UMD responds to long-term budget balancing proposal

Leaders at the University of Minnesota-Duluth are planning to reduce its $4.3M deficit.

Annalise Gall

As it struggles with budget deficits, the University of Minnesota-Duluth is facing possible faculty lay-offs in the coming years.
Due to declining enrollment, Duluth has proposed measures to eliminate its budget deficit in coming years, including consolidating colleges within the school.
“Clearly, the campus needs to address the ongoing budget deficit. It is not sustainable for us to continue operating in a deficit model,” said Lynne Williams, director of UMD’s marketing and public relations.
Duluth Chancellor Lendley Black unveiled a proposal last month to reduce the school’s $4.3 million deficit with minimal impact on students and faculty. 
The six-part plan includes restructuring academic programs and administration, which will bring cuts to faculty and staff positions. 
Joel Youngblom, chair of staff council, said this proposal is the last piece of a long plan whose first changes were “relatively easy” to make. However, he said, deciding what to cut next has become progressively challenging.
“Many of the administrative units have already taken massive cuts, and now it is getting down to the really difficult decisions,” he said. 
The biggest source of proposed cuts would pare the current five college model down to three. The school will prioritize programs based on enrollment and interdisciplinary support, among others. 
While Youngblom couldn’t say which colleges would be consolidated, he voiced concerns about the impact of these cuts beyond academic life.
“That will also be apparent in staff positions in many of the other functional areas such as human resources, finance, advising and information technology,” Youngblom said. 
Beyond the proposed cuts, there is also fear that faculty will choose to leave due to uncertainty over their position, said President of Faculty Council and Physics Professor Marc Seigar. 
“Usually when we lose faculty it is the best faculty,” he said, “because they are the ones that find it easiest to get a job elsewhere.”
Seigar said the University has an obligation to place faculty in a new department if their program is cut, but their new position could be located within any one of the five University of Minnesota campuses.
Additionally, there is a chance that professors with semester contracts won’t be able to renew agreements if their department is eliminated, Seigar said.
Despite concerns, Williams said she remains positive about the school’s future.
“This is a painful process. Change is always difficult, but I also think that by including the campus community in this solution, they are part of this … I take that as a sign that we’ve got people who really are committed to UMD and to our students,” she said.
Ben Farniok contributed to this report.