Students see program cuts at Valparaiso University as threat to Christian heritage

Valparaiso University, a historic Lutheran college in northwest Indiana, announced last Friday that it may cut 18 undergraduate and 10 graduate programs according to a memo sent to faculty and staff by Valparaiso Provost Dr. Eric Johnson. The theology program is one of many at risk. The cuts come as part of Johnson’s operational sustainability review, with the stated goal of securing financial and reputational security for the University (Photo Credit: Valparaiso University).

Many students, however, see the proposed cuts as direct threats to the existence of Valparaiso as a Lutheran institution, with connections to both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other bodies going back to 1925.  Kayla Sleeper, a junior theology major and Praise Music Director for the Chapel of the Resurrection, which is the largest college chapel in the United States, noted that the discontinuance plan targets three significant components of Lutheran history: the theology program, the German major, and the Bachelor of Music program.

Student concerns

Dr. Eric Johnson, Valparaiso University Provost | Photo Credit: Valparaiso University

“To discontinue the Theology program at Valpo would rip up the Lutheran roots that are so heavily marketed and preached by administration,” Kayla Sleeper, junior theology major and Praise Music Director for the Chapel of the Resurrection told The Collegiate Commons.  “Discontinuing the Theology program goes against everything outlined in the Valparaiso University mission statement.”

According to Johnson, the 28 proposed cuts would only impact 3 percent of the university’s student population.

Sleeper, however, believes that number does not accurately describe the importance of the programs for the culture of the University. She has started and circulated a petition to preserve the theology department, which has received over 300 signatures from students, faculty, and alumni as of time of writing. 

“[This is] one of many symptoms of an Administration straying further and further from faith in God as institutional leaders,” she said. In her petition, she went on saying that “eliminating the theology degree is detrimental to Christian formation, campus culture, potential for restoration of faith, and much more… it is the spring from which leadership, service, and love among students flows; apart from God and proper education about Him, we are lost.”

During the current discontinuance review, Faculty will have until May 1 to respond to their respective Deans, with an administrative process culminating in a final discontinuance vote on July 27.  That being said, many affected faculty will have at least one more year to work at the University.

Alumni concerns

A processional is depicted at the Chapel of the Resurrection | Photo Credit: Valparaiso University

Alumni have raised concerns about the review as well. 

“I don’t know how a University can claim a liberal arts focus without offering majors in Music, Theology, or Philosophy,” Eric Bohnet, alumnus of the school and attorney from the Indianapolis area told The Collegiate Commons

He also linked the music and theology programs to Valparaiso University’s former slogan, “University Under the Cross,” a phrase coined by former University President Dr. Robert V. Schnabel in his 1978 inaugural address.

“What foundation would our Lutheran heritage have without a theological grounding?” Sleeper also argued.  “How can we constantly identify as a faith-based institution yet consider taking away the very core of what that identity is?”  

An art sale debacle

Photo Credit: Brauer Museum of Art

The cuts come as part of a plan called Uplift Valpo, which has received significant backlash in the past for appearing to sacrifice the culture of the University for financial security. 

In February 2023, university President Dr. José Padilla announced that funding for two freshman dorm renovations  on campus would be secured through the sale of three valuable paintings, including Georgia O’Keeffe’s Rust Red Hills, that were at the time displayed at the on-campus Brauer Museum of Art.  

Shortly after the announcement of the art sale, several protests were organized by students, faculty, and art enthusiasts, leading to the removal of the paintings from the museum for safekeeping purposes. Leading members of the protests, including Richard Brauer, the namesake of the museum, filed a lawsuit against Padilla, the University, and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.  In October 2023, the case was dismissed by a Porter County Superior Court judge.

Faculty resistance

As with the current debate over program cuts, the proposed art sale prompted significant faculty resistance, including a Faculty Senate resolution calling for the sale to be stopped.  In response to the resolution, Padilla informed faculty that funding for the dorm renovations would have to be secured through faculty and program cuts if the art sale were unable to proceed.

While those faculty and program cuts seem to have arrived anyways, what exact form they will take has yet to be seen as the review process continues. 

Eli Conklin is a freshman meteorology major at Valparaiso University.  He is a proud native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and works as a varsity high school basketball official in the winter.  He is also involved in music ensembles as a French horn player, enjoys playing golf, cricket, and Ultimate frisbee, and loves being the oldest of four boys in his family.  Most importantly, he is grateful to be a child of God and serves Him through church worship teams and involvement in Christian groups both on and off campus.

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One thought on “Students see program cuts at Valparaiso University as threat to Christian heritage

  1. We are “one nation under God” and have a constitution declaring freedom of religion. Even though the constitution does not name Christianity as the only religion which citizens of America are free to practice, I cannot see why Christianity is being attacked and blocked by the government in so many ways. If we allow the government to tell us Christians that we can no longer practice what God tells us is right in the Bible, we are no longer Christians showing faith in God, but hypocrites who will someday find out why Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him, even if it meant that we might be crucified like him.

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