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Despite proposed cuts, MSUM could fill 17 faculty positions

Representatives of Minnesota State University Moorhead administration and faculty meet to hear a summary of budget actions for reducing the school’s budget deficit Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Moorhead campus. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Dave Wallis

Despite planning faculty reductions to resolve its projected $4.9 million budget deficit, Minnesota State University Moorhead may hire more tenure-track faculty this spring.

Since September, administrators have called for a 10 percent reduction in faculty to correspond with a decline in enrollment.

Under the administration’s latest budget proposal, the school is set to lose about 40 faculty members: three tenure-track faculty will be laid off, 17 temporary faculty will not be renewed for next year and 20 others accepted retirement offers.

But the school could add as many as 17 tenure-track positions in certain departments.

At a meeting with the Faculty Association on Wednesday, Provost Anne Blackhurst discussed launching searches for 14 tenure-track positions. The academic affairs budgetary advisory committee – a group of faculty members and administrators that discusses potential searches for tenure-track faculty – made its recommendation for additions to 11 departments to replace retirees, keep up with student demand and meet accreditation requirements.

Blackhurst also said two or three additional searches may be brought to the committee this spring.

Faculty Association President Ted Gracyk pointed out that there were potential new hires in two departments with faculty layoffs – the School of Teaching and Learning and School of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership. He urged the administration to rescind layoffs before hiring new people in those programs.

Blackhurst said she estimated the cost of new hires to be neutral. In some cases, they’ll be able to fill a position for less than the incumbent was earning. In other cases, it could be more or about the same based on years of experience, the discipline and insurance options.

President Edna Szymanski will make a decision regarding hiring for tenure-track faculty.

A final look

Beyond reducing the number of faculty members, the administration’s proposal calls for eliminating five majors and combining several departments.

During its final formal opportunity to respond to the administration’s proposal, the Faculty Association reiterated long-held concerns about the plan. Gracyk acknowledged that it had been a “long and painful process for everybody.”

He said some departments are still worried about their ability to meet accreditation requirements based on proposed reductions, specifically naming the paralegal department.

Under the proposal, the paralegal department will be combined with political science and economics. The program is also set to lose one temporary faculty position.

In a letter to students Tuesday, the program’s three faculty members wrote that the proposed faculty cut “will likely result in the elimination of course offerings and threaten the department’s American Bar Association approval.”

“We certainly do not wish to do anything that would jeopardize accreditation for that program,” Blackhurst said in the meeting.

In a similar vein, Gracyk said proposed cuts may have unintended consequences by reducing course offerings in required general education classes.

Blackhurst said the administration will monitor enrollment over the summer and make adjustments as needed.

The faculty association again asked the administration why it was not considering cuts to the athletics department.

Blackhurst said the school’s athletic spending is on the low-end compared to other Division II schools.

“It does not seem prudent to us to cut an area that is important for enrollment and underfunded compared to our peers,” she said.

Overall, Gracyk said faculty members were “experiencing befuddlement” over the administration’s final plan because it differs from the initial departmental prioritization they received in the fall.

He said some departments have felt “blindsided” by the decisions.

Blackhurst said she understood people were confused about some of the decisions.

“It’s a big problem to solve and a lot of moving pieces with constraints on many of the things we would have liked to do,” she said.

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