Evans told CNA that "the main issue at hand was really a fiscal reality." Faculty and staff had not received a raise in five years; and across the country, a 15% drop in the number of college-bound students is expected in the next several years.
According to the recent "Report to the University Community on Restructuring Plan," the restructuring is expected to save the university five to six million dollars per year.
Under the plan, already approved by the board, the School of Arts and Sciences will be reorganized into three divisions: "liberal studies," "mathematics, technology and life science," and "social & behavior sciences and global studies."
Departments, but not majors, will be eliminated and the school of theology at St. Mary's seminary, connected to the university, will become a separate division within the School of Arts and Sciences, "in consultation with the Archdiocese." The university's theology department will be part of the division of liberal studies within the school of Arts and Sciences.
Evans said that the school's Catholic identity will still be a fundamental part of its future. Several Basilian Fathers remain on the school's board, he said, and the university has hired several Dominicans to teach philosophy and theology.
The absence of Basilians on the faculty is "more a reflection of the Basilians themselves," he said.
Professor Andrew Hayes, chair of the university's theology department who helped craft the proposal for academic restructuring, agreed that the Catholic identity remains a core part of the university.
"UST is blessed with a large number of faithful Catholic faculty: priests, religious, and lay, both men and women. I think we all take seriously that the University's Catholic identity is a shared responsibility," Hayes told CNA in a statement.
He added that "we, the faculty, have been faithfully living out the Catholic intellectual life under the inspiration of that [Basilian] charism for many years now. I certainly expect to carry that tradition forward."
Not all of those affiliated with the university feel that way.
"I love the university, I've taught there for over 30 years," Sommers said, adding that in her view the university has "a real genius" but has failed to recognize it.
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One professor, speaking with CNA on condition of anonymity, challenged claims that the vast majority of faculty at the school are Catholic. "The facts are not there," the professor said. "For 10 years, there's been no count."
Still, the restructuring process is necessary to preserve the university and its Catholic identity, those familiar with the process told CNA.
"In order to really distinguish ourselves from the state schools that are much cheaper than us, the crisis also brings a perfect opportunity in my opinion for Catholic higher ed," Evans said.
"In other words, this is the perfect time to double down on our Catholic identity."
The university's choices were to cut whole departments or make across-the-board cuts distributed among departments, Evans explained. The school opted for the latter.
With the new changes, by next year the university's operations are expected to be budget-neutral for first time in decade. "The cuts were an unfortunate part of the plan, but I think a necessary one," Evans said.