Junior criminology and justice major Samantha Bosch poses for a photo wearing her mask on the steps of Founders Hall April 20, 2020. | Photo by Thomas Lal

HSU Sails into Uncharted Waters

Humboldt State faces enrollment drop, budget cuts and academic department reorganizations
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Humboldt State faces enrollment drop, budget cuts and academic department reorganizations

If Humboldt State University was a ship, it would be sailing straight into uncharted seas, thick with fog.

Atop the tallest mast, HSU administrators spy an enrollment drop of around 20% for the fall semester, mainly due to COVID-19. Administrators project a resulting budget cut of around $7.4 million for the next school year and $20 million in the next two years, according to HSU’s most recent enrollment report and webinars held April 13 and 15.

Faculty and staff are scrambling across the deck to reorganize HSU’s academic departments.

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim Provost Lisa Bond-Maupin said HSU’s colleges are looking at combining department staff and faculty and adjusting fall course schedules for a smaller student population.

“Those are the strategies we’re looking at—combining staffing where it makes sense and combining chair leadership where it makes sense,” Bond-Maupin said via Zoom interview. “We’re not doing away with academic programs.”

A proposed plan emailed to department chairs of the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences divided CAHSS departments into four schools, each of which would have one chair. The presumed thinking behind the plan would be to eliminate the need for each department to have its own chair and free up chairs to teach more courses—reducing the number of other needed faculty.

Bond-Maupin did assure that HSU has no plan to cut any academic departments—but semester course offerings will depend on what students need.

Bond-Maupin said that exact proposal probably would not move forward. Bond-Maupin said she and the deans of the HSU colleges are still figuring out what they will do.

With department reorganizations and course offerings expected to be adjusted for the fall, lecturers will likely end up with fewer courses to teach. Bond-Maupin said schedules for a reduced number of students inevitably affect the availability of work. In other words, if all of a lecturer’s courses are pushed off the fall schedule, they would be thrown overboard too.

Bond-Maupin did assure that HSU has no plan to cut any academic departments—but semester course offerings will depend on what students need.

“As enrollment changes, we need to sort of follow the needs of the students,” Bond-Maupin said.

Over 2,000 individuals signed a change.org petition asking for HSU tuition to be reduced for the spring. Bond-Maupin said a change in tuition would come from the California State University Chancellor’s Office, not HSU.

Tuition reduction or not, HSU faces serious challenges. In an April 13 webinar HSU held on the enrollment decline and budget cuts, Vice President of Enrollment Management Jason Meriwether delivered dire news on enrollment.

“If the CSU is in a recession for enrollment, Humboldt State needs to worry about being in a depression for enrollment,” Meriwether said. “I hate to use those terms, but it just forecasts the impact HSU could face in the terms of COVID-19.”

HSU has refunded nearly $2.5 million to students for housing, parking and dining and projects to lose around $7 million by the end of June.

“We are hearing from the governor that there may be some return to being together but with some new social distancing parameters—so that’s possible.”

Lisa Bond-Maupin

Vice President of Administration and Finance Douglas Dawes emphasized the importance of the campus understanding the need to make quick budget cuts. Dawes said HSU is looking into a mix of measures, including hiring chills, spending freezes and retirement incentives.

These hits to the hull come despite progress HSU made before it entered the murky waters of the pandemic—208 local students accepted the Humboldt First scholarship, up from 32 local students per year for the last three years.

Both Meriwether and Bond-Maupin said details of the fall semester remain uncertain and hinge on public health recommendations. Bond-Maupin said HSU is preparing for a variety of potential scenarios, from remaining online to opening partially.

“We are hearing from the governor that there may be some return to being together but with some new social distancing parameters—so that’s possible,” Bond-Maupin said. “We might work with spacing. We also may look at timing. One scenario I can think of is that we are delayed in going back fully to face-to-face, so we begin online. I think we just have to plan for all those scenarios.”

The Lumberjack requested an interview with HSU President Tom Jackson multiple times for this story, but he could not be reached. HSU Communications Specialist Grant Scott-Goforth cited an “incredibly busy time.”

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