HSU budget cuts: class cuts and mandatory department mergers in CAHSS

Humboldt State University’s administration has required academic departments in the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences to merge, leading to lecturers potentially losing classes, benefits or their jobs. 

HSU’s budget

HSU’s administration reduced general campus spending by $7.3 million for the 2020-2021 academic year. Even with these reductions, the finalized budget reflected a $9 million shortage. 

El Leñador reached out to Jenn Capps, provost and vice president of academic affairs, but she was unable to meet and referred Humboldt State Communication Specialist Grant Scott-Goforth to comment on her behalf. 

“Each college and other area has its own set of strategies to reach their budget targets, there’s not one University-wide requirement,” Scott-Goforth said in an email. 

Scott-Goforth also explained that HSU has been facing declining enrollment and a budget shortfall for years, and the entire university has been working to reduce shortfall expenditures. 

He said the budget shortfall is being addressed through a combination of one-time funds, higher-than-expected tuition revenue, and divisional spending adjustments.

El Leñador reached out to Rosamel Benavides-Garb, the associate dean currently serving as interim dean for the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS).

CAHSS’s departments merge to meet budget target

Benavides-Garb said CAHSS is keeping faculty and students in mind while taking measures to ensure that they meet budget reduction goals. For Benavides-Garb, restructuring academic departments is one more, low impact, way of reducing expenditure. 

“By the end of this semester, we hope to have to finalize conversation and reorganize the college into new administrative units while maintaining the integrity of every single program, hoping that new concepts and ideas will emerge,” Benavides-Garb said. 

He also said this isn’t a new conversation for the administration of CAHSS. Before last semester, these collaborations, or mergers, were encouraged. 

Now, Loren Cannon, HSU’s California Faculty Association (CFA) chapter president, says the mergers are mandatory.

He explains how these forced department mergers lead to less department chairs and consequently faculty losses.

Non-tenure faculty affected by cuts and mergers

Cannon explained that tenure faculty are required to teach a certain number of units. Department mergers would mean current department chairs would lose those positions and have to pick up more classes since they’d no longer have chair-related work to do. With the class cuts that have been happening before and during these mergers, there would be even less classes available for non-tenure-track faculty (lecturers) to teach. 

Cannon said two scenarios can result from this: lecturers teach less classes, potentially losing benefits and pay; or they no longer have classes to teach. 

Students and faculty speak up

The week before spring break, HSU’s CFA chapter hosted a “Push Pause Action Meeting” where students, staff and community labor leaders shared their experiences with budget reductions. CFA and attendees asked administrators to put a pause on any changes, especially because of the pandemic. 

Faculty and lecturers recounted the emotional labor and years they’ve dedicated to this institution, only to not receive basic job security. Turn after turn, lecturers shared experiences of feeling disposable despite having absorbed the shock when the pandemic forced the university to go virtual. 

“Looking at a budget, it’s not about the inputs. It’s about the outputs. It’s about how people are treated. It’s about what the ramifications are to people,” Cannon said at the meeting. “In order to look at a budget, the value of a budget is how it treats real people, real people doing real important work that I think we should cherish.”

*Photo by Raul Mendoza

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