Spring 2024: Perspectives on course cancellations

Minnesota State will see a major change in course availability as students register for the spring semester. 

David Hood, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said undergraduate courses with fewer than 15 students and graduate courses with fewer than 10 students will be canceled.

“We’ll be examining those really, really closely to see if they should continue to run each semester,” Hood said.

Taylor Maki, a graduate student in Gender & Women’s Studies, and Deyton Drost, an undergraduate in the same major, heard about Hood’s decision from professors and fellow classmates. 

“If you look at the majority of the Gender & Women’s Studies Department here at Mankato, most of the classes are upper division with less than 15 students,” Drost said. “ A lot of people undermine what Gender & Women’s Studies is.”

Maki, an alumnus of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, compared her experience there with her concerns about Hood’s decision.

“In Eau Claire, they very much targeted the Gender & Women’s Studies program because people don’t respect it as a real program,” Maki said. “Even though it is not explicitly stated that these budget cuts are going to cut the program, it kind of suggests that in the future they’re going to do it.”

According to Drost, having a class with fewer than 15 students can actually help students learn better by creating closer connections between peers.

“You build closer connections with your peers, and you can have a discussion,” she said.

Despite Hood’s decision, Maki expressed confidence that she would still be able to finish her graduate studies although she is uncertain about the future of Gender & Women’s Studies at MSU.

“I was told that I could still finish out my graduate degree,” she said.

Political science professor Tomasz Inglot and history professor Lori Lahlum provided insights into what faculty are thinking concerning Hood’s decision. Inglot has been a faculty member since 1995, and Lahlum since 2005. According to Inglot and Lahlum, this is not the first time the university has faced budget issues during their time as faculty.

“But we never had such drastic expectations,” Inglot said. “Students suffer the most because they don’t have the choices.”

“For the undergraduate courses, the 15 student requirement is problematic for a lot of majors,” Lahlum said.

Inglot and Lahlum pointed out that this issue is not unique to MSU. It is a national trend. For example, St. Cloud State University cut many of their programs. Both professors suspect a contributing factor is fewer people think college degrees are a necessity. According to Lahlum, state funding for universities has plummeted over the decades.

“If you compare the 1970s and 80s, Minnesota provided much more funding to public institutions in terms of the percentage of their budget,” Lahlum said. “It goes from like 70% being provided by the state budget to today being like 35%.”

Inglot and Lahlum said they are concerned that, although it is unlikely most programs will be cut in the upcoming months or even year, changes in available programs may start to appear within a few years. MSU will guarantee the graduation of all current students but may stop admitting new students into certain programs. Once current students graduate, these programs may be discontinued.

Based on the faculty union contract, Inglot and Lahlum said students have more power than faculty in resisting Hood’s decision. 

“Students need to communicate that they are interested in liberal arts, they want to take these classes, they want these choices, and small classes is something they value,” Inglot said.

According to Hood, one major cause of budget cuts is imbalances between the faculty union contracts and the state legislature funding for the university. Every two years, the Board of Trustees for the Minnesota State universities approves payment rates for all faculty. In a separate negotiation, the state legislature allocates a certain amount to funding these universities. Every time, the amount negotiated in the faculty contracts is greater than what state funding provides.

“If you look at fall of 2022, spring of 2023, and now fall of 2023, on average in those three semesters, we ran about 218 lower-enrolled sections. That equates to about 50 faculty FTE lines, because most faculty teach a four-course load each semester,” Hood said. “If we could fix that, we would be much more efficient in how we offer our curriculum, which means we wouldn’t hire as many adjuncts.”

Hood said he hopes reducing overload and adjunct costs will decrease MSU’s budget imbalance and increase investments in high-demand programs. He pointed out that the Biology Department has 11 tracks in its program and is downsizing to 7 or 8 tracks. Some programs, such as the College of Business, are more efficient than others due to streamlined course requirements for their students. Furthermore, some classes will have to remain small, such as nursing clinicals which are required by law to be small.

“What I’ve been hearing from my provost colleagues across the country is that the majority of your efficiencies and your budget savings will come through how you manage your course schedule,” Hood said. “And not so much in cutting academic programs. Of course, there will be programs that will need trimming and revising.”

Some small courses could be offered every other semester rather than every semester. Instead of offering several courses that fulfill the same goal area, fewer courses per goal area would be more efficient. 

“That is why some courses aren’t filling. Students have way too many options,” he said.

Hood promised that every student will be able to graduate.

“We would never cancel a course if it would prevent or delay students from graduating,” Hood said. “If you look at the work I’ve done in higher education, you’ll see that my focus has been to get people to graduate in a shorter period of time.”

Write to Tracy Swartzendruber at

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