Cuts to St. Cloud State University degrees, faculty get final approval

St. Cloud State University School of Music 03
St. Cloud State University is eliminating about 90 programs and 13 percent of its full-time faculty.
Paul Middlestaedt | MPR News

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SCSU Acting President Larry Lee says the move is needed to correct a structural budget deficit caused by dropping enrollment. However faculty representatives say the administration has rushed into a flawed plan.

St. Cloud State University acting president Larry Lee has given final approval to proposed budget cuts that include eliminating about 90 programs and 13 percent of its full-time faculty, or 54 positions.

Lee said the cuts are necessary to correct a structural budget deficit caused by years of spending that outpaced student enrollment. SCSU’s enrollment has declined from a peak of more than 18,000 students in 2010 to just over 10,000.

The university would have lost $14.4 million this year without one-time revenue from the Legislature, Lee said.

“You cannot sustain that,” he said. “What has happened is we have not reduced our expenses in line with our revenues.”

The programs scheduled for suspension include bachelor’s degrees in music, criminal justice, economics, gender and women’s studies, physics and global studies, as well as master’s degrees in English studies, history, public administration and gerontology.

University administrators say the programs targeted to be cut have low enrollment. Students currently in those programs will be able to complete their degrees.

Fewer degree offerings

The final reductions changed only slightly from what administrators recommended last month. 

Going forward, SCSU will offer 94 degree programs and 35 minor programs. University administrators say 92 percent of current students are enrolled in one of those programs.

Lee said there could be minor adjustments to faculty in the future to meet the university’s needs, but he doesn’t anticipate further massive reductions.

The reductions are expected to eliminate the university’s music department, including its degrees in music, music performance and music education and a recently approved music therapy degree. Nearly 4,000 people signed an online petition urging the university to save its music department. 

Lee said many of them remember a program that was much different than today, when students aren’t signing up for those classes.

“So our students are telling us what classes they want us to continue to have, and what classes they want us to continue to offer,” he said

‘A deeply flawed plan’

The faculty association expressed dismay over the final decision. The association said it’s consistently asked the administration to slow down and allow more input from faculty on how to resolve the budget deficit.

“Instead, administrators rushed forward and developed a deeply flawed plan, amid a leadership crisis, without any meaningful consultation with faculty, staff or students,” said Mumbi Mwangi, president of the St. Cloud State Faculty Association and a professor of gender and women’s studies, in a statement. 

Mwangi said the SCSU faculty association offered its own proposal, which would have cut about $8.5 million, in part by cutting administrative positions and reducing the remaining administrators’ salaries by 10 percent.

Lee said administrators held numerous budget meetings, met with faculty multiple times and considered all options.

“We listened to everybody,” he said.

In an interview, Jenna Chernega, president of the statewide Inter Faculty Organization, said SCSU administration relied on “the same old game plan” of cutting faculty, rather than focusing on what’s behind the enrollment decline.

“They have lost so many students, and now they are cutting programs that 8 percent of their students are in,” she said. “That’s another drop in enrollment that they can anticipate having from the decisions that they’re making today.”

Chernega also expressed concern about the impact of the cuts on Minnesota State’s efforts to reduce or eliminate equity gaps in educational achievement for marginalized groups.

She said about 40 percent of the faculty scheduled for retrenchment are people of color, and many of the programs targeted for elimination have been working to provide a more equitable environment on campus.

Students United, which represents students of Minnesota state universities, said in a statement it is “deeply saddened” by SCSU’s decision, and expressed its support for student leaders as they navigate the changes.

“In the coming months, we hope SCSU administration and Minnesota State leadership will be transparent and incorporate student feedback into this process,” the statement read.