University President George Ross said strategic decisions will guide Central Michigan University this year.
“You don’t sit still, cut a little from everything, and not have the university moving forward,” he said in an editorial board meeting with Central Michigan Life. “You have to make, what I’ll call, strategic decisions. You have to invest in our university. We have to invest in our students.”
Following a $1.9-million cut to the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences and a $1.2-million cut to the College of Communications and Fine Arts, it might be time for Ross and his administration to hone its definition of “strategic decisions.”
With a projected enrollment drop and the resulting budget deficit, changes will inevitably have to be made. However, the academic core should not be the first line of defense.
Academia is unquestionably the primary focus of any university. According to the dean of the CHSBS, Pamela Gates, her college is a hub for freshman-level courses and accounts for the largest revenue generation of any of the colleges on campus.
But with 32 fixed-term faculty cuts and a severe decrease in class offerings, at least when it comes to ENG 101, which fell from 77 courses to 44, one begs to question how long the CHSBS will hold that status.
Prospective students look to colleges for a handful of things. Class offerings and a strong faculty both represent primary decision-sealers for high school graduates, and it’s vital that CMU makes this realization sooner than later.
The constant argument being brought up from administration is how these cuts are actually beneficial to CMU.
It only seems convenient to say the changes are good for the university, but it only makes matters worse by saying these changes could have been made a long time ago. If this rings true, the university could have allowed funding to be used in more important regions of the budget.
What seems to be the most puzzling aspect of these recent cuts is where they were made. The CHSBS brings in the most money of any other college on campus, and yet all those fixed-term faculty members were let go. While on the flip-side, the CCFA received no internal cuts among faculty members.
We know CMU is trying to make the situation better than it seems, but a budget deficit shouldn’t be taken lightly.
If Ross and other administrators are serious about making investments in students, cutting away at the core of each student’s education is not the way to do it. Fewer course offerings and fewer faculty is not what investment looks like.
The university has instead invested over the past several years in fringe projects such as the College of Medicine that, in the grand scheme of things, contribute very little to the students currently here.
That sends the message to current students that CMU can no longer afford to make any sort of significant investment in them, while at the same time investing in an expensive College of Medicine, for instance, that impacts an incredibly small portion of the campus body.
And what about prospective students? When they look at CMU shedding faculty and offering fewer courses in the face of plummeting enrollment, they see instability. When they see schools such as Eastern Michigan University or Oakland University welcoming in record-size freshmen classes, they see universities that have the resources and ability to truly invest in them.
So, CMU needs to be careful moving forward. Adjustments must be made to avoid further financial headaches, but hacking away at the core of a college education in the name of cost-saving is the wrong approach.
If the university and its colleges use a chainsaw to fight its way back to stability instead of a scalpel, current students will be fed up and prospective students will continue to be repelled from CMU.