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Cali Owings, Published December 05 2013

Proposed cuts leave MSUM 'demoralized and decimated'

MOORHEAD – Under a proposal outlined by administrators Thursday, Minnesota State University Moorhead plans to eliminate majors, merge several departments and lay off six faculty members to solve its $4.9 million budget deficit.

The cuts unveiled made it a “sad day to be a Dragon,” said Ted Gracyk, chairman of the Faculty Association, which serves as the bargaining unit for permanent faculty at MSUM.

Administrators detailed the cuts in a meeting with the Faculty Association. The plan is projected to save $2 million in the 2015 fiscal year and $919,000 in fiscal year 2016.

Their proposal was met with several critiques and questions from faculty and students that filled the Comstock Memorial Union ballroom Thursday morning. Some claimed faculty and student voices were not being heard in the process. A resounding number felt it was unfair to cut academic departments with no plan to reduce athletics.

The plan calls for cutting 16 temporary faculty positions and laying off six tenured or tenure-track faculty in the community health, elementary and early childhood education, English, history, theater arts and graduate special education programs.

Five majors with relatively few students would get the ax, including American multicultural studies, medical laboratory technician, master of fine arts in creative writing, music composition and community health. Students in the programs now could complete their degrees within the next three years.

Though a tenured or tenure-track faculty member’s current program may be closed, they are not immediately laid off, Gracyk said. Those faculty members may be reassigned and retrained, he said.

Each of the program areas targeted for layoffs do not have any temporary faculty whose positions could be eliminated, Provost Anne Blackhurst said.

If the administration decides to move forward, the layoffs would be effective in May 2015.

MSUM made early retirement offers earlier this fall to about 100 faculty and staff members. Only 21 agreed to buyouts. School officials were seeking 35 retirements.

If more faculty members respond to a second round of early retirement incentives targeted in a few departments, Blackhurst said layoff notices could be rescinded.

While the financial benefit could be more appealing to faculty this time around, Blackhurst said some may choose to retire because they care deeply about their programs and colleagues.

“As the reality of our plan sinks in, I suspect there will be faculty who feel this is the right time to retire,” she said.

The administration proposed merging departments to increase efficiency and reduce the number of department chairs, who have some hours set aside for administrative duties.

Proposed mergers include unifying history, languages and cultures, women and gender studies and the American multicultural studies departments and join the paralegal, political science and economics departments with the potential for a pre-law program. Communications studies would combine with mass communications, and cinema arts and digital technologies would merge with theater arts.

Potential savings from these mergers are equivalent to one full-time faculty member, Blackhurst said.

If the plan moves forward, changes to the departments would be effective in March.

Targeting the cuts

Paul Harris, a faculty member in the history department, lamented that programs facing cuts have “failed the marketing test.”

“I don’t really see where the talk about program quality, teaching initiatives, value of liberal arts education had any bearing on this decision,” he said.

The administration’s proposal was largely based on the number of majors, cost to deliver programs and the number of faculty per student credit hour in addition to thinking about other qualitative factors such as each department’s history and relevancy to the school’s mission.

Just a few departments would be left unscathed by the cuts, including anthropology and earth sciences, counseling and student affairs, computer science and information systems, health and physical education, psychology, business, speech language and hearing sciences, sociology and criminal justice and social work.

Blackhurst said reductions were not evenly distributed. In some cases, departments with room for efficiency aren’t facing cuts because it’s not contractually allowable. For example, if a temporary faculty member is teaching in a “critical area” that can’t be eliminated, permanent faculty in that department can’t be laid off.

Other areas such as the School of Business, which has the second-highest number of majors, strategically weren’t cut because student interest in those programs is growing.

Even the School of Teaching and Learning, with the largest number of student majors and programs, faces two layoffs and reductions in temporary faculty. Blackhurst said that’s because overall the department is healthy, but there was room for more efficiency in the licensure programs, which have few students.

While coaching staff in the athletic department are considered faculty, the plan would not reduce athletic spending. Blackhurst and Jan Mahoney, vice president for finance and administration, said doing so would mean lost tuition revenue from student athletes, who have higher graduation rates, retention rates, grade point averages and ACT scores than the general student body.

Enrollment is key issue

The school’s projected $4.9 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2015 will grow to more than $8 million in 2016 without cuts.

Trimming the academic budgets was a “last resort,” Mahoney said. Non-academic budget reductions in the president’s office, enrollment management and other areas from fiscal year 2011 to 2015 total $1.5 million.

Administrators are looking to make cuts to academic departments to correspond with a 10 percent decline in student enrollment over the last three years. They maintain that the size of the faculty should correspond with the size of the student body.

The first round of early retirements will save about $2.2 million in fiscal year 2015. Reductions in faculty and academic departments based on Thursday’s plan will save about $3 million.

The administration projects a $1 million increase in tuition revenue in fiscal year 2016 if tuition is raised by 2.5 percent.

A plan to boost enrollment by fiscal year 2016 could also bring in $1.5 million.

MSUM officials have attributed enrollment decline in part to renewed adherence to admittance standards, which has meant referring more applicants to community colleges.

‘A fear culture’

English professor Jill Frederick said the faculty is “demoralized and decimated” and that could affect prospective students.

Frederick, who has taught at MSUM for 22 years, said budget issues have been continuously resolved on the backs of faculty.

“It’s not our job to balance budgets. It’s not our job to attract people,” she said, pointing to all of the other teaching, community service and research roles faculty members fill.

Karen Branden, a sociology and criminal justice professor, said many faculty members do not feel heard, and they could be missing out on great ideas because of “a fear culture on this campus right now.”

Branden said it is important to talk about great things happening at MSUM and recruit more students, not focus on the cuts.

“Cuts are not the result of a poor education here,” she said.

The Faculty Association will have until Dec. 20 to form a response to the administration’s proposal. The final plan will be determined in January.


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