Cash-strapped colleges gut academics instead of sports, admin or rock-climbing walls

Robby Soave Reporter
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Confronted with a $5 million budget deficit, Minnesota State University at Moorhead has decided to simply jettison some of its academic departments

History, English and physics are currently on the chopping block. The university’s administrative division, however, is not.

The same thing is happening at the University of the District of Columbia, where the board recently considered eliminating 20 academic programs–contrary to the wishes of President James Lyons, who preferred to scrutinize the university’s sports budget budget. The NCAA Division II athletic program at UDC loses $3 million each year.

For now, the university is leaving its athletic program intact — and killing off 17 academic programs.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss condemned the move.

“Closing down underenrolled programs and finding a real academic focus is important for the future of UDC,” she wrote. “But can a four-year university consider itself a real institution of learning without a history or economics department? Hemorrhaging millions of dollars each year on unnecessary sports programs could wind up being a life-or-death question for UDC one day.”

As public universities feel their belts tightening, the fact that they first turn to academics to make tough cuts says much about their misplaced priorities, wrote Rebecca Schuman, an education columnist for Slate and professor at the University of Missouri.

“MSUM and UDC’s new vision — whose implementation will be closely watched by hundreds of institutions with similar profiles — is not a university at all,” she wrote. “It is a ghost town with quads and a gourmet cafeteria, one that consists of amenities, sports, and administrators — but no faculty.”

Noting that MSUM could soon have a rock-climbing wall but no political science department, Schuman decried the modern public university’s gradual evolution into something over than a school.

“Universities need to teach things, or else they are strip malls,” she wrote.

MSUM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MSUM President Edna Mora Szymanski is the sixth-highest compensated public employee in the state of Minnesota. She makes $232,000 per year.

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