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CLA corrects gender and ethnic studies’ budget misconceptions

Students and staff express concerns and confusion in CLA’s budgeting after April accounting error.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Misinformation has surrounded the department’s budget since April.

Following concerns about budget cuts to the gender and ethnic studies departments in April, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at the University of Minnesota will be hosting a live webinar on the state of the college budget on Nov. 16.

An April opinion article by a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) member said multiple departments faced budget cuts ranging from 10% to 50%. Now, the CLA Dean’s Office said it met the departments’ requests fully after discovering a budget coding issue that miscalculated the necessary cuts. 

CLA fiscal year 2024 began in July, along with the new budget. CLA has ensured that the departments will receive at least the same budget as the fiscal year 2024 for the next academic year, according to the CLA Dean’s Office. 

Breaking down the proposed cuts from last year

According to an opinion article written by SDS member Midori Van Alstine, the Council of Chairs of CLA notified SDS of significant cuts to the budgets of the gender and ethnic studies departments on April 20.

The article reported the following cuts: 

  • 50% to the Department of American Indian Studies
  • More than 30% to the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch languages
  • 30% to the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies
  • 27.5% to the Department of African American and African Studies
  • 22% to the Institute of Linguistics
  • 10% to the Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies

The CLA Dean’s Office said there was a misconception that these numbers were intended as cuts to the departments’ overall budgets. However, these reductions reflected cuts to the Teaching Assistants/Unassigned Instruction (TA/UI) line item of the CLA budget, amounting to about 1% to 5% of total departmental budgets across CLA. 

In an April 28 letter to the editor, John Coleman, former CLA dean, defined the TA/UI line item as the budget for classes taught by graduate assistants, non-tenure-stream faculty or adjunct faculty.

According to Coleman, enrollment in CLA declined by 1,300 students since the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a lower need for teaching. At that time, CLA was planning for a $2 million reduction in TA/UI spending for the fiscal year 2024 budget. 

Through what CLA Interim Dean Ann Waltner said was a series of unfortunate errors, the estimated necessary budget cuts to the TA/UI budget were in excess of $940,000, according to the CLA Dean’s Office.

In a pilot program, one CLA department was able to code differently for its TA/UI budget, leading to a miscalculation in the amount planned to be cut, according to the CLA Dean’s Office. CLA then revised the requests for all units, taking the additional $940,000 into account.

The CLA Dean’s Office said the coding difference was overlooked in the initial estimate for the TA/UI budget due to staff transitions.

Gillian Rath, an SDS member, said it is hard to believe they happened to find the additional $940,000 after the opinion article brought up the concerns about the budget.

“I think this is lies,” Rath said. “I think this is them trying to cover up their mistake or choices that they made that people weren’t happy with.” 

Some departments, according to the CLA Dean’s Office, also submitted a lower TA/UI request than in previous years, giving the appearance of a budget cut. The college allowed a revised request for these departments, and the gender and ethnic studies departments received the full amounts requested.

Looking at the budget now

The operation and maintenance budget for the gender and ethnic studies departments sustained a slight decrease in funding from the fiscal year 2023, according to the CLA Dean’s Office.

The 2024 total budget for the Race, Indigeneity, Gender and Sexuality (RIGS) departments — which includes the African American & African Studies, American Studies, American Indian Studies, Chicano & Latino Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies departments — decreased to $7.3 million from the $7.6 million allotted in 2023, according to the CLA Dean’s Office. The budget is lower due to faculty vacancies in the 2024 fiscal year. 

The TA/UI budget for RIGS remained consistent at $1.2 million, according to the CLA Dean’s Office.

Compared to the CLA fiscal year 2023 budget, the CLA fiscal year 2024 operation and maintenance budget increased by $7 million to $266 million, according to data from the CLA Dean’s Office. The TA/UI budget across the entire college decreased from $34.7 million to $34.3 million.

Heather Holcombe, a lecturer in the Department of English, said instructional spending is part of a manufactured crisis in CLA created by how the University’s administration chooses its priorities.

The TA/UI item is generally a flexible fund that is seen as a way to balance the budget, Holcombe said. This practice places departments in the position of balancing the budget on the backs of their teachers and students.

“My experience as a contingent faculty member is to be very afraid for my job and deeply concerned for the well-being of my students and the quality of their education,” Holcombe said. 

What comes next 

CLA has guaranteed the RIGS departments will receive the same budget as this academic year at minimum, according to the CLA Dean’s Office. 

Rath said she sees this commitment as a Band-Aid on top of a general issue.

“After two years, you know, we’re gonna have another one of these battles,” she said.  

The University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, of which Holcombe is the vice president, rejects the narrative that there is not enough money, Holcombe said. 

Holcombe added further cuts will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. With less funding, CLA will offer fewer classes, enrolling fewer students and generating less money.

The college needs to stand up against financial arguments that claim there is not enough money, Holcombe said. Departments in CLA, including the gender and ethnic studies departments, need a financial commitment from the University for the important work they do to further the University’s mission.

“These are the kinds of expertise that are important to helping students understand the world around them in deep and sympathetic and nuanced ways, so they need to be valued,” Holcombe said.

Waltner said she is committed to these studies. Each department has tenured faculty, which she said represents a long-term commitment to the department. 

Waltner added CLA has learned from their errors and is working to ensure it does not happen again.

“I think you can’t really study society without applying a gender lens,” Waltner said. “You can’t really study society without applying a diversity lens. I think that all of these, all of these departments, really foreground things that are critical to everything that we do.”

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