When Beggs began teaching at Henderson State University, he had no intention of spending his entire career there. But a small, liberal art institution in rural Arkansas soon grew into him.
“Within a few years, I liked it,” said Beggs, a professor of English. “It was pretty much what I thought I would want in a professor’s career.” He was encouraged to do research in his field and move forward. He helped run the Campus Literary Journal for over 20 years. There was money for faculty conferences, but campus leaders and faculty members also pushed to keep the university student-centered.
There he met his wife, Carly Kate, who also taught English.
In recent years, university enrollment has declined, and its financial situation has deteriorated. Bags and Kate knew the cuts were coming. Still, he said he did not know how dramatic he would be.
The board of trustees of the Arkansas State University System voted in May to remove 25 degree programs and remove 67 faculty members, of whom 44 had a term. Among them were Bags and Kate.
“Here at the end, it looks like we’ve gone blind, and I’m not alone in that,” Beggs said. “It’s been very fast and brutal and abusive on many levels.”
Increased economic pressure from the epidemic has forced many colleges to remove faculty and staff members in the past two years. College leaders in Henderson and elsewhere have faced painful decisions that are unfortunate even if they need to. “There was no way to make incremental changes and continue operations,” said Henderson Chancellor Charles M. Ambrose said in a written reply. The Chronicle ‘s questions. The organization has saved $ 4 million “through position management” since January, Ambrose said.
On the other side of those choices are Bags and Kate – people who have dedicated years of service to their organizations and now feel betrayed.
Kate had no tenure, so she lost her job in May. She is legally blind, and is worried that she will not be able to find another position to allow her to teach online. Beggs has a term, he will get employment through the next academic year. But it’s a little relaxing.
“In the meantime, life is ruined – my own wife’s – and we’re not even sure we can keep our home at this point,” Beggs said. “It happened very quickly, and for the malnourished people, their work was done.”
One of her students said that the class helped her to become a better person. She was full of pride.
Then Kate got a call from Henderson.
Kate asked the woman on the phone if her husband’s job was secure; She was not sure. After yesterday, Kate apologized to her husband for trying to rack her mind for any mistakes or complaints that could lead to a decision.
“I told her I felt like I had done something wrong – of course I did something wrong,” Kate said. “Why else would they let me go?” At the time, the couple did not know that entire departments had been cut.
An hour later, Begg received the same phone call.
Henderson’s well-documented financial turmoil is worse than any other struggling college. Declining enrollment is putting pressure on the university’s bottom line, and unpaid student balances are accumulating. Its long-term debt has grown from १४ 14 million to ८ 78 million over the past two decades. Financial irregularities within the university’s foundation and the former patriarch allegedly did nothing.
The last few years have brought recruitment freezes, salary cuts, and losses. In February, Henderson administrators declared a state of financial need, which allowed the organization to quickly remove educational programs and staff. In March, the university’s accreditors dubbed Henderson a “financial crisis,” warning the public that the institution’s current state “raises serious concerns about its resource base to support its educational programs.”
Ambrose, who was appointed chancellor in November, told The Chronicle six months ago that he knew Henderson would have a difficult time ahead. Ambrose led similar cost cuts at Central Missouri University, another regional-wide university.
In Henderson, Ambrose said he felt inspired to revitalize the rural campus and improve the learning experience there. But he announced in a May 2 letter that the university “cannot overcome this challenge without implementing significant educational restructuring.”
As a member of Henderson’s faculty senate, Kate was well aware of this. At the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, there was talk of Ambrose’s arrival and possible changes. The faculty senate was tasked with forming a committee to suggest cuts.
Words like ‘restructuring’ were said, but no one ever said, ‘Listen, you really need to find a job,’ or we would, Kate said.
When it came to talks about the proposed cuts, it never seemed likely to happen to her, Kate said. What are they saving by cutting the English lecturer who can’t earn much?
“Stupidly, you don’t think it’s your department or more broadly your department,” Kate said. “You believe that in order to be a public liberal-art university, there must be certain classes, certain departments – which we are really proud of.”
Biology, Chemistry, English, and Mathematics are among the 25 degree programs that Henderson is phasing out.
They are the kind of cuts that raise complex questions about college identity. Faced with declining enrollment and budget crises, many campus leaders have sought to restore their institutions around a handful of high-demand disciplines and measure everything else back. Faculty members are often pushed back, colleges should offer arrays of majors, programs, and courses and expose students to a wide range of academic topics.
Henderson has long promoted himself as “the public liberal arts university of Arkansas.” Restructuring will require “updated identity and marketing themes,” the university said.
According to Henderson’s executives, the decision to cut the program was made by comparing the program’s revenue with directive and delivery costs, student-success rates, and “alignment for community-based needs and sustainable 21st century skills.”
Beggs noted that Henderson has had financial problems for years. But at the beginning of that era, he believed, the commonwealth was strong. Faculty members were partners in difficult decisions that had to be made. Today, he believes that the tone of leadership has shifted away from cooperation and towards top-down decisions.
Ambrose said this week that the faculty Senate voted to confirm the financial-necessity declaration, and the faculty’s contingency committee made recommendations considered by the board. University leaders are “involved in multi-campus talks as well as department-level meetings,” he said.
“Henderson State University is a remarkably small public university,” Beggs said.
It was the kind of university that, for a long time, Kate would recommend to anyone. But in the last few years, confidence in his direction began to wane.
“It’s not just that I’ve lost my job,” she said. “It’s a lot of business and transactions right now. There’s not that feeling of fostering relationships with the community or the students that I have experienced.
Like 65 other faculty members, Beggs and Cate are now scrambling to find their next move. Finding a new job is not easy for anyone, but it is especially true for Kate because she is blind. At Henderson, she was the first in her department to teach entirely online – a housing that can be hard to find, she said.
In addition to the jobs that work for her, the couple’s home in Little Rock is an area where she can walk to places like the grocery store or the gym, Beggs said. Now they are facing the possibility of moving elsewhere for work. “His disability is addressed in such a city,” Beggs said. “It’s not addressed in small towns.” He is also worried about the possibility of losing his home if he does not find new jobs soon. Mandatory furloughs have already reduced their income this semester. (Ambrose said the university expects to end those faculty and staff fairs this summer.)
There is also the issue of finding new educational jobs in the summer. Most universities have filled vacancies for next year, and many Arkansas campuses already have fewer vacancies due to the epidemic, Beggs said.
The university said it was providing resources to help employees transition their work.
Kate, who already works part-time, is in the process of finding another full-time position. “I don’t have much time, if any, really,” Kate said. “So I’m just applying, apply, apply.”
Kate has had an interview so far. She is unaware that the issue is whether she is overqualified or underqualified. Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person at Henderson.
“It makes you think, ‘Big, well, I put those eight years into something, and now I don’t see the fruit of it,'” she said.
The same bags are also in the boat.
“Now all of a sudden I’m 64, and I think I should start anew,” Beggs said. “My entire career is just being scrapped.”