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Cali Owings, Published December 07 2013

MSUM academic departments to administration: don't forget successes

MOORHEAD – School-wide goals for efficiency at Minnesota State University Moorhead could mean more changes at the school beyond the layoffs, department mergers and elimination of majors announced Thursday.

The administration’s proposed changes to academic departments – including eliminating six majors, laying off six tenured or tenure-track faculty and cutting 16 temporary faculty positions – will help the school recoup about $3 million.

The cuts aim to curb a $4.9 million budget deficit that could reach more than $8 million – or 10 percent of the school’s $74 million expense budget – in the next three years without intervention.

The loss of 22 teaching positions in addition to 19 early faculty retirements reflects a 12 percent reduction in the size of the permanent and temporary teaching faculty at MSUM.

Beyond the reduction in faculty, the budget crunch could also be felt as academic departments find ways to get leaner.

In 1,000-word responses submitted before the administration’s proposal was developed, each department outlined strategies for more cost-savings that will affect students such as reducing the number of courses required in major programs, increasing class sizes and changing course offerings.

The administration’s plan includes some changes that are close to what the departments already had in mind. Other departments wrote they were already stretched to the limit and pleaded to save their programs and faculty from deep cuts and elimination.

The responses

Before the cost-cutting proposal was unveiled Thursday, the administration categorized departments as red, yellow or green depending on quantitative factors such as number of majors, cost to deliver programs and number of faculty per student credit hour.

Departments were given 1,000 words to respond to four questions:

- What are your department’s plans for strategically increasing enrollment and/or decreasing costs?

- Where do you see opportunities for curricular efficiencies?

- Please address your department’s strategic opportunities, mission centrality and program quality.

- Please add any additional information that is relevant to your department’s placement in the final prioritization.

Most departments stated they would increase class sizes, add courses to appeal to a broader number of students and increase enrollment, change major requirements, offer more classes online, reduce the frequency of course offerings and collaborate more with other departments.

In its response, the communication studies department suggested joining another department such as mass communications to align similar courses and eliminate a chair position.

The administration did just that in combining the two departments in its proposal Thursday. Combined departments eliminate the need to pay for multiple chair positions, saving about $68,000.

The administration’s plan also calls for unifying history, languages and cultures, women and gender studies and the American multicultural studies departments, combining cinema arts and digital technologies with theater and joining the paralegal, political science and economics departments with the potential for a pre-law program.

The English department offered up its masters of creative writing program, which will be eliminated under the administration’s proposal along with five other low-enrollment majors.

The American multicultural studies department wrote that it had “little left to give up” and any cuts would no longer trim “fat, but muscle.”

The department, which has lost three full-time positions and several adjuncts over the past six years, will cease to offer a major under the administration’s plan. There are currently only four students in the major and the department is largely interdisciplinary – its courses are required in several other programs such as education and social work.

In its response, the School of Teaching and Learning argued against cuts in other departments.

“Reductions in other programs, especially ones offering education-related requirement courses, will adversely affect education majors’ ability to take those courses in a timely manner.”

While it’s the largest department on campus, serving the greatest number of majors, the School of Teaching and Learning faces two permanent faculty layoffs and reductions in temporary faculty.


For most departments, the responses were a chance to highlight the successes that the administration’s initial prioritization didn’t take into account.

The mass communications department touted a unique $1 million gift that would allow for new programs and scholarships.

The paralegal program pointed to a near 100 percent job placement rate and its longstanding reputation in the legal community.

“Elimination or substantial reductions to the Paralegal Department will not result in long-term savings to the University, but will result in immediate and long-term damage to MSUM’s reputation in the legal community and create a void from the Montana-North Dakota border to the Twin Cities.”

The administration’s proposal is not final. The faculty association will respond by Dec. 20 and the final plan will be determined in January.

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