An opinion article published by slate.com, A Ghost Town with a Quad, on Nov. 26, 2013 discusses university wide conversations at MSU Moorhead to adjust the numbers of its faculty members to a student body that has declined 10.9 percent since 2010. The article suggests that MSUM will soon have no departments of English, physics, or history and names several other programs likely to be eliminated, including political science, philosophy, and computer science. In truth, none of these programs will be eliminated as a result of the program prioritization process, though all will be examined for possible reconfiguration and curricular efficiencies. We owe it to our students, who on average graduate with $29,000 of debt, to be as efficient as possible.
Had the author contacted the university or our Faculty Association, readers might have been better served. The author uses words like “obliterate” and refers to “plans” to eliminate “nearly half” of MSUM’s academic departments. This depiction is, frankly, a gross exaggeration that seems designed to inflame rather than inform readers.
The author suggests that MSUM is planning to solve a projected deficit by eliminating highly paid tenured faculty members under the guise of eliminating their departments. In reality, MSUM has offered early retirement incentives to senior faculty members as a means of making as many voluntary reductions as possible.
The author states that academics are bearing the entire weight of budget cuts and argues that a more reasonable approach would have been to split cuts evenly among faculty, staff, services, and administration. Over the past five years, MSUM has cut its already lean staff and administrative personnel. Compared to its peers in the MnSCU system, MSUM spends relatively little on institutional support, including administrator salaries. Perhaps more important, we have the lowest student-to-faculty ratio of any of the state universities (15:1), with the exception of Metro State, which teaches primarily upper division classes. We will still have the lowest student-to-faculty ratio after we have made the necessary adjustments in our budget.
Perhaps most troubling is the author’s assertion that faculty have had no say in the process. The administration has worked with the Faculty Association to craft a process that is transparent and consultative. Under the terms of our Faculty Association contract, final decisions will be made by the administration, but the process by which those decisions will be made is informed by faculty input at each step of the way.
The author uses quotation marks to label programs such as foreign languages, theatre, art, film, and music “useless” disciplines, as if someone at MSUM had described them as such. On the contrary, departments’ placement in the initial prioritization was based solely on an analysis of cost and enrollment data. Factors such as program quality and mission centrality will inform our final decisions.
Finally, she likens MSUM and other public universities to strip malls with immaculately groomed grounds and flashy amenities but no real education going on. This is perhaps the most obvious signal that she is unfamiliar with MSUM and the outstanding education that is offered here. It is precisely because future generations of students deserve access to that education that we are attempting to be good stewards of University resources and align those resources with current and anticipated enrollment.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs