Financial distress came after years of enrollment losses
Henderson State University in Arkansas will have at least 67 fewer professors heading into the 2022-23 school year after a round of layoffs.
That number includes 44 tenured professors fired as the public university grapples with financial distress after years of enrollment losses.
“Henderson’s financial challenges span multiple years,” Tina Hall, Henderson State’s vice chancellor of advancement, stated in an email to The College Fix on July 13.
The problem was “driven by years of enrollment losses,” Forbes reported in February. “Last fall, it enrolled 2,919 students, a 7.7% decrease from the previous year.” In the last five years, nearly half have left without graduating, the magazine added.
“Henderson does not have sufficient financial reserves due to years of deficit spending and has been unable to recover financially despite a $6 million advance from the State of Arkansas in July 2019,” a Frequently Asked Questions page posted by the university stated.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Secretary of Education Johnny Key expressed support for the university’s “academic reorganization” in a July 7 news release.
“Henderson leadership has worked hard to right the ship,” Hutchinson stated. “Tough decisions have been made that were not easy and were painful, but necessary for the survival of Henderson. We all want to see Henderson succeed.”
The Arkansas State University Board of Trustees certified Henderson’s self-evaluation of “financial exigency” on March 28 and released a statement to the campus community. The American Association of University Professors defines “financial exigency” as “an imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole.”
“Our financial situation requires that we make significant changes to establish a financial flooring that will sustain Henderson’s educational mission for future generations,” the university stated.
Fired instructor says university left employees in the dark
Carly Cate, a humanities instructor let go during the layoffs, told The College Fix via email that “we were given very few concrete details as a faculty during this process.”
“I served on [the] Faculty Senate, who should presumably have had some inside knowledge[,] and even we did not know the extent of the layoffs or ‘restructuring’ [Chancellor Charles Ambrose] and others had in mind,” Cate wrote.
She continued to explain that while it was common knowledge among faculty that Henderson State was in dire financial straits, she had “no clue” that mass layoffs were on the table until the day all 67 professors, including her, were terminated.
Cate noted that furloughs and pay cuts preceded the layoffs. However, “were we given any autonomy in this process, many (including me) would have entertained another pay cut just to keep going,” she said.
However, Hall, the administrator, told The Fix that professors with tenure were notified in advance of their layoffs.
“The faculty handbook outlines the process and steps for review of academic programs and positions under a declaration of financial exigency,” Hall told The Fix.
“Based on the faculty handbook process, tenured faculty members whose positions were impacted by financial exigency receive a year’s notice of their position ending,” she wrote in her email.
The process occurred over just a few months, beginning with the February declaration of “financial exigency” by university officials.
The Higher Learning Commission assigned a “Financial Distress Designation” to the university on March 15.
“A Financial Distress Designation is a consumer protection mechanism meant to apprise the public that current conditions at an accredited college or university raise serious concerns about its resource base to support its educational programs per HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation,” according to the accrediting agency.