Leaders plan Thursday budget forum

Administrators and student leaders will update students and take questions about MSUM’s budget crisis at a Thursday forum.

The meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. in CMU 101, comes the day before an important deadline in the university’s efforts to deal with a projected $2.2 million deficit this year, $4.9 million next year and possible additional $3 million the following year. The 97 professors who received early retirement offers in the mail a few weeks ago have until Friday to accept or reject them. There will be at least one buyout accepted per department – about 35 total. They are intended to voluntarily reduce the workforce to match persistently declining enrollment.

“Students have a vested interest in the outcome of the situation, and if you know only a little bit about the situation it can sound more alarming than it is,” said MSUM spokesman Dave Wahlberg.

Helping students develop a complete perspective on the budget crisis, he said, is “what we’re hoping to do at this forum.”

The forum won’t reveal any previously unreleased information, Wahlberg said, but it will give people who haven’t been following developments a chance to catch up.

“If you haven’t been involved in the conversation there will be a lot of new information,” he said.

At a previous student budget forum on Oct. 18, attended by more than 30 students, some raised concerns about the effects of significantly reducing the faculty workforce. A week earlier, a Facebook group emerged to “demand alternatives.” As of Sunday, “Save Our School: 125 More Years,” had 430 “likes.”

The most recent post, from Oct. 25, states: “Due to the early retirement offers that have already been sent to members of the faculty, we have decided to make our next plans based on the numbers of acceptance. Please standby as we respectfully await the difficult decisions our faculty are making.”

It lists five impacts of “extreme faculty cuts,” including fewer classes offered, larger class sizes, potential elimination of majors and minors, reduction in educational quality and local economic ramifications.

In various public appearances, Blackhurst has said that after the buyouts, MSUM will still have the lowest student-to-faculty ratio among comparable institutions in the state.

President Edna Szymanski has said class sizes will increase and class offerings will be reduced “a wee bit.”

Decisions about whether or how to cut programs are being delayed until the university has a better idea of how much the buyouts will save. An advisory group of professors recommended evaluating possible deeper cuts based on enrollment and cost per department. The Faculty Senate rejected another recommendation – that each department submit a 600-word statement about strengths and long-term vision.

Faculty union board member Paul Harris, the history department chair, said the group reasoned departments should not have to justify their existence – especially in so few words.

But CT Hanson, an advisory group member and mass communication department chair, likened the statements to something that would be included in a corporation’s annual report, so investors – in this case, deans – could make more informed decisions.

“If you combine facts with a forward looking document which the 600-word document was intended to be, then those who have to make investment decisions have a more complete database for making a decision to invest or not invest in a given (department),” Hanson wrote in an email.

In a Facebook message exchange, someone posting on behalf of “Save Our School: 125 More Years” declined to be interviewed or reveal his or her identity. The person did offer a few comments, such as “we still think there needs to be a balanced approach to MSUM’s budget problems, including looking at ways to boost enrollment.”

The person wrote: “We aren’t interested in our group being the news. We are interested in good decision-making and ensuring administrators think about student concerns.”

Student Senate president Kevin Struxness said he believes students’ concerns are being considered.

“I truly feel the decisions (administrators) make put the students first,” he said.

He said he is “willing to listen to any student’s questions and recommendations.” Struxness can be reached at struxneske@mnstate.edu.

The chalkboard outside the Student Senate office displays a similar invitation – one student leaders have repeated throughout the semester:

“Concerned About Campus Issues? Let your voice be heard, Talk to SENATE!!! We’re OUR voice, ‘a closed mouth does not get fed.’”

BY BRYCE HAUGEN
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