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Dozens take layoffs at University of Minnesota: Duluth branch hopes to reduce budget by $9.4M

DULUTH, Minn. — Nearly 50 staff and 12 faculty members took part in voluntary layoff programs at the University of Minnesota Duluth as part of its budget reduction plan.

Chancellor Lendley Black announced to faculty and staff in a letter Thursday that UMD hopes to reduce its budget by $9.4 million, and proposed $2.5 million in cuts and nearly $700,000 in increased revenue. Much of what was revealed in a list of possibilities comes from savings through the staff layoffs, which total more than $1.2 million. Other big-ticket items that could be cut include the Voyageurs, a graduate music program from the School of Fine Arts and the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program.

Black said the first list “is a good place to be,” to begin discussions with faculty, staff and students.

“We’re on a really good course to address this, but there are tough decisions to make,” he said.

The revenue and reduction amounts will both increase, and the final goal may not be reached this year, Black said. UMD’s financial woes stem from a reduction in the amount of state money doled out by the University of Minnesota, a drop in enrollment beginning in 2011 and a fringe benefit snafu discovered last year that dates back several years.

Other proposed changes include a merger of the English and writing studies departments and one for the women, gender and sexuality department with another department. Neither listed cost savings. The programs would be kept, said Andrea Schokker, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, but the mergers would be a way to share resources, such as administrative assistants. Writing studies and women, gender and sexuality were targeted through the months-long prioritization process because of their program size and scope, for example.

The Voyageurs and Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership programs, she said, are both valuable, but expensive to run at $300,000 and $250,000, respectively.

The Voyageurs is a group of graduate students taught by Cal Metts that tours area schools each year with a humorous musical show that teaches an underlying message. It’s been supported through UMD reserves after hopes of sponsorship fell through. Its future is uncertain, Schokker said, unless it becomes sponsored by outside groups.

The problem with the Master of Advocacy program is low enrollment, but UMD is trying to find a way to maintain it.

Its co-director, Linda Krug, said she was “sad” to see it on the list, but realizes it’s because it doesn’t have permanent funding.

“It’s a really fabulous program,” she said, and its graduates are legislative assistants, policymakers and workers in the labor movement. “It really would be a loss to northern Minnesota if we get cut.”

Scott Laderman, who teaches history at UMD, said the budget proposal doesn’t address faculty who work on short-term contracts. He questioned whether there will be anything to pay these instructors, since they are paid with one-time money each year.

“Many faculty on campus see our situation in very dire and stark terms, and we would like to see greater support from the University of Minnesota system,” Laderman said, noting the visit this week from U of M President Eric Kaler “heightened” the concerns of many faculty members.

Jeni Eltink called UMD’s circumstances “uncharted waters.”

The Kirby Student Center director and chairwoman of the staff council said employees hadn’t seen a budget situation like UMD’s for some time. Not everyone loved the process that studied every area of the campus for cuts and investments, “but the alternative in budget difficulties is to impose across-the-board cuts,” she said. “It’s not strategic and not in the best interest of students and staff.”

“I am proud, too, of staff members who stepped forward and took the voluntary layoff option so departments could look at restructuring work and sharing services, and lessen the need for involuntary layoffs,” Eltink said.

So far, about $900,000 has been saved through the voluntary faculty layoffs, but that money will be returned to the faculty pool to hire lower-paid faculty. Many of the staff positions will be replaced with people paid at lower rates.

Black said he’ll know more about whether the U of M system will help close the budget gap in March. He’s working to increase communication with faculty and staff, he said, and the campus governance committees that were recently established are working well.

“It’s giving people a new kind of voice,” he said. “I think the more I can continue to value that voice and that collaboration the better we will be.”

Black is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting Monday on campus to talk about UMD’s budget issues.