More queen sacrifices in Michigan, Texas, and Arkansas

American higher education continues to exercise the queen sacrifice strategy. Here I’ll share three recent examples from across the country.

(If you’re new to the term, it’s one I’ve been using to describe a college or university strategy of cutting full time and especially tenure-track faculty members. The term comes from chess, and describes giving up the most powerful piece one has in a risky play for victory. In my analogy tenure-track faculty are the queens of the campus board, given their positions, their long-running status, and governance role. You can find more examples and discussion here.)

First up, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock ( UALR) is planning on cutting faculty members. Its chancellor asked the University of Arkansas system’s trustees for permission to declare retrenchment status, which lets the institution remove faculty members:

a reduction in programs and/or services which results in the termination of employment only because of (1) a bona fide financial exigency or (2) formal academic planning including Board approved changes in institutional missions, substantial program changes…

Why is this happening? UALR explained thusly in a FAQ aimed at current students:

You are enrolled at UA Little Rock at a time when the higher education landscape is changing rapidly. A combination of flat state funding and a decline in enrollment has required us to make tough decisions about how to remain competitive in the future.

Yes, enrollment and financial pressures, according to the Northern Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

A decade of declining enrollment has forced UALR officials to look for ways to trim the university’s budget. This year the university will come up more than $10 million short of what it actually budgeted, after years of falling enrollment and basing budgets on enrollment projections that were too optimistic…

Dropping enrollment, largely treated as temporary by previous leaders, over the past decade has hit UALR hard. With more than 13,000 students in 2010, UALR counted about 9,600 enrolled in the fall of 2019, about 1,100 of whom are high school students paying lower tuition.

Chancellor Drale also added weak state funding to the rationale.

Which programs and professors are to be removed? It’s unclear now. If the trustees grant the request, then a process unfolds, whereby “university leaders conclude campus meetings, leadership meetings and vetting programs through established procedures…” Faculty may play a role in that process:

Amanda Nolen, president of the faculty senate, said she expects members to play a “central role in reviewing and making recommendations on any proposed academic program deletions or modifications.”

Drale described this process in terms of prioritization: “This review will also allow us to focus on our strengths and prioritize our investments in the future.”

Next, Hardin-Simmons University will cut a series of degrees and programs, along with a group of faculty members.

On the block: “17 faculty positions will be cut from these programs, and additional faculty reductions are forthcoming from several of the remaining programs.”

Programs facing the ax include:

Doctor of Ministry, Master of Arts in Family Ministry, Master of Arts in Religion, Master of Divinity, Master of Education in Gifted and Talented Education, Master of Education in Reading Specialist Education, Master of Music in Church Music, Master of Music in Music Education, Master of Music in Music Theory and Composition, Master of Music in Performance, Minor in Music on the M.Ed. degree, Bachelor of Business Administration in Banking & Financial Services, Bachelor of Business Administration in Nonprofit Management, Bachelor of Business Administration in Public Administration, Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition, Bachelor of Science in Human Sciences in Physical Education, Minor in Biblical Languages, Minor in Leadership, Minor in Sociology, Minor in Spanish, Express Teacher Certification, Master Reading Teacher Certificate

At the same time, “14 administration and staff positions have been eliminated, with additional positions to be cut in the future.”

What’s the reason for these reductions? According to Inside Higher Ed, “[President Eric Bruntmyer] said the cuts were made due to financial difficulties, to help close a $4 million deficit.”

These cuts occur two weeks after HSU announced it would shut down its Logsdon Seminary. Two years ago the campus cut other programs, faculty, and staff. It seems that these financial difficulties are long-standing.

(Hardin-Simmons trustees also committed to donating $100,000 to the campus at their February meeting.)

According to a document linked from the Big Country News story, the university is also adding some programs, as per the queen sacrifice model:

One more: Kendall College of Art and Design ( KCAD) will combine some programs and end another. First, “[t]he current Industrial Design, Furniture Design, and Metals and Jewelry Design programs will all be combined to create the Product Design program.” Second,

Kendall also plans to merge the Fine Arts programs — Photography, Drawing, Sculpture and Functional Art, Printmaking and Painting into a new degree program. That change does not have a set timeline yet.

At the same time,

The school also plans to suspend enrollment of its Art Education program and eliminate the program entirely no later than Spring 2022. The two Art Education faculty positions will be eliminated as current students finish their degrees.

There’s also an administrative cut in the works:

The college also reviewed its current staffing levels. According to a press release, that review found a “heavy ratio or administrative support and director-level positions compared to faculty positions.”

The college said it plans to eliminate four staff positions as well.

The cause? Enrollment decline, according to Inside Higher Ed. KCAD’s Wikipedia article notes that “[t]here were 1,459 students enrolled at KCAD for the Fall 2013 semester. By 2020, enrollment had dropped to 832.” MLive states that the Art Education program suffered a spectacular plummet, having “experienced a 62% decline in enrollment the past five years, the college said. Currently, only 18 students are enrolled.”

The institution’s president blamed this on local conditions, especially demand for education:

“If we look at education programs across Michigan,” said McCrackin, “they’ve seen as steep decline of roughly 7%. Our education program in the past five years has seen a decline by 62%. We have a fabulous program, but without students we don’t have a program at all.”

There’s also a sign of administrative efficiency in the official explanation for merging those programs. “[Kendall College interim President Tara McCrackin] said the merger makes sense because those programs have already been working together.”

KCAD’s history is fascinating. It started off as a two-year design program nearly a century ago, then grew with the general American higher ed boom in the 60s and 70s, adding four-year and graduate degreed. In 2000 is merged with Ferris State.

Taking a look at these cases, what can we learn? What do they tell us in connection with other queen sacrifices and cuts?

  • These are very different institutions. One is arts and design, another’s deeply religious, and a third is a general, public university. Each has its own (fairly long, for US academic) history and local context. Each one is following a different path for implementing these cuts. Yet they all suffer from the same challenges: declining enrollment and concomitant financial pressures. They are also all weighing individual programs for student interest.
  • Education joins the arts as a popular target for cuts. I would link this with demographics, as decreasing K-12 student populations don’t exactly trigger a boom for teachers, especially in the midwest. In addition, the current climate sees teachers as undercompensated and generally ill-treated.
  • These cuts address present and recent challenges. They aren’t so much aimed at anticipating upcoming problems.
  • I hesitate to link Hardin-Simmons’ woes with changes in American religious affiliation, especially for younger people. If that university’s primary audience is Texas, they should surely have no shortage of religiously-interested students. But perhaps there’s a ripple effect in play, with religious institutions nationwide competing for a shrinking pool of applications overall.

(thanks to Lee Skallerup-Bessette for one story; others via Inside Higher Ed)

Originally published at on February 21, 2020.

Futurist, speaker, writer, consultant, educator. Author of the FTTE report and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.