The inescapable topic of the year?the global economic crisis?has already had profound effects on the Middle Tennessee area in the form of falling property prices, lost jobs and scarce credit. As such, it should come as no surprise to Murfreesboro residents that Middle Tennessee State University has to tighten the belt and make tough changes.
What has surprised some is the form of these changes. With roughly $19 million slashed from MTSU’s budget, the school has put many programs and majors up on the chopping block.
A report from MTSU’s Oversight Steering Committee, a body formed to brainstorm potential budget solutions, recommended the reorganization of the colleges and concentrations, job cuts in faculty and the elimination of departments with low enrollment.
The committee is responsible for suggestions and implementation, but MTSU President Sidney McPhee has final say over what goes and what stays. In his response to the report, McPhee listed the reduction of faculty and administrative staff, the merger of the Social Work, Criminal Justice, Administration, Sociology and Anthropology departments, and the possible merger or elimination of the Philosophy department as all being “under serious consideration.”
Other considerations include reductions in utilities usage, realignment to a “tri-semester” schedule, offering more online classes, elimination of the June Anderson Women’s Center and the consolidation of similar campus programs.
The campus radio station, WMOT Jazz 89, originally considered to be cut entirely, may now be consolidated with its student-run counterpart, WMTS 88.3, the campus publications Sidelines, Collage and The Record and the student television station Channel 10. What shape this new “Student Media Center” might take is still up in the air.
“To be honest with you, I have no idea what is going to happen. All I know is that we are definitely going to be a Student Media Center, which from what I have heard about them, I don’t like the idea. However, since it is going to happen whether I like it or not, I did ask to be put on the ?Student Media Center Committee,’ which means I will be in on the decision making process,” WMTS General Manager Alli Scott said.
Sidelines Faculty Advisor Steven Chappell remained optimistic, saying that he expected the paper to “maintain some autonomy,” adding that he does not expect the paper to go Internet-only, as has been suggested. In the meantime, it is reducing the use of color and considering dropping to a once-a-week format to cut costs.
“Right now it just looks like it’s going to be a waiting game as the university reexamines everything that’s been put together really quickly. I think they’re doing the right thing, using the stimulus money to buy more time rather than do them in such a rushed manner,” Chappell said.
The stimulus money is one point of serious debate. As part of the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the school will receive two grants of $19 million over the next two years, effectively nullifying the budget decrease. However, McPhee warns the stimulus money is no panacea.
“Due to significant misinformation regarding the long-term benefit of stimulus funds and some questions about the continued need for this process, there are many individuals who still have not accepted the fact that we must proceed with efforts to significantly cut our budget.
“TBR Chancellor Charles Manning has indicated to all System Presidents and Directors as late as March 9 that it is ?imperative’ that we continue the budget reduction and restructuring efforts,” McPhee wrote in his response to Oversight Steering Committee suggestions.
Many, however, have questioned if such drastic cuts and restructuring is necessary in the face of a two-year furlough on budget reductions.
The Coalition to Save Our Schools, a student group that has protested many of the proposed cuts, has continuously questioned the decision to cut programs that could remain funded for a two years, at which point the funding and economic situations may well have improved.
The group has raised the question as to what sacrifices the president is willing to face, including salary cuts for himself and his administrative staff, and going as far as to demand McPhee’s resignation at a forum held to discuss the proposed cuts.
“This was the only student forum, so I am discontent with the one-hour time frame of the forum. McPhee’s presentation was 40 minutes long, leaving only 20 minutes for questions. He also claimed he was hosting an event in his home that evening and could not stay after the scheduled time. What convenient scheduling,” former MTSU Philosophy student Wendy Caldwell wrote.
With the Philosophy department being considered for elimination, Caldwell has become a major advocate for preserving the program. Her site, savemtsuphilosophy.blogspot.com, records her efforts.
While Caldwell says she actually agrees with many of the proposed cost reductions, she said the university should have been more proactive to avoid these deeper, academic cuts.
“It’s frustrating having been a student there, and having known all of those little things that go on at the campus that could save money, like leaving the lights on in a building when no one is there. To me, that should be an ongoing thing. We should always try to be more efficient and more cost effective as a university. We shouldn’t wait for budget cuts to turn some lights off,” Caldwell said.
While Caldwell plans to continue her e-mail and letter writing campaign, she says McPhee has responded telling her not to bother e-mailing him ever again, as her e-mails will not be read. She plans to ignore that statement.
“From what I’ve seen, there is this presumption that people who disagree with him are simply misinformed. The truth is there are valid concerns that he won’t recognize,” Caldwell said.
Whether taking an active role in it or not, the cuts will still concern every student.
“Of course I’m worried. Even if the budget is cut and the department survives, we’ll still lose teachers, admission and resources, and what we’ll have left will be pretty shoddy. Now imagine if it is cut, but I still get to finish. Who will hire a graduate from a university that doesn’t even have that major anymore?” MTSU Anthropology major David Conner said.
Regardless of concerns, every proposal is still undecided. Much like the markets, everyone at MTSU seems to have the topic on their minds, wondering what will go next. Everyone knows things will have to change, but the ever present question seems to be this: when will it be enough?