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Cali Owings, Published November 20 2013

MSUM considers cuts in tenured faculty, program closures to fix projected $5 million deficit

MOORHEAD – More than half of the 31 departments at Minnesota State University Moorhead could be considered for tenured faculty layoffs and program closures to resolve the school’s projected $5 million deficit.

After a recent faculty buyout offer fell short, the school on Wednesday provided faculty members with a list of departments and their potential for reductions. Eighteen departments are at risk of the most severe reduction measures – layoffs of permanent faculty and program closures.

Before the school decides where cuts will be made, departments have the opportunity to respond with information that may affect their final placement on the school’s reduction prioritization list.

MSUM Provost Anne Blackhurst said school officials determined the potential for reductions in academic departments by using enrollment data and the cost to deliver programs.

Five programs identified in the green zone show potential for closer scrutiny and room for more efficiency, such as increasing class sizes, Blackhurst said.

Eight programs in the middle, yellow zone could see reductions in terms of reducing the number of adjunct or fixed-term faculty, merging departments or sharing curriculum.

The remaining 18 departments could face layoffs of tenured and tenure-track faculty or program closures.

“We would have to take all of those other steps first and try to find every other cost savings possible before we would issue layoff notices,” Blackhurst said.

Enrollment at the school has declined by about 11 percent in the past four years, prompting the projected budget deficit. The school is targeting faculty for reductions to match the decline.

“There’s just a very direct connection between how many students we have and how many faculty we need,” Blackhurst said.

Earlier this fall, the school planned to offer early retirement incentives to 35 people. Only 19 faculty members and two staff members indicated they would accept early retirement. Those retirements combined with vacancies the school hasn’t filled will reduce the deficit by about $2.5 million, Blackhurst said.

A second round of retirement incentives targeted toward departments that need additional reductions will be offered.

“We’d rather have those reductions be voluntary,” she said.

Blackhurst said the list of departments prioritized for reductions is not final.

Officials are asking departments to respond to the program prioritization announcement with more information addressing why the department shouldn’t be reduced or eliminated, and their plans to improve efficiency and cut costs.

Many of the programs facing the most significant reductions are also some of MSUM’s most well-known, such as theater and cinema arts, and digital technologies.

“The initial prioritization was based solely on quantitative data,” Blackhurst said. “But we will consider history, tradition, program quality – those kinds of things.”

Departments have until next Tuesday to make their case. MSUM officials plan to announce Dec. 5 their plan for reductions.

Departments with reduction potential

MSUM officials listed these departments, with the number of fall 2013 majors in parenthesis, as having “significant” reduction potential:

- American multicultural studies (4)

- Art and design (344)

- Cinema arts and digital technology (276)

- Construction management and operations management (199)

- Communications studies (57)

- Counseling and student affairs (51)

- Computer science and information systems (202)

- English (211)

- History (126)

- Languages and cultures (104)

- Mass communications (247)

- Music (160)

- Paralegal (61)

- Philosophy (22)

- Physics and astronomy (84)

- Political science (79)

- Speech language and hearing sciences (218)

- Theater arts (66)


Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599