time recruiting and meeting numbers from previous years- Michigan is, in fact, still the state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

    It reflects strongly on Albion’s character that students are fighting to keep their professors at the school, and I am a part of and encourage such unity among the student body. However, I do not believe that many students know the full story behind these cuts. I have friends who are on student senate and professors who are involved with the recent goings on. Former Albion College President, Peter T. Mitchell, initiated a new plan believing “if we build it, they will come”. Then he hired 14 new faculty members and enrollment rose for the next two years. After the economic struggle, however, those numbers have not been able to be sustained and Albion is now getting roughly 100+ less students than it did the two years following the installment of 14 new professors.

    The board of trustees now has the difficult responsibility of cleaning up after this sunken plan, and Dr. Randall has to be the representative for the school and present the plans to the college. Contrary to what your demeaning and poorly-written column might be trying to say, Dr. Randall is not sitting in her office plotting on how to ruin the lives of Albion College faculty and students. She has the difficult job of representing the board of trustees wh are currently dealing with an issue that has been eft over by previous years of Albion College’s leadership.

    I have heard plenty of credible information from people directly involved with the unfortunate cutbacks, but have found very little information coming from the Pleiad. Articles such as this demean what the Pleiad stands for. If the Pleiad wants to do justice to the students and staff during this time, it should be doing more research into the situation by speaking to members of student senate or professors who were at the recent faculty meeting, rather than printing an article ripping into the college’s president.

    I understand that this column is satire and that each person is entitled to their own opinion. However, when satirizing someone or something, it is very important to research that person or issue before you start making fun of them. As has been said in previous comments, this website and post are open to the world to see- including alumni and potential future students, which I find extremely unprofessional. With the college in such a dire situation already, it is foolish to add more negativity to the pot and steer away potential future students. That is the last thing Albion needs.

  15. Just checked the albion.edu “news” section to see if the college communications office had any press releases or articles about the issue. I couldn’t find any buried in the web page. Again, this is the NEWS section on the ALBION COLLEGE website. Borderline propaganda and limited transparency on their end … frustration on mine.

  16. As the parent of a prospective student, I thank you for access to this memo. (The satire was fun, too.)

  17. I am glad that the spirit of debate is still alive and well at my alma mater, but concerned that words like uninformed and immature are being thrown around. Please leave emotive words like that for politicians to obfuscate the masses and stick to the critical analysis of the other person’s statements. Educated people stick to the Socratic dialectic in order to search for truth.

    I applaud Ms Boyd for her defense of aged and clearly mentally incompetent alumni, though I fear it is unwarranted. You see, as proud alumni of Albion, the greatest lesson of value that we gained from our Liberal Arts education is the ability to critically analyze the statements of others. That is not to say that we are not capable of being wrong, but that it is much harder to pull the wool over our eyes.

  18. I’ve read this. I’ve talked to a few current students. I myself am an international student.

    What am I supposed to think about Albion now? I love tha it has a powerful faculty…but if that is soon going to become nonexistant, what decision should I make?

  19. Oppie ’93,

    Surely you jest.

    The irony of Socrates is a necessary means for a moral dialectic. The ironic play of Socrates is used even more basically. In its dissimulation he even feigns taking on as his own the ideas and methods of the interlocutor in order to proceed to a very edge of caricature, or in order to throw them into confusion using their own logic and thus ensnaring them in contradiction. The trait of unknowing or ignorance, the principal disguise that Socrates sometimes takes on, is always visible under the various masks. (“A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the origins to Socrates.” 1987. P. 243)

    Maybe you missed this day of class.

    Admitted Prospective Student. Albion is a great place to study. What you should think about Albion is that everyone affilated with Albion cares deeply about their institution.

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