Catholic University officials are planning to cut their full-time faculty by 9 percent through attrition, buyouts and possibly layoffs, a cost-saving proposal that has rattled professors at the school known for its close ties to the Vatican.
Under the proposal, 35 positions would be eliminated from a roster that this school year includes 381 faculty members. Twenty-five of the departures would be “voluntary” and 10 “involuntary,” according to a proposal for “Academic Renewal,” a document that has been circulating over the past several weeks on the campus in Northeast Washington. University officials said they are hoping to keep the number of layoffs of tenured faculty as low as possible.
Officials said their goal is to cut costs without eliminating academic programs. To do that, they’re asking some professors to take on a larger teaching load than they previously had by enforcing, with certain exceptions, a standard of three classes per semester for those in undergraduate and professional programs. Professors in doctoral programs would generally teach two classes a semester.
At the same time, officials plan to trim faculty in 15 selected fields, including architecture, media studies and music, to save $3.5 million a year.
The university traces its fiscal problems in large part to an enrollment decline that has pinched tuition revenue. It had 3,315 undergraduates last fall, down 11 percent compared with four years earlier. At some other Catholic-affiliated schools in the Northeast region, enrollment has risen in recent years.
“We’re in a competitive higher education market,” Andrew V. Abela, Catholic’s provost, said Monday. “Our expenses continue to rise. We are working hard on marketing, but our enrollments haven’t kept up with expenses.”
The plan also includes measures meant to strengthen research and teaching. It envisions hiring new faculty over the next three years to support certain areas of growth in academic programs; renovating laboratories and classrooms; and creating a new school of music, visual and performing arts.
The proposal is under deliberation by Catholic’s academic senate, a body that includes professors and administrators. The senate does not have a veto but can make recommendations. The board of trustees is expected to vote on final approval in June.
The chair of the senate, Patrick B. Tuite, an associate professor of drama, declined to comment. In an email, he cited a packed schedule of meetings Monday about the proposal.
Two veteran professors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said they and many of their colleagues are worried about a plan that seems, to them, to be at odds with the notion of “renewal.”
“A lot of people who care deeply about this institution are in fact frightened — for the school and for what we feel will be a compromise to the core principles of the university and its mission,” one said.
“Morale has never been lower,” said the other. “People are despondent.”
In recent days, a website called SaveCatholic.com has emerged, claiming to represent concerned faculty, staff, students and alumni who are critical of the administration’s proposal. A professor who helped to create the site, reached by telephone, declined to comment for fear of reprisal.
Abela called the website “a little disappointing” and said the university consulted with professors as it developed its plans. Asked about faculty fear and criticism, he said it is not widespread. “We have a very small number of people who are making a lot of noise,” he said.
“We don’t close any programs, don’t cut any courses,” he added. “We still want students to have small classes that they appreciate.”
The planned reductions would continue a recent shrinkage of the faculty. Federal data show Catholic had 413 full-time instructional faculty as of fall 2016. But Abela said the university is aiming to keep what attracts students — small classes and close faculty relationships — while preserving its niche as a research institution with strong ties to the Catholic faith.
Founded under a papal charter in 1887, Catholic is often thought of as the “bishops’ university” in America. It is overseen by a board that includes numerous cardinals, archbishops and bishops.
Stephen Schneck, an associate professor of politics who accepted an early retirement package last year and is in the process of leaving the faculty after more three decades, said he believes the university has made marketing “mistakes,” failing to attract a broad spectrum of students. “We’ve just cut ourselves out of the marketplace,” he said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly featured a photo of The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception near The Catholic University of America. The photo has been replaced.