March is the cruelest month: more academic cuts and closures

Bryan Alexander 2024-03-28

Some days I feel like I’m live-blogging my new book across a bunch of web browser tabs.  That is, I’m working on Peak Higher Education in several web browsers across three machines, with tabs open to Google Docs, an RSS reader, a few pdfs, a library ebook, and more.  Meanwhile, other browser tabs provide grim updates about colleges and universities cutting programs, merging, cutting staff, facing bad financial problems, or shutting down.  I share these stories across still other browser tabs: social media platforms, email… and this blog.

I have other things to blog about (currently on deck: podcasting, demographics, video vs text, my great choice for the future idea) but these campus stories keep coming and I want to treat them both seriously and in a timely manner. I wrote one post on this topic a few weeks ago and thought it would surely cover cuts and closures for February and March. That post took some time to write as news kept coming.  After the post went up more stories appeared, shared with me privately and publicly, so I assembled those into another post.  Since then still more stories have crossed my radar, so many that Inside Higher Ed ran a column about how individual academics can prepare for being downsized.  It seems March isn’t done with academia yet, and so here we are.

Here’s the latest, organized by my earlier headers.


The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (public) will shut down its Waukesha campus in 2025.  The major reason? According to the official FAQ, “[e]nrollment declines have remained consistent at the Waukesha campus, even with additional investments to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing, business, and psychology.”  One result: “most employees will receive nonrenewal or layoff notices,” including tenured professors.

In my first March 2024 closures/cuts post I mentioned Notre Dame College in Ohio (private, Catholic) was engaged in a merger process.  In a post comment Jason Siko noted that the deal fell through, and that Notre Dame College was going to close after the end of this semester.  As noted earlier, reasons include declining enrollment.

Further south, Birmingham-Southern College (private, liberal arts) will close in May of this year.  Explaining why involves a long story, but to sum up: the campus suffered from a spectacular financial… miscalculation.  Several administrations have tried to right the ship, and none succeeded.  BSC asked its city, county, and state governments for money; ultimately the Alabama legislature refused, motived in part by opposition from the state treasurer, the spectacularly named Young Jacob Boozer III.  BSC sued Boozer, but without funding to stay open any longer, the college’s board of trustees voted to shut the college down.

Christine McIntosh, "Friendly student Birmingham Southern College"

This one is a little personal to me.  I have fond memories of taking, leading, and helping with several workshops at BSC, dating back to the 1990s.  Heck, I think I ate at the famous Dreamlands BBQ nearby. A lovely campus and fine people, it’s listed as one of the colleges that change lives.  And in two months it will cease to exist.


Manhattan College (private, Catholic) has cut academic programs, including religious studies.  The administration also laid up apparently 25% of faculty, many of whom were tenured professors.  The reason is declining enrollments.  Faculty voted no confidence in the president.

The president of Kent State University (public, research university) announced that that institution faced a major financial problem. (ungated article) While the school enjoyed a budget surplus last year, it wasn’t enough to fill a hole created in part by the end of federal COVID-19 subsidies.

Accordingly, cuts are on the way.  While no specific programs have been named, the institution’s president was clear:

Some of those cuts will come from reorganizing leadership at Kent’s regional campuses, consolidating colleges and academic programs, and layoffs.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat this. We will have to reduce the number of employees at Kent State,” Diacon said during his monthly webcast.

Note how open-ended the word “employees” is.  It could mean anything from student workers and adjunct faculty to senior administrators and tenured professors.

The University of Arizona (public research university) announced it would cut academic positions to save $27 million, but is not sharing details about the plan.  In a recent interview interim provost Ronald Marx mentioned two changes to the announced plan:

[Al]though ABOR wrote that the jobs were “permanently” eliminated, they were only “permanently in a sense” eliminated.

He added that in other budget years, the jobs could reappear.

Additionally, Marx stated that the UA was not going to share the information with the public because “some of the cuts are not from open positions.”

The positions being cut that are not open, he said, are positions where employees are retiring. Those retirements have not yet been publicly announced, he added.

In other words, the university might bring back some of these closed positions, and is also encouraging some faculty to take early retirement.  Next, the provost held back on giving more information to a newspaper or to campus faculty:

“Basically, you’re not going to be able to get that data,” Marx said.

In response, the Star has submitted a formal records request to the university for the data.

Leila Hudson, the chair of the Faculty Senate, told the Star that she had also recently requested the information. She, too, was denied.


In North Carolina Saint Augustine’s University (private, historically black university) is facing horrendous conditions – seriously, just read that Wikipedia page on its history.  We’re talking accusations of unjust firing, hiring convicted murderers to work, abruptly toggling class online because of broken boilers, losing accreditation, problematic leadership turnover, not paying bills, not paying faculty and staff in a timely way, faculty refusing to teach unless they actually get paid, and more.

Now a group of alumni are calling on SAU’s board of trustees to resign.  This definitely sounds like a financial, even existential crisis for the university. No word on cuts yet.

Marquette University in Wisconsin (private, Catholic) is planning on budget cuts for upcoming years.  This is an interesting case, because the institution isn’t suffering financially at the present.  Instead, as the official statement puts it,

Although we are in a strong financial position, Marquette – like other universities – is facing increasing economic and demographic pressures. Fewer traditional students are attending college, and those who do attend often need more financial and other support…

It is becoming clear that we need to be creative and proactive to protect Marquette’s long-term viability. Indeed, the recent University Faculty Committee for Budgets and Financial Planning (UFCBFP) report recommends that we address our financial challenges now with a shared governance approach, rather than having our future decided for us by outside forces – and we wholeheartedly agree.

The plan is based on:

a goal of permanently reducing our annual operating budget by 2.5% ($11 million) in FY26 (which starts in July 2025), with a multi-year implementation plan moving us to a cumulative 7% ($31 million) reduction by FY31 as we realize savings over time.

No mergers this week.

What can we derive from these stories?

At the end of my first March post I shared some reflections.  I stand behind them now, and you can read them.  What to add now?

First, administrative decision-making transparency continues to be a problem.  On the one hand, many sources recommend being open about crises and involving all stakeholders and impacted parties (for example). On the other, stories keep appearing where senior campus leaders withhold information from their communities.  This is obviously not a new problem for colleges and universities and we should expect it to continue. I anticipate some now established variations on the theme, such as leaks and people sharing audio or video captures of meetings.

Second, there seems to be an emerging effort to cross the streams between private institutions and public authorities.  The Birmingham-Southern College story concerns a private campus seeking multiple levels of public assistance. We’ve seen several states, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, take policy steps to help ailing private institutions.  If more private colleges and universities experience such problems, perhaps we’ll see more state action.  I’m not sure if the federal government will take any steps, especially during an intense election year.

To conclude: please share your stories, either news of institutional developments or of your personal experience.  I hope I can provide a good platform for them.

(thanks to Thomas Beckett and Elliot Pruzan for links; BSC photo by Christine McIntosh)