Henderson State to cut history, biology, art and other programs in plan to stay afloat

The dreaded cuts the Henderson State University community has been bracing for were announced Monday, and they’re deep.

Chancellor Chuck Ambrose revealed a plan that would do away with undergraduate degree programs in geography, history, political science, public administration, social science, justice, early childhood development, criminal sciences, human services, biology, radiography, chemistry, mathematics, nuclear medicine technology, medical lab science, studio art, art education, communication, mass media communication, theater arts, English and Spanish. Students currently enrolled in these degree programs, or who are set to enroll in the fall of 2022, will be able to finish their chosen degrees at Henderson State.

These cuts aren’t final until they go to the Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees for a vote on Thursday at 10 am, Henderson State spokeswoman Tina Hall said.

The cuts, while drastic, were not unexpected. Hall told the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network’s Debra Hale-Shelton earlier this year that academic programs were expected to shrink 30-40%.

The plan revealed Tuesday would cut 88 jobs, only 21 of which are currently unfilled. This means 67 people will lose their jobs. Of those 67, 44 are tenured professors. These cuts are expected to save more than $5 million.

The programs that will continue to be offered under the plan being voted on Thursday are included in the chart below.

The plan announced Tuesday comes after years of financial turmoil at the Arkadelphia school that at one point necessitated a state bailout. The school’s desperate financial situation stayed largely under wraps until 2019, when Chancellor Glendell Jones Jr. resigned under pressure.

Ambrose released a statement acknowledging the stress and anxiety that comes with painful cuts and such a drastic shift in the university’s scope of offerings.

Here’s the full press release:

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – Henderson State University Chancellor Chuck Ambrose today announced an academic reorganization recommendation designed to enhance student success, address community-based workforce needs and produce critical financial savings for the institution’s future.

Both the chancellor’s recommendation and a plan submitted by the Financial Exigency Committee will be presented to the Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees for consideration at a special meeting Thursday at 10 am at the System Office in Little Rock. Details about the recommendations, communication from the chancellor and questions and answers about the plan can be found at hsu.edu/futureofhenderson.

The Henderson leadership team established an initial financial savings target of $5 million from academic salaries. Elimination or reduction in non-instruction unit salaries and restructuring of administration positions have already resulted in $1.8 million of savings.

The chancellor’s academic restructuring recommendation reduces total instructional positions by 88 – including 21 currently unfilled positions – or 37 percent of the 237 total positions in spring 2022. Of the remaining 67 positions being cut, 44 are tenured faculty members who may remain employed through the 2022 -2023 academic year. The changes will result in annual salary savings of $2.55 million in Fiscal Year 2023 and an additional $2.79 million in Fiscal Year 2024.

The committee’s plan would result in salary savings of $3.74 million. It would eliminate all part-time and adjunct positions, all faculty lines for faculty no longer with the university, and 33 additional positions. Its recommendation would discontinue 12 academic programs.

Ambrose said faculty members who would be impacted under his recommendation, if approved by the Board of Trustees, were notified by phone earlier in the day.

“I’m deeply saddened for these faculty members and understand how difficult this process will be,” Ambrose said. “We did not take these decisions lightly, and it is impossible to minimize the impact this has on members of our community. Henderson is a tight-knit family and community, so we understand this is difficult. We will do everything possible to help these individuals during their transitioning.

“We simply cannot grow our way out of Henderson’s financial challenges without implementing significant restructuring,” he added. “Our low degree completion and retention rates have negatively impacted our tuition revenue while our instructional costs have escalated. Student success through degree completion and meeting workforce needs will be our top priority.”

Ambrose said the reimagining of academic degree programs is organized into four meta-majors that align with the competencies, skills, and talents that design community-based workforce needs: Health, Education, and Social Sustainability; Applied Professional Science and Technology; Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Arts and Humanities.

Academic degrees are designated as either “Future Degree Programs,” which will continue to be offered, or as “Teach-Out Degree Programs.” Currently enrolled Henderson students and freshmen in Fall 2022 will be supported to complete Teach-Out Degrees. Academic disciplines included in Teach-Out Degrees will continue to be incorporated through the general education and interdisciplinary studies curriculum to enhance outcomes for all students.

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