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Amid $14 million in budget cuts, UNH closes art museum, keeps DEI administrators

As it grapples with slashing $14 million from its annual budget, the University of New Hampshire recently shuttered its Museum of Art and announced it’s laying off 75 faculty and staff members to balance the books.

However the university has yet to publicly identify cuts into personnel dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion, which reportedly costs an estimated $1 million-plus in annual salaries.

Similarly, its Museum of Art operates at an estimated cost of around $1 million annually. It was shuttered in January due to budget cuts.

“It is unusual for an R1 university and a flagship land grant university to be without a museum and yet, here we are,” museum Director Kristina Durocher said in the statement announcing its closure.

Durocher pointed out faculty had used the museum’s exhibits for student instruction, and some students showcased their own work at a venue that had been around in various iterations for 60 years.

The New Hampshire Art Association told The College Fix UNH’s decision to close the museum was a “mistake.”

“It is so sad to me that UNH does not see the value of accessible art to its students and community at large,” association Executive Director Amanda Kidd-Kestler said via email. “In addition to the favorable economic impacts, art brings people together.”

“Art has the power to foster empathy and spark difficult conversations,” she added. “In this divisive time, art is more essential than ever.”

While programming by UNH’s Aulbani J. Beauregard Center for Equity, Justice and Freedom will be reduced, campus leaders “have not indicated whether only staff or the entire department would be cut,” Neetu Arnold, research fellow at the National Association of Scholars, wrote for Reason on Feb. 2.

In an email to The College Fix, she said UNH “should first cut roles and services that have little to do with providing an education to students.”

Arnold calculated the university spends more than $1 million on salaries for DEI staff, an estimate that does not include benefits and other departmental costs.

The estimate was reached by identifying the most recently recorded salaries of members of the Civil Rights and Equity Office, the Office of Community, Equity, and Diversity, the Beauregard Center, and other DEI offices, she told The Fix.

“A lot of attention is placed on DEI divisions, for good reason, but those are not the only places universities can make substantial cuts,” she said.

Arnold said universities like UNH seeking to reduce budgets should also cut departments that teach similar subjects, as well as “duplicate” roles that could be easily occupied by the same advisor, counselor or program director.

“Cutting academic departments and resources, like art museums and libraries, should be a last resort,” Arnold said.

Several universities are instituting budget cuts as they deal with plummeting enrollments and widening deficits, the University of New Hampshire is no exception. Campus leaders made the cuts as full-time enrollment dropped 13.6 percent between 2019 and the 2022-23 school year, according to a board report.

The Keene Sentinel reported that other cuts at UNH include from its music department, a dog therapy program, and staff reductions in the Enterprise Technology & Services, Engagement and Faculty Development, and Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching & Learning divisions.

Michele Dillon, dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts, told The College Fix each cut is a difficult one and there are no easy choices.

In a telephone interview with The College Fix last week, she said every college dean was told to cut some part of the budget they managed. The 21 departments Dillon oversees in her liberal arts college include art and art history, linguistics, philosophy, and women’s and gender studies.

“So I’m looking at trying to get to my budget number … and I wanted to support all of our academic programs,” Dillon told The Fix. “There’s no fluff, so there was no obvious easy place where there was some money to be gleaned.”

Dillon said the plan is for the art museum to eventually be repurposed as a gallery, which has a much lower cost of maintenance than a museum.

“We’re still very much committed to supporting the arts and art education,” she said.

But the decision still elicited criticism.

“The art museum is tiny, already operating on a shoestring, and might cost around $1 million, a tiny fraction of the university’s overall budget, which is somewhere around $900 million,” Siobhan Senier, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNH, said in a Jan. 19 op-ed.

No cuts have been announced yet regarding the UNH’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. According to public salary information, the Associate Vice President for Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Nadine Petty, makes a base salary of $195,291 annually.

She manages the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, which works to advance “anti-racism” programs and policies, its website states. The office also employs an administrative coordinator and program manager. The salary for the director of the Beauregard Center for Equity, Justice, and Freedom is listed at $86,500 annually.

Elsewhere, the university’s Global Racial and Social Inequality Lab provides students with opportunities to conduct workshops on how to make “inclusive syllabi and classrooms.”

Under its Women’s and Gender Studies Department, UNH provides a Bachelor of Arts as well as a graduate certificate in feminist studies, and minors in queer studies and social justice leadership.

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