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November 16, 2006

In the News

The Town Dandy
The north wind doth blow

Short Stor

Slog to the spoils-to-be

Humboldt State tackles bad budget
Students and faculty criticize Richmond, vow to save university

story and photos by HELEN SANDERSON

They say that beauty's only skin deep, and that much appears to be true for Humboldt State. As anyone who's been paying attention knows, those new stucco gates are doing little to disguise the ugly-stick smack-down the university's budget has endured this semester, and the resulting strife among the campus community.

At a town hall meeting last month, HSU President Rollin Richmond announced that the university is up against a $3.1 million deficit this year, and cuts will need to be made in the spring semester to make up for the shortfall, the result of unmet enrollment goals. Some smaller departments worry that their programs will be phased out entirely, while bigger departments, like Biology, fear that the school's reputation will take a nosedive.

In response, students, staff and faculty have staged protest rallies on campus pleading with Richmond to save academics while simultaneously condemning him for taking a 13 percent pay increase. Some professors have even gone so far as to call for Richmond's ouster.

Faculty members fear that enrollment problems will only grow worse as the tightened budget strangles the soul of the institution, long praised for its stellar science programs, intimate setting and low student-to-teacher ratio.

In total, 20 lecturers -- non-tenured instructors -- have gotten the ax, including longtime oceanography instructor and HSU graduate Hal Genger.

"It definitely wasn't something I was considering," Genger said. "My daughter just started college and I have a lot of outgoing expenses." Students made a chalk grave with Genger's name on it to draw attention to what has been called the "Dead Lecturers' Society." Genger, 57, said that he will essentially be forced to retire from HSU so he doesn't lose his health benefits.

Meanwhile the oceanography department -- like all departments campus-wide -- is now in a state of flux. Teaching responsibilities have been restructured. Spring classes have been cut, including a marine pollution class. Genger said some who planned on graduating in the spring will have to attend HSU for another year. All science lab courses have been cut back to save money. It's well known that science classes, with their higher unit loads and special lab equipment, are more expensive to offer than humanities.

"It costs more to train a chemist than a historian, no question," said 31-year HSU Chemistry Professor Richard Paselk. Paselk said that until somewhat recently, HSU received extra state funding to account for its higher-than-average number of science students. But the funding scheme changed within the past decade.

Semi-retired Biology Professor Milt Boyd is worried that the entire science department's reputation might be at stake. Boyd was on the search committee that hired President Richmond five years ago. He recalled that each candidate was asked how they would restructure academics in the event of low enrollment and a budget shortfall. According to Boyd, Richmond indicated that he would recognize the "high quality" programs capable of attracting the most students and ensure that those programs maintained necessary resources and funding. At the time, it was exactly what Boyd wanted to hear.

"But now we're confronted with across-the-board cuts," Boyd said. "The best known programs are not getting the resources that I heard Richmond commit to."

Boyd added that some junior faculty members have confided in him that they might not stick around if things decline further, and those fears are echoed by students. Two weeks ago, he said, an underclassman came to his office in tears because she wouldn't get the classes she needed.

"I'm having to admit that things once on my list of the good things about Humboldt are no longer there," he said.

Among that list of "good things" is small class sizes. Chemistry, biology, physics and geology will teach some "mega-classes" of up to 300 students. Biology Lecturer Leslie Vandermolen will teach two of these large classes, Biology 104 and 105. Initially, Vandermolen was informed that her teaching position would be eliminated, but when no one else could teach those classes she was asked to come back for one more semester.

With no classrooms on campus large enough to hold that many students, performance venues will be used for the lectures. Science professors have complained that the university just paid over $2 million this summer to update Science B 135, the science department's largest lecture hall with a capacity of around 120 people.

Political Science Lecturer Dan Faulk, well-liked among students for his unorthodox teaching style, teaches an introductory government class of 150 students and the same course with only 50 students. "I can tell you there is a qualitative difference, just of processing information and the level of discussion and interaction," he said. "[The larger class] is an inferior class."

Next semester Faulk will teach two classes with 154 students each. Faulk said that his colleague, Melanie Williams, refused to take on the class because it is a poor learning environment for students.

Administrators maintain that only 6 percent of its classes will have more than 70 students, but faculty, including Faulk, accuse the administration of manipulating numbers because a number of classes are being bumped up from 45 to 70 students.

Faulk and Geography Lecturer Chris Haynes offered to teach a one-unit weekend course in the gymnasium for free that would accommodate up to 1,400 students so that the university could meet its full-time equivalent (FTE) student expectations, and thereby regain up to $400,000 in academic funding. Faulk said neither Provost Richard Vrem nor Richmond were responsive to his offer, even though 1,400 students recently signed a pledge stating that they would take 15 units in the spring semester so the university could fulfill its FTE enrollment goals.

"My job is over," Faulk said. "After this [spring] semester, there is nothing there. The only reason I would be able to teach anything is if somebody took a leave of absence and needed someone to teach a class." However, Faulk added that he is still hoping a group of HSU students will be able to successfully lobby the CSU Board of Trustees to restore Humboldt's funding and bring back the spring semester's classes and lecturers.

On Monday, 10 students with the Community Action United to Save Education (CAUSE) drove to Long Beach to meet with the Trustees. They're hoping for the same outcome that CSU Dominguez Hills had this semester, when $2 million of that university's budget was restored.

Terra Rentz, a senior wildlife major and CAUSE member, said that while discussions between faculty, students and administrators have at times been hostile, her group is trying to take a proactive approach to the budget crisis and has offered several ideas to administrators on how to restore the spring semester. Among them, asking students to agree to take 15 units, instituting a tuition increase of $50 for all HSU students or hiking fees for science majors. The group has also called on Assemblywoman Patty Berg to lobby the state to help HSU, which is one of the largest employers in the county and therefore instrumental in the North Coast's economic well-being.

Although Rentz is in her final year at HSU and won't be affected by the cutbacks, she said that graduates should still be concerned about the university. "If we can keep Humboldt's reputation up we still benefit," she said. "Its reputation will help our future careers and chances of getting into grad school."

On Tuesday afternoon, CAUSE member Tony Snow said he had been keeping in touch with the CAUSE crew in Long Beach. "Apparently it has been more than successful. I'm psyched," Snow said. "We were encouraged not to go down there at all, told it was a waste of time and money." Snow said that on Tuesday, CAUSE sat down with the CSU Board of Finance and Chancellor Charles Reed, who pointed to HSU as an example of why the CSU needs more funding.



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