Budget challenges prompt St. Cloud State University to lay off 8 faculty

St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud State University has announced it will lay off eight faculty members at the end of the school year due to budget constraints.
Conrad Wilson | MPR Photo 2013

St. Cloud State University has announced it will lay off eight faculty members at the end of the school year due to budget constraints.

The university sent notices this week to the eight tenured faculty. They include four librarians, a theater professor and three faculty members in the philosophy department.

In a statement, St. Cloud State officials said the layoffs — known as retrenchment — are one of several strategies they're using to manage the university's budget situation. The cuts will be effective May 13.

Like other universities, St. Cloud State is facing declining student enrollment and retention. Based on enrollment predictions, the university is predicting an operating deficit of $3.7 million to $6.1 million, spokesperson Adam Hammer said.

Hammer said the university’s original budget was based on a 6 percent drop in enrollment this year. But fall enrollment appears to be down 8 to 10 percent, “which forced the university to make the hard decision” of laying off faculty to cut costs, he said.

The Inter Faculty Organization, which represents faculty at the seven Minnesota state universities, said in a statement it believes St. Cloud State violated its contract with faculty and didn't provide enough data to justify the job cuts.

Spokesperson Jonathan Bohn said the organization will file a grievance within the next few weeks.

One of those who received a layoff notice this week was Paul Neiman, who’s in his 13th year of teaching at St. Cloud State and serves as chair of the philosophy department.

Neiman said faculty first got word about possible layoffs after an August meeting between the union and administration. Still, he said, “going into the school year, this was the farthest thing from my mind.”

When he was hired in 2007, the philosophy department had 15 full-time faculty, Neiman said. Through attrition, they’re now down to eight, with one retiring soon.

This is the second time Neiman has received a retrenchment notice. The last time was in 2010, but the university eventually rescinded those notices, he said.

Neiman said although enrollment in philosophy courses has declined somewhat along with the overall university enrollment, there’s still a lot of students signing up for the courses offered. The department has added new classes to meet student demand in topics such as global justice and bioethics, he said.

“It’s hard to understand why we would cut our ability to offer classes that students want and just hope that they take other classes at the university, as opposed to seeking options elsewhere,” Neiman said. “It’s hard for me to see how this retrenchment actually helps the budget.”

St. Cloud State decided not to make across-the-board cuts, Hammer said, and is actually hiring about 30 faculty in departments and programs with stable or growing enrollment.

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