Several staff and faculty members at Missouri Western State University learned their fates with the institution through emails sent late last week after school officials eliminated a number of programs.
Missouri Western officials sent the emails to those who will see their jobs cut due to budgetary restrictions on Thursday, one day after the school’s Board of Governors passed a series of multi-million-dollar recommended budget cuts.
About 60 full-time employees lost their jobs due to the cuts, which will see multiple programs at the university phased out over the next three years. The liberal arts facilities were hit the hardest, while STEM and business majors stayed more intact.
Dr. Lane DesAutels, a philosophy professor who still will have his job, said his department was hit hard. The department of history and geography, which also included philosophy and religion, had four full-time philosophy professors and will be going down to two. The religion program was cut, and geography was absorbed by the biology department.
“(These have been) some pretty hard-hitting cuts for us, but comparatively it has been the humanities and some of the social sciences that have been hit the hardest,” DesAutels said.
DesAutels said he understands the need for the university to cut costs with the recent declines in enrollment and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The financial reality is that, with enrollments down and with the current COVID crisis, this is a necessary thing for us to do,” DesAutels said. “We have to streamline, and we have to kind of put our offerings more in line with the demand that our students are bringing to us.”
Bill Church, a longtime English professor at Missouri Western who was not part of the layoffs, wrote an email to Missouri Western’s board of governors outlining the importance of liberal arts majors. He said he knew faculty and staff cuts were necessary, but he felt programs did not need to be eliminated. He said he felt most programs still could run with fewer staff.
“We could have saved programs and, to me, saving programs saves opportunity for students,” Church said. “I told all my staff and all my colleagues ‘You know — point blank, folks — I’m not out to save jobs in my email to the board.’ I’m out to save programs for our students.”
Church said he believes traditional liberal arts programs are critical for certain jobs, and being able to speak and write will always be a valuable skill.
Church said although Missouri Western proposed a teach-out program for students to finish their majors, he does not know how that will work if some faculty are still not with the university.
“I think of the current administration led by the president is misleading the public by saying, ‘Well, students have already voted by their feet that they’re not majoring in the liberal arts,’” Church said.
The university found itself in a state of financial emergency earlier this year, well before COVID-19 started to damage the local economy. Between slashing academic programs and other moves including a $600,000 cut to administrator compensation and a $500,000 cut to athletics, the university is aiming to save about $6 million annually.
Missouri Western Provost Douglas Davenport did not respond to a request from News-Press NOW for an interview.