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New changes cause mix of reactions from students, staff

Bemidji State University President Robert Hanson watches protesters display their displeasure about the proposed cuts announced Thursday to BSU staff and faculty Thursday morning. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Just as Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College President Richard Hanson was about to present the recalibration plan to faculty and staff Thursday morning at BSU, it was made clear to him that not everyone was on board with the plan.

Two protesters, holding signs that read, "Bad Data" and "Visionary or Mercenary" marched once around the lecture hall just before Hanson began his first presentation of the day.

Hanson and his administrative leadership team of Lisa Erwin, vice president for student development and enrollment; Bill Maki, vice president for finance and administration; and Bruce Hemstad, dean of academic and co-curricular affairs at NTC, were faced with numerous questions, comments and concerns from faculty and staff throughout the course of the day.

The president and his team were confronted with a variety of opinions, frustrations, concerns and emotions about the programs and faculty positions set to be removed or replaced.

Linda Brown, assistant professor of visual arts at BSU, said she does not agree with some of the cuts in the recalibration plan.

The plan calls for a reduction of two full-time equivalent, or FTE, staff positions in the visual arts program.

"If they cut both of those, we will have two and a half positions," Brown said. "We offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science in art education and we offer minors. With these cuts, those programs will not and cannot exist. (Hanson) is wrong."

Brown said she knows of one student who has decided to leave BSU after hearing of the staff cuts.

"Students will be leaving," she said. "It makes me very sad. It breaks my heart because, as far as academia, this is home for me and our art department is strong. It has shown in the community with our exhibits and our students. Students' hearts are out there breaking. There have been a lot of tears shed."

April Larson, a Spanish language instructor at BSU, was also concerned about the two faculty positions to be cut in the modern languages program.

"(Hanson) talked of distinctiveness. What if (BSU) were more distinctive because we do offer languages? It's like we need to open that view more," she said.

Lisa Graefe, a German language instructor at BSU, echoed Larson's concerns. She questioned why global awareness does not seem to be a priority for the university.

"If you listen to the priorities of the university, it doesn't sound like that is as important anymore," Graefe said. "Just looking at what is being cut impacts the students' abilities to be critical thinkers and impacts their abilities to be global citizens."

Neither Graefe nor Larson thought they would be at BSU as instructors in the long-term future.

"It just keeps getting smaller all the time," Larson said of the language department, "which is very frustrating for us because we are not where the rest of the world is. Our students don't have the same advantage in a global society or the same opportunity to see life in a different way as the rest of the world. It is troubling."

As a teaching graduate assistant and graduate student, Tammi Hartung, had planned to fulfill her master's degree by taking German classes as part of the university's two-year language requirement. She only needs one more year of German, but it will no longer be offered next year.

Hartung said she found out this week that German language faculty members were cut and she would not receive a second year of German. French and German will not be offered at BSU anymore as part of the recalibration plan. However, Spanish will still be offered, along with a first-year course of Chinese.

"It makes me question whether my program is going to be around anymore," Hartung said. "That language requirement is a big part of that program. So if they are only offering Spanish, it just seems like a slippery slope is happening here."

Several members of the BSU men's and women's track and field team, including the head coach, expressed concerns over the elimination of the men's track team. One student member said the reason he attended BSU was to participate on the team.

But not everyone was as skeptical of the recalibration plan. Some faculty members saw the positive side to the recalibration effort.

Lyle Meulebroeck, an industrial arts instructor at NTC, said NTC can help fill the void that will be caused by the loss of six faculty positions in the technological studies program at BSU.

"It's a good thing for the NTC," Meuelebroeck said. "We want to keep things going. We have the personnel that can help teach some of those classes."

Hanson responded to Meuelebroeck's comment at NTC by stating it was "exactly the kind of interaction I want to have happen."

Before handing the microphone off to Hanson at the afternoon student forum at BSU, Student Senate Co-President Michael Meehlhause spoke to students.

"Most of all, we are here because we care about our institution. We know times are tough," Meehlhause said. "These cuts affect everybody. I think we all know somebody who is affected by this. I think we can all agree it hits close to home. BSU is changing."

Anton Treuer, BSU professor of languages and ethnic studies, said he has mixed feelings about the recalibration plan.

He said he is sad to see positions cut and programs being hit with reductions.

"My heart goes out to the people who work here," he said. "And the way that the budget is tying the hands of the university and its ability to do everything."

At the same time, Treuer said, he looks forward to the potential Hanson and his leadership team sees in doing more with the Ojibwe language program and the American Indian Resource Center.

"I certainly hope those things come into being," Treuer said. "We've been given no additional funds or support, but at the same time, the president has reiterated the Ojibwe language and Indian studies offering the university things that are distinct and innovative, and I want to see it expand."

The public can view the recalibration presentation online at