Thread regarding Keene State College layoffs

Cuts to programs result in layoffs

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Keene State College has suspended several academic programs after cutting 25 positions, mostly in layoffs, as part of its multiyear plan to shrink its faculty and eliminate a $14 million budget deficit, college officials said Friday.

The moves end the college’s “realignment” effort, which formally began in 2018 and has included several rounds of faculty buyouts meant to adjust to a smaller student body, President Melinda Treadwell said.

The latest cuts, which were announced Thursday, include seven faculty members who accepted voluntary buyouts from the college, according to Keene State spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte. They also include 18 in low-enrollment academic programs who were laid off, she said.

“This is a very hard decision for any institution,” Treadwell said in a Zoom interview. “Our hope was to provide significant support to those faculty and to make the decisions we must … in a way that effects and reflects our values.”

With the faculty cuts, Keene State expects its budget deficit to drop below $5 million for the upcoming academic year, she said. That gap had swelled to $14 million over the past year, as enrollment at the college fell further due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to saving $3 million annually from the latest faculty cuts, Treadwell said Keene State is shedding a substantial sum in “curricular efficiency work” that involves reducing professors’ administrative work in favor of teaching and other student engagement.

“We’ve actually exceeded the budget goal we needed to get to for this next year, and I believe we’ll actually go even further as we move through the year,” she said.

The cuts will suspend several academic programs that Treadwell said have had “historically low enrollment,” with Keene State not admitting new students to those disciplines but allowing students already enrolled in them to graduate with those degrees.

The programs that are ending include American studies, geography, physics, and women’s and gender studies, in addition to minors in information studies and art history, according to Ricaurte. Minors in physics and in women’s and gender studies will remain available, she said. A limited number of teacher-certification programs will also close, she said.

As part of the latest round of buyouts, which Treadwell announced last month, faculty members had about two weeks to decide whether to accept voluntary separation packages that include 1½ years of salary and 5½ years of health insurance, she told The Sentinel at the time. Those offers, which followed a separate series of buyouts over the past year that resulted in a net loss of 14 professors, were available to faculty in all departments.

Treadwell had said that with the latest buyouts, the college hoped to eliminate up to 25 positions to increase its student-to-faculty ratio to 16-to-one, compared to the current 13-to-one.

“We can’t be stable with a 13-to-one [ratio],” she said in June. “If we can get to 16-to-one, we’re in a very, very good position to come out of this. And unlike competitors and other institutions eliminating dozens of programs, that’s not what we’re looking at. We’re trying to do very measured work where we have excess, to reduce some of that excess.”

To achieve those reductions, however, Keene State discharged 18 faculty members in addition to the seven who were given buyouts. The laid-off employees were offered the same salary and medical benefits included in the buyout deals, according to Ricaurte.

Two other faculty members requested but were not granted buyouts because they teach in popular programs, she said. The college is also hiring seven new faculty members in popular academic programs this fall as it looks to put “more investment into programs that students are seeking,” she said.

Loren Launen, a biology professor and president of the Keene State College Education Association, the school’s faculty union, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

Treadwell acknowledged that the latest cuts were an “emotional moment” for many at the college. Keene State officials have met regularly with faculty members in recent years to share updates on their deficit-reduction work, she said, adding that she has offered to discuss the recent layoffs with faculty and their union representatives.

“These are painful conversations, as they should be,” she said. “They’re painful for me; they’re painful for affected people … I’m very proud of this campus and our ability to make hard decisions and work together through them.”

Treadwell said she’s confident the college will eliminate its remaining budget deficit by 2023, explaining that officials have already identified other costs that can be trimmed to help meet that goal. Keene State is also part of efforts across New Hampshire’s university system to consolidate operations and reduce spending by that time, she said.

“Our individual planning sets us up for that,” she said. “We’re ahead of some of our colleagues just because we started this work earlier than the university system.”

Across the state’s university system — which also includes the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Granite State College — 488 staff members took buyouts this year, Ricaurte told The Sentinel previously.

In addition to more cost-saving measures, Keene State expects enrollment — a large source of its revenue — to rise for the next academic year, since incoming students have put down deposits at a higher rate than last year, according to Ricaurte. The college, which is accepting deposits throughout the summer, anticipates that trend will continue, she said.

Keene State had just under 3,350 students in the 2019-20 academic year, compared to nearly 5,000 students in the fall of 2013.

Treadwell took over as president in July 2017 at a time when the college faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and made about $7.5 million in cuts heading into the fall of that year. Keene State also began planning for long-term financial viability at that time, which has since included multiple rounds of faculty and staff buyouts.

After making what she said will be the last of those cuts, Treadwell said college officials are turning to strategic planning for the future, including the jo--t work with the rest of the state’s university system.

“This college is now done talking about realignment and response and [is instead] talking about the future of what the needs are for the city of Keene and for the country,” she said. “That’s where our focus is laser-centered.”

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