Proposed layoffs induce sadness among many at MSUM
Emotions ran high at the meet and confer Thursday where the MSUM Faculty Association heard a proposal outlining strategies to avoid the projected $8 million deficit in 2016. Around 150 people were present to hear the plan that includes phasing out five majors, merging academic departments and potentially laying off 16 temporary faculty and six tenured or tenured-track faculty.
Faculty Association President Ted Gracyk opened the meeting with “it’s a sad day to be Dragon,” noting that layoffs and dissolving departments make times difficult for everyone, and it’s not something the association enjoys or wants to do.
Since 2010, student enrollment has dropped by 10.9 percent and, based off predicted enrollment declines, MSUM faces an $8 million deficit by fiscal year 2016 if steps are not taken now. The plan proposed by the administration aims to save MSUM $8.5 million by FY16 and leaves a small surplus of about $450,000.
The most controversial items discussed were the changes in faculty rosters, the reduction of six tenured faculty members and the elimination of five majors.
During the solution planning process, a new batch of faculty rosters were proposed. The new rosters eliminated 18 old
rosters and created 34 new rosters. The rosters map out seniority in departments based off “years of seniority.” Professors at the bottom of the priority list face a layoff if their department is specified as needing a reduction.
However, there is a chance that professors could make it on more than one roster. If professors have three-plus consecutive years teaching in another program, they have cross-rostering rights. This could be crucial to individuals and trigger contractual agreements.
“If you found out today you were getting laid off, you can use your cross-rostering rights, get on a different seniority roster, and your layoff would be rescinded,” Gracyk said.
The plan includes a proposal for six layoffs of tenured or tenure-track faculty in departments that have low enrollment or need improved efficiency. The departments specified for layoffs were community health, elementary and early childhood education, English, history, the special education graduate program and theatre arts.
Although the administration won’t say which professors are being laid off, the seniority roster is public information and one can easily deduce who those professors are.
According to the new roster draft, the professors at the bottom of the seniority list are Nandita Bezbaruah in community health; Ruth Newton, elementary and early childhood education; Susan Imbarrato, English; Sean Taylor, history; Deanne Borgeson, special education graduate program and Patrick Carriere, theatre arts.
However, in an attempt to avoid layoffs, a second round of early separation incentives (ESIs) are being offered 27 eligible faculty members in targeted departments; American multicultural studies; English; history; mass communications; philosophy; physics and astronomy; political science; The School of Teaching and Learning; sociology and criminal justice; speech language hearing sciences and theatre arts. Those professors have until Jan. 14 to respond to the offer.
Five programs containing less than 65 students will be completely phased out within the next three years, giving students currently enrolled the opportunity to finish their degree. The majors to be phased out are: American multicultural studies; medical laboratory technician; masters in fine arts; music composition and community health.
- History, Languages and Cultures, American Multicultural Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies
- Political Science, Economics and Paralegal
- Mass Communications and Communication Studies
- Cinema Arts and Digital Technologies and Theatre
There are also plans to merge several departments. Ten departments will be condensed to four, subsequently reducing administrative costs. The consolidation of these departments won’t affect any of the degree programs, and total savings are equivalent to one full-time faculty member.
If the faculty association goes forward with the proposed departmental merges, they will take effect on March 1. Combining these programs would increase efficiencies throughout the disciplines; professors and curriculums could be shared and classes scheduled more frequently.
“Responses (to the merges) have been mixed,” Provost Anne Blackhurst said. “Some are enthusiastic and some are neutral.”
One area of the university that will not see any cuts as a result of the deficit is the athletic department. Jan Mahoney, Vice President for Finance and Administration stressed the importance of the athletic department and what the almost 300 students-athletes bring to the school.
“At this time we have no intention of reducing the number of coaches on staff,” Mahoney said. “Those student-athletes come here specifically to participate in varsity athletics, and if we were to lose those 300 students … that would equate to 17 or 18 faculty impacted.”
The athletic, deficit-reduction handout detailed that many of the student athletes on campus would not be here if not for their specific sport. Student-athletes bring in over $2.1 million in tuition each year, $300,000 less than the total general fund expenses from athletics. A scenario was outlined that if one sport containing 26 students was eliminated, cost savings would be at $97,320, but tuition lost would be nearly double the savings at $179,348.
Several faculty members, however, felt that saying those students will leave if their sport was eliminated was extremely ill mannered to other departments and professors.
“Every department is getting hit. I’m not picking on athletics, but if we lose their sport, they won’t all go away,” cinema arts professor, Mike Ruth said. “I disagree, and it’s disrespectful to not cut them, and say they will go away.”
The audience seemed to agree with Ruth, following his statement with a round of applause.
During the discussion following the proposal, there were several faculty members, staff and students that shared their feelings on the matter, with some getting very emotional.
Karen Branden of sociology and criminal justice teared up when she got up to give her testimony about how much MSUM means to so many people.
“(MSUM) is home to us; it’s why so many are upset,” Branden said. “No one talks about what’s unique, just about cuts … if you love this place, recruit your ass off.”
Karli Hoekstra, secondary education and social studies junior, has been an active attendee at the various budget meetings and is also a member of the student group that started the “Save our School: 125 More Years” social media pages. She voiced her opinion to the administration and Faculty Association during the comment portion of the meeting, stating she believes that student voices have been ignored throughout this process.
“Within the faculty meetings there was a feeling that students are not interested in the budget deficient,” Hoekstra said.
President Edna Szymanski responded to statements of demoralization and lack of student voice consideration by taking the blame, but she suggested that the audience examines the finances of the university over the last 10 years.
“I made an unpopular decision to do what was right for the students,” she said.
The Provost added that, “The reduction in our student body is not proportionate to other MnSCU schools. It’s not helping to say that we are a sinking ship, decimating faculty or ignoring students.”
The Faculty Association has until Dec. 20 to offer feedback on the proposal with the final plan completed by early 2014.
BY MEREDITH WATHNE