ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – Major changes are on their way to Henderson State University. Thursday morning the Arkansas State University System approved the best plan they could imagine to keep the school from closing. The plan also eliminates 12 programs and 88 faculty positions.
Henderson State University (HSU) merged into the Arkansas State University System (ASUS) in 2019 due to its urgent financial issues. In 2015, the university had 4 months’ worth of operating cash on hand. By 2019, that had reduced to one week according to ASUS Board President Charles Welch. Now that there is no more pandemic funding, a hard decision had to be made fast.
“Had we not stepped in in 2019, I believe the university would have failed to survive,” Welch told everyone in the broadcasted board meeting.
After the tough decision to take over Henderson State University’s debt, the Arkansas State University System Board faced an even tougher decision Thursday. Do they transform how Henderson operates at the cost of 37% of its professors and most of its liberal arts programs?
Geography, history, political science, public administration, criminal justice, biology, studio art, communication, mass media communication, theatre arts, English and Spanish were recommended to discontinue. More than 20 programs will be affected including early childhood development and human services.
Students who are currently enrolled or set to be enrolled in the affected degree programs will still be able to finish their degrees at the university, according to the plan.
In response to the chancellor’s recommendations, the HSU Faculty Senate voted for a “no confidence” resolution Wednesday.
Megan L. Hickerson, Ph.D., Professor of History & Director, Master of Liberal Arts Program, wrote the resolution which argued the process for identifying who would be terminated was not correctly followed.
“When this strategy was introduced to us it was done with no consultation whatsoever,” Dr. Hickerson said in the meeting.
Dr. Meghan Hickerson is one of the affected professors. She as well as other faculty, alumni, and even parents voiced their questions and concerns during the meeting. Many wanted more input to try and find an alternative solution.
“We would have really embraced the opportunity to try to work out strategies to foster these problems that were not quite as catastrophic, and when I say catastrophic, I don’t mean for the professors but for the whole region,” Dr. Hickerson said.
Henderson State University Chancellor Chuck Ambrose said, “I really don’t know what the alternative would be other than to present a model that was at the risk of closure.”
Records show each program is bringing less money than it costs.
“I looked at that data and asked what’s the alternative. I’ll be very direct. I don’t have one,” Ambrose added.
On top of that Henderson State has some of the highest average operating costs in the state but the worst graduation rate. The new plan focuses on what degrees are in demand for today’s workforce.
“This plan is reflective of the creative thinking that is going to be needed as higher education goes forward,” ASUS Board Member Price Gardner asserted.
The unanimous vote to cut these jobs and programs will save Henderson State University almost $5.5M over the next two school years. It also comes in the middle of finals, teacher appreciation week, and graduation Friday.