As colleges and universities across the nation face budgetary cuts in the wake of COVID-19, including faculty layoffs, the fear is that minoritized faculty and staff could be hardest hit.
Some are raising concern about St. Cloud State University’s decision to layoff three employees — two of whom are women of color, and one of whom works with LGBTQ students. The layoffs, announced earlier this year, are an effort to cut costs.
St. Cloud State’s Faculty Association President Frances Kayona said that she learned about the layoffs in late spring 2020. Two of the faculty members impacted are from the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and one is from the Information Media Program.
A spokeswoman from the university declined to release the names of the three faculty members.
The layoffs are considered retrenchments. The contract for the Inter Faculty Organization – the bargaining unit that the three faculty are members of – defines retrenchment as the layoff of tenured or probationary faculty members due to budget issues.
Per the contract, tenured and non-tenure track faculty in affected departments can be laid off in inverse order of seniority rostering, wherein “the last to be hired is the first to be laid off,” said Kayona.
“I cannot justify or tell you why exactly these three individuals were chosen,” Kayona said. “I can tell you what administration is claiming. But I cannot justify it or provide a rationale for it. I can only share with you what administration has shared.”
Kayona said she was told that the choice to reduce the faculty position in Information Media is directly tied to a steady drop in enrollment.
“They cited that program as having declining market demand and declining enrollment,” she said.
Still, some faculty raised concerns about the university’s commitment to diversity when those laid off are minorities.
But university officials said that layoffs are always tough and that budget reductions are made at a macro-level.
“Our institution fully recognizes the urgency around the work that needs to be done to address the policies and procedures that negatively impact diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Dr. Jason Woods, vice president of strategic enrollment management in an email to Diverse.