UMD announces budget cuts, layoffs

University of Minnesota Duluth
University of Minnesota Duluth leaders Wednesday unveiled cuts and layoffs designed to close a budget gap for next year.
Bob Kelleher | MPR News file

Updated: 12:30 p.m.

The University of Minnesota Duluth says it will lay off 29 faculty and staff members — plus 13 graduate teaching assistant positions — to help cut more than $5 million from its budget for next year.

Administrators say it's a way to deal with a recurring budget shortfall caused by declining enrollment, flat revenues and growing costs.

The cuts are meant to create a balanced budget for the 2020 fiscal year by eliminating UMD's recurring deficit of about $4 million and meeting a required $1.2 million systemwide reduction, Chancellor Lendley Black wrote in an email sent Wednesday morning to staff and students.

“This is difficult,” Black said. “While there are solid financial reasons for doing this work, it does not reduce the pain that our employees will feel and the concern from our students and community.”

Faculty and staff had feared as many as 50 layoffs. Black said the university was able to lessen the impact by “utilizing alternative funding, open positions and retirements” that equated to about 30 full-time positions.

While no academic programs will be eliminated, UMD is making several changes to streamline operations and cut costs. Among them:

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  • The College of Liberal Arts and the School of Fine Arts will merge.

  • The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which was created in 2016 to develop teaching approaches among university staff, will be eliminated. Administrators say faculty development will be offered in other ways.

  • The master’s degree program in English will suspend new admissions for two years. Jazz studies will change from a standalone major to a concentration. Early childhood studies will be temporarily suspended.

Last month as UMD faculty and staff braced for the coming cuts, faculty union president Scott Laderman said he understood the university needed to balance its budget but that faculty have long argued the Duluth campus is shortchanged at the expense of the much larger Twin Cities campus.

UMD receives about half the per-student funding that the Twin Cities campus receives from the state. “This is an artificial deficit that’s been created by the University of Minnesota system,” Laderman said.

The cuts are being spread throughout UMD’s six colleges, but the two smallest — the College of Liberal Arts and the School of Fine Arts — faced the deepest cuts, at $750,000 and $650,000, respectively.

Speaking as a history professor in the College of Liberal Arts, and not as union president, Laderman said last month that the university needs to maintain its commitment to a balance of majors, and not focus its resources on STEM programs — science, technology, engineering and math — at the expense of others.

“I do worry about how these cuts are playing out, because it does appear that the STEM fields are not being hit nearly as hard as other parts of campus,” he said, “and that it does jeopardize our identity as a comprehensive university.”

Black attempted to address those concerns in his email to the campus Wednesday, writing that the fine arts and liberal arts programs will remain central to the university’s mission. He said merging the two schools will preserve programs and “may bring further collaboration and opportunities for students, faculty, and staff.”

Recurring deficit

Since about 2014, UMD has been dealing with a recurring budget deficit caused by relatively flat state support, increasing costs and declining tuition revenue.

After more than a decade of growth, enrollment at UMD peaked in 2011 at about 11,800 students. Over the next four years, enrollment plunged by about 1,000 students before leveling off. This year, 10,858 students are enrolled at the Duluth campus.

Meanwhile, state support, while seesawing over the past 20 years, hasn’t changed significantly. In 2003, the Legislature approved $46 million in spending for UMD. In 2019, after several years of increases, state support was $45 million.

University administrators note that 2003 was the year tuition revenue first exceeded state support. Since that time, the gap has only grown. This year, tuition accounted for $113 million in revenue, compared to $45 million from the state.

The campus can’t grow its way out of its budget predicament, said Steve Keto, UMD’s vice chancellor for finance and operations.

"Space is limited. We don't have extra idle space on campus,” he said. “Our faculty are pretty much maxed out on what they can teach and are available to teach. So, to grow would take a major investment of some sort, and some type of investment and capital that is really hard to get."

After making steady reductions in its recurring deficit, trimming about $5 million since 2014, progress has stalled, Keto said, adding that the cuts announced Wednesday are meant to move the university onto firmer financial footing moving forward.

It will also better position UMD to deal with the demographic challenges all Minnesota colleges expect to face in about five years, said spokesperson Lynne Williams, when the number of college entrants in Minnesota is projected to drop significantly.

"Getting to this point, where we've managed our finances, helps us ride what we predict to be a tougher, challenging enrollment with more fierce competition for fewer students,” Williams said.