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Dickinson State proposes elimination of 14 positions, 6 programs to balance budget

Dickinson State University Interim President Stephen Easton addressed proposed budget cuts during an open forum at the university on Tuesday, Jan. 21. (Kayla Henson / Forum News Service)1 / 2
Community members joined faculty, staff and students of Dickinson State University for an open forum Tuesday, Jan. 21, to hear about proposed budget cuts. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

DICKINSON, N.D. -- To balance the Dickinson State University budget, interim President Stephen Easton is proposing the elimination of 14 open positions and six programs.

Community members joined Dickinson State University faculty, staff and students for an open forum with Easton on Tuesday, Jan. 21, about his budget reduction proposal, which he hopes to have sent to the State Board of Higher Education by Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Under the proposal, the following currently occupied positions will be eliminated as of Jan. 31, 2020:

  • Assistant Dean of Student Affairs
  • Director of Admissions
  • Administrative Assistant for Student Affairs
  • Administrative Assistant for DSU-Bismarck
  • Executive Assistant to Vice President of Academic Affairs

When asked about the cuts to student affairs, Easton acknowledged the burden the cuts will place on the remaining faculty and staff.

"Those of us who are left are going to have to work a lot harder," he said. "That's true in student affairs, and that's true outside of student affairs ... All of you that are employed at Dickinson State, I'm now asking you for more than you were doing before. It is my goal to put whole bunch of pressure on student affairs by having more prospective students and more retained students, which adds to student affairs' burden. It does."

Under the proposal, the following currently occupied annual contract faculty positions will be eliminated effective summer of 2020:

  • 1 computer science professor
  • 2 fine arts professors
  • 1 health and physical education professor
  • 3 language and literature professors
  • 1 mathematics professor

One language and literature tenure-track professor position will also be eliminated.

Holly McBee is chair of the language and literature department which will see one tenure-track position and three annual contract positions discontinued.

Unlike a tenure-track faculty member, those with annual contracts have their contract up for renewal each year.

"They will generally be renewed provided they've been doing well and there's actually a need for the teacher," McBee said.

According to the budget proposal, eliminating those positions would save the university $864,676 this biennium.

Under the proposal, the university would be on a soft hiring freeze, which would allow for critical positions to be filled, such as the following open positions: Title IX coordinator, tutoring and career development coordinator and academic coordinator.

As part of the proposal, six academic programs would be discontinued: Bachelor of Arts programs in Spanish, English and art; Bachelor of Science programs in mathematics, art entrepreneurship and art education.

The university plans to prepare future teachers of English and mathematics by continuing to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in English education and in mathematics education.

Easton is hoping to meet with department chairs about the possibility of maintaining the Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Science in mathematics.

"With some curriculum revision, we're going to have the two degrees align very closely, that way while we're recruiting for the English ed(ucation) degree, we can also recruit for the B.A. degree, hopefully," McBee said. "This absolutely depends on the budget and the larger picture that is Dickinson State. We have to look at the university as a whole."

If the two programs can't be saved, faculty will work with the students in the program to either finish their degree or switch to another.

"To a certain extent, it depends on where they are in their program. If they're far enough along ... we believe that we'll be able to teach them out in their degrees," Easton said.

For the students who are not far enough along in their degree to finish it and may want to leave the university as a result, DSU will help them, too.

"We'll work with them to try to make a transition, either to another North Dakota University system or to another campus," Easton said. "We will lose some of those students. They are our students. We owe it to them to be honest with them. It's a very painful thing for someone who has chosen Dickinson State to pursue their career for us to have a honest conversation with some of those students and say, 'Given your passions, we should work with you on transitioning to another school'."

In addition to staff and program cuts, the university has saved approximately $1.2 million in non-personnel budget cuts, $2.6 million in vacated positions left unfilled and $689,881 in early retirements and voluntary separations.

Built into the budget is an assumption that the university will have 30 students more than its current enrollment.

Sophomore Javonte Oliphant, exercise science major and football player, remained hopeful after attending the forum.

“It’s unfortunate, but I guess it’s a step we have to take ... I guess I’m just excited for the future now ... I think all together we could definitely do it if we focus on bringing our energies and focusing on what we’re good at, then we could bring more and more students and get revenue," he said.

Others were not as optimistic. Easton refuted a comment he had received that the university is in a "death spiral," pointing out adversities the university has faced before.

"Really special things happen here, and really special things can continue to happen here. I refuse to accept that this is the end of Dickinson State. I refuse to accept that this is the end of Dickinson State's glory days," Easton said.

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