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MSUM staff pushes for savings through retirements, departures

Minnesota State University Moorhead’s faculty union is pushing administrators to use savings from additional retirements or departures to save faculty members facing layoffs, a controversial part of the school’s plan to tackle its $4.9 million deficit.

That was one concern MSUM’s Faculty Association brought forward Friday in responding to the administration’s plan to eliminate majors, merge several departments and cut 22 faculty positions – including six tenured or tenure-track posts and 16 temporary faculty jobs.

As they did when the plan was unveiled Dec. 5, faculty members called for taking a harder look at whether the school could instead cut budgets for athletics and administration.

The school’s proposal to balance the shortfall projected in its fiscal year 2015 budget came after 21 faculty members agreed to early retirement buyout offers.

Provost Anne Blackhurst said MSUM wouldn’t necessarily offset the six planned layoffs if more faculty members retire or leave the school in the coming months. But on the whole, she said feedback administrators have received since unveiling their proposal would likely result in changes to the final plan to be announced Jan. 16.

“It’s highly unlikely the final plan will be the same as the plan we presented initially,” Blackhurst said.

The proposal would trim faculty positions in the community health, elementary and early childhood education, English, history, theater arts and graduate special education programs.

The original proposal would also ax five departments with relatively few students: American multicultural studies, medical laboratory technician, Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, music composition and community health.

The response from the Faculty Association -- which represents tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as many part- and full-time faculty members -- was less a concrete counteroffer than a series of questions, concerns and ideas -- some of which were voiced when administrators first laid out the plan.

Among their ideas and concerns:

  • At the Faculty Association’s urging, President Edna Szymanski agreed to ask the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to give MSUM part of a $17 million appropriation from the state Legislature – meant to help retain excellent faculty – to ease the burden on the school’s faculty members.
  • Faculty Association Chairman Ted Gracyk worried that certain cuts would negatively affect programs with annual accreditation requirements, like the school’s paralegal program. Blackhurst said the administration is trying to foresee implications on accreditation in its plan.
  • Faculty members again asked whether certain areas of MSUM athletics could be trimmed or squeezed to share some of the cuts. Blackhurst said there are no current plans to cut athletics, but added that the school is studying its athletics programs to find out what ramifications on enrollment possible cuts may have.
  • They also pushed for an explanation as to why the administration itself is not on the chopping block. Blackhurst said the size of administration at MSUM has decreased since 2010 – from 22 to 19. And though they have no cuts planned, she said she wouldn’t rule out “further reductions.”

Szymanski said the administration is listening to ideas from all stakeholders – not just from faculty, but staff and students. Some of the administration’s proposed cuts could be undone by the next president if the school’s situation improves, said Szymanski, who will retire in June.

Matthew Craig, a professor in the school’s department of physics and astronomy, said he can tell the administration is listening to faculty members concerns, but he doesn’t expect to see big changes to the final plan come mid-January.

His department is slated to lose more than one full-time employee by this time next year, which he compared to “being in a car accident and finding out you broke your arm” – could have been better, but could have been much worse.

He said he and others are ready for the final plan to be revealed and decided upon.

“This is a bad way to end a semester. It would be an even worse way to start a semester,” he said.

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Kyle Potter
Kyle Potter is an enterprise reporter at the Forum. He came to Fargo-Moorhead in May 2013 after stints at the Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minnesota Daily. 
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