New round of layoffs and cuts shakes up Bemidji State U

The summer break may ultimately turn out to be more than a temporary hiatus for an additional number of Bemidji State University professors and staff who previously appeared to have dodged a bullet. Administrators at the northern Minnesota State system school anticipated the round of budget cuts and staff layoffs unveiled in March would suffice to offset a $9 million funding deficit brought on by a collapse in enrollment post-pandemic.

But after crunching the numbers again, it seems Bemidji State faces a bigger financial challenge than previously announced, totaling closer to $11 million. The Bemidji Pioneer says the revelation means heightened uncertainty for staff and faculty as the campus gears up for fall classes.

“In a multi-year set of projections, the deficits were bigger than what had been projected back in January, and that informed our decisions earlier this spring,” [BSU and Northwest Technical College President John] Hoffman said. “We’ve had some initial layoffs that occurred in March. Some notifications of a couple faculty (went out) earlier this summer.”

Tentatively, more significant layoffs will take place in September. Hoffman noted that employees working in admissions, student success and equity-based positions will not be affected.

The second round of cuts now under consideration will evidently include streamlining or elimination of some academic offerings that fail to attract enough students to be competitive.

In contrast with the financial cuts announced in March, academic or co-curricular program reductions may be on the table this time around.

“I do anticipate that we will have some of our programs that are cut,” Hoffman said. “That’s a change with the revised numbers. We’re just going to have to do that, but we’re certainly prioritizing and avoiding any large-scale programmatic types of changes for the campus.”

Faculty representatives remain largely in the dark as to which programs, departments and faculty members will be on the chopping block. But they’re bracing for more cutbacks and soon.

BSU Professor Dennis Lunt, who also serves as the president of BSU’s chapter of the Inter-Faculty Organization, expressed concern over the unknown for faculty whose positions are up in the air.

“The IFO has pressed hard for details on what cuts the administration intends to make,” Lunt said. “It’s hard for faculty to both invest in the institution and wonder if their job is going away at the same time, especially after the last few years.”

BSU officials say they’re working with faculty and unions to come up with a plan. Meantime, BSU and the other Minnesota State campuses hope to hold on long enough for the bailout provided by the state legislature beginning in the 2024-2025 academic year–free tuition for students from families earning less than $80,000.