At the beginning of the academic year in mid-September eight tenured professors at St. Cloud State University (SCSU); three philosophy, one from theatre and four from the university library found out they were being laid off. Their academic appointments are scheduled to end in May 2020. 

SCSU administration argues that the layoffs are necessary due to declining enrollment and insufficient state funding. The cuts are part of an effort to fix a projected $6.1 million budget shortfall in 2021 due to declining enrollment. The eight positions will save SCSU $840,000. There are still no plans to account for the rest of the $5.26 million

The SCSU Faculty Association and the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), the union that represents faculty at the seven Minnesota state colleges, dispute the university’s budgetary decision-making process.

Professors explain that, 

SCSU administrators developed their ‘eight-percent solution’ this summer without consulting faculty, in a move that violates the spirit and letter of shared governance. Retrenchment is always the last resort for fixing financial woes, much like demolishing. In their apparent haste, SCSU administrators chose short-term financial fixes over long-term investments in human beings to recover the university’s academic, financial, and civic health.

In response, the St. Cloud State University Faculty Association Action Committee asked colleagues in an email to wear all black during the university’s homecoming celebration from Sept. 25-27 in solidarity with the eight faculty scheduled to be laid off. 

The action was “Black and Black Days” in reference to the university’s school spirit inducing “Red and Black Days” during homecoming. 

“SCSU doesn’t feel like home to the faculty, staff, and students in our library, and in our philosophy and theatre programs,” wrote the Faculty Association Action Committee in an email. “These layoffs are eroding morale and school spirit across campus.”

After the “Black and Black Days” solidarity action, faculty planned a “March to Reject Disposable Education” last Tuesday. 

IFO Board Member Jen Tuder addressed the crowd at the rally about the universities businesslike priorities. 

The administration’s decision to layoff eight tenured experienced faculty members participates in a vision of education as a product. Something you purchase, use up, throw away and then purchase again like an iPhone or gasoline. It’s a decision that treats faculty and staff as customer service representatives and worst of all, treats students as mere consumers.

SCSU Philosophy professor Paul Neiman, one of the laid-off faculty called out SCSU President Robbyn Wacker, saying that the SCSU administration believes that education is a disposable commodity.

“We are here to call for the transformative education our local and global communities need and deserve,” Neiman said. “We call upon this administration to rescind the retrenchment and to affirm their commitment to critical thinking, creativity, and the pursuit of knowledge as promised by their Husky Compact.”

IFO President Jeffers made the following statement regarding the layoffs and mobilization protests:

We are proud of the solidarity reflected by the large number of students, faculty, staff, and community leaders that showed up to support the retrenched faculty. We will continue that momentum throughout the year as we do everything in our collective power to get the layoffs rescinded.

Sociology Professor and Chair Stephen Phillon stated that,

It was encouraging to see as many faculty, staff and community out on a rainy day in support of the eight faculty who have received lay-off notices. The current layoffs appear to be a test run, thus the urgency of union mobilization, no units on campus can think they are immune to being next. The price of layoffs and likely layoffs to come in coming years will be felt by students especially.

Sheila Liming, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota notes that austerity measures at regional universities are hitting a tipping point, noting her own situation at the University of North Dakota and the proposed 41% budget cuts at the University of Alaska (lowered to 20% over three years). Under Governor Scott Walker the University of Wisconsin suffered an unprecedented $250 million budget cut

These cuts are not easily recoverable and are having sustained and egregious effects on higher education. 

Liming writes in The Chronicle,

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about living with, or surviving, austerity. I’m talking about the nonmaterial consequences of material resource depletion, which can last for generations and make earnest attempts at normalcy appear shot through with undercurrents of gloom. But the feeling isn’t unique to campuses like mine — campuses that have already met and locked horns with the new, ascetic order. 

If you build it, they will come; if you tear it down due to a maintenance backlog, they will go somewhere else — if they possibly can. But austerity is an infection. It spreads with those who run from it.

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