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Hanson still confident recalibraton plan will make Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College stronger

Amid the backlash from some non-supporters of a plan to cut $5 million from the budget, Richard Hanson has kept his eyes focused on two goals - keeping a balanced budget and preparing for the students of 2020.

"Five million dollars is a lot of money," said Hanson, Bemidji State University's and Northwest Technical College's president.

BSU and NTC officials unveiled a plan in January to deal with a $5 million budget shortfall for BSU and NTC over the next two years. Hanson referred to this plan as "recalibration," which he said is a direct result from the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit.

Recalibration recap

As part of the recalibration plan, the art history and theater academic programs will be eliminated at BSU. At NTC, the environmental landscaping and massage therapy programs will be permanently removed. The BSU men's track and field program will also be eliminated.

Eighteen programs at BSU are being reduced with about 33 positions affected. These programs are visual arts, English and speech, history, philosophy, modern languages, music, physics, environmental studies, economics, mathematics, computer science, psychology, sociology, accounting, technological studies, physical education, health, and sport, professional education and automotive.

The plan calls for expanding the areas of business, mass communication, American Indian studies and Ojibwe language programming. Science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, courses are also slated for expansion.

Not all is lost

Not all liberal arts programs are being eliminated, contrary to what some students, staff and community members have publicly stated.

Two fulltime equivalent, or FTE, staff will be cut from the English and speech programs, but eight staff positions remain. The two faculty members to be cut have the option of teaching at BSU next year, said Nancy Erickson, BSU's interim vice president for academic affairs.

In the history program, two FTE staff will be cut. Two members will remain in the department.

One FTE faculty member will be cut from the philosophy program, but two faculty members will remain.

In the area of modern languages, two FTE will be let go and the German and French languages will no longer be offered. BSU will now offer a Spanish major, Ojibwe minor and one-year course of Chinese. Four FTE staff will remain at the university, along with a Chinese scholar on exchange from a university in china.

Two FTE instructors will be let go from the music department, but six faculty members will remain.

As for BSU's theater department, two FTE positions will be eliminated, as well as the program. Students currently at the junior or senior level will be able to finish their majors through 2012.

"One of the faculty persons (to be cut) has another year on their contract," Erickson said. "Another person is going on sabbatical in the spring."

BSU will also no longer offer an art history minor, as the program is set to be eliminated. One FTE staff member will be let go. But Erickson said this staff person has the option to fulfill an existing three-year contract.

"This person may be teaching some kind of art history course here or there or may have some other assignments in other departments, but this has yet to be determined," Erickson said. "Under contract this person still has three more potential years of teaching time at university."

College deans and department heads at BSU and NTC have been discussing what the future of the existing programs will look like in the coming years, Erickson said. There has been some talk that the visual arts program may become more aligned with the design technology program.

Mix of reactions

"It's a process," Hanson said of the recalibration plan. "I think I communicated it well, but not everyone agrees when there are changes. I think there are challenges. It's a two-year process and we're only at the beginning."

A mixed bag of reactions from community members, faculty and students was opened after Hanson and other officials announced the list of programs to be reduced or cut. One group of students and staff took the streets to protest the elimination of the theater program. Some community members voiced their discontent with the cuts made to music and arts programs at a local event. Others wrote letters to the editor in the newspaper and e-mailed letters to Hanson.

"I think some of the people in the fine arts community are disappointed," Hanson said. "I think some of the business people I talked to are glad we're solidifying our position in the community. But the university is certainly trying to do the best it can with its resources."

At a public forum Feb. 19, in which more than 60 art supporters from the community met with Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, at the Headwaters School of Music & the Arts in Bemidji, Carlson said he had spoken to Hanson one day earlier about some of program reductions.

"I hope you know how painful that was to him as an individual," Carlson told attendees. "It's out of the purview at the state legislature to micromanage universities, but I do know from a person standpoint he had to make a very difficult decision."

When asked about his discussion with Carlson, Hanson said he feels he has been characterized and caricatured in a variety of ways, some of which are not so flattering.

"They don't know my past," Hanson said of some of the critics he has heard from. "Theater is a great favorite of mine. I love theater. That was really hard because I don't think theater was very financially efficient here."

Hanson said he has heard reactions from some people who assume all arts programs will be eliminated.

"That's not true at all," Hanson said. "I think there is an advantage to going to the horse's mouth and not making assumptions especially when the assumptions are not based on fact, they're based on rumor."

Hanson said he has tried to respond to every e-mail he has received, and there have been hundreds. Most of the comments he has seen, he said, are from music and theater supporters and men's track team proponents.

Kirin Peterson, a sophomore theater major at BSU, was in attendance at the art supporter's forum with Carlson last week. She said she personally met with Hanson.

"He was very friendly," she said. "He was very open to listening to what I had to say. He did express that he had a love for the arts. He was an actor in high school. A lot of people like to make him out as a bad guy, but that's not true. He was very adamant that theater is not dead at BSU."

When asked if there would be a theater presence on campus in the future, Hanson said he did not know, but did not appear to be worried.

"There is a pretty strong community theater presence," Hanson said. "I bet something happens. These people are creative."

One of the criticisms Hanson said he took very seriously was from a faculty member who told him he has taken away the potential for participation of nonathletic students.

"I don't think so," he said. "Students are very creative. If the students want it, it's likely to appear in one way or another. And that's part of our responsibility is to encourage that leadership in that."

In looking ahead to the future, Hanson said difficult adjustments may still have to be made, depending on the budget that is approved by state legislators.

"The (Gov. Mark) Dayton budget is really our best budget, but I don't think we're going to get the Dayton budget," Hanson said. "I hope it doesn't get worse. I don't know that it will."