Winona State Faculty Assn President Testifies in Opposition to MN House Higher Ed Supplemental Budget

Late yesterday afternoon, Jenna Nargang Chernega testified in front of the House Higher Education Committee about the challenges facing our campuses due to the Legislature underfunding the MinnState system. 

Please watch the video of Jenna's testimony here (turn your volume up!). The text of Jenna's testimony is copied below. 

The House Higher Education Committee has used $5 million in one-time funding to invest in a cybersecurity program at Metro State instead of providing funds to all campuses to help dig us out of the deep financial deficits all of our campuses face. 


Chair Nornes, committee members, my name is Jennifer Nargang Chernega and I am here today representing the Inter Faculty Organization. Twenty-some years ago, I sat before a legislative committee as a high school student from Stillwater, talking about the value of public education, and asking for continued investment in the K-12 system. Today, I return, now as a professor of Sociology and the Faculty Association President at Winona State University to talk again about public education, this time higher ed, and ask for your continued investment in the public system that will sustain Minnesota in the future.

I appreciate you allowing me this time to share faculty perspective on the bill before you. We appreciate the recognition by this committee that our programs face real challenges trying to meet the needs of the state when resources are not available to invest in the tools we need to expand high-demand programs. That is why we have been urging the Legislature to fully fund the Minnesota State request before it freezes tuition. The supplemental budget proposal from Minnesota State this year simply asks you to fulfill the unfunded portion of the tuition freeze for FY19. Although, even the full $10 million would only serve as a band-aid when our campuses need a tourniquet.

Chair Nornes and former Chair Pelowski have been steadfast supporters of state public higher education and have begun to shift the curve of state investment back up. However, there is still a long way to go to return us to the historical, and statutory, level of the state funding 2/3 of the cost of attendance at a state college and university. We are still below 50%, which has shifted the burden to students and families and led to an unsustainable rise in student debt. 

In 2013, when tuition freezes were first used by the Legislature they were fully funded. The last two biennium we have appreciated your support, but the tuition freezes were not fully funded. In 2015-2016 there was a $21 million biennial shortfall. Last year’s budget has a $10 million biennial shortfall. The impacts of those shortfalls have begun to compound on our campuses.

You may remember a few weeks ago when Winona State’s president Scott Olson testified here about our budget reduction efforts. You’re going to hear me say something that you may not often hear from union leaders. I’m grateful to our administration. We presented President Olson with budget priorities that emphasized maintaining student experiences, the people that make up the university and the value of tenure. Our administration worked hard to cut $5.8 million from the budget and didn’t layoff a single permanent person.

However, that budget reduction still had a lot of pain. Thirty-three full time faculty positions were lost through attrition, either retirements or elimination of temporary positions. Thirty-three full time faculty positions. In fact, 75% of the positions lost at the university were in faculty. And half of the budget reduction was achieved through cutting those full-time faculty lines.

Some departments were devastated by the reductions. Our Economics department, which provides the gateway courses to the College of Business was cut almost in half. Likewise, our Accounting department, which prepares students for excellent jobs in business was cut almost in half. Our Criminal Justice department, cited as the best in the state by the POST certification board, faced the Sophie’s choice of either staffing their law enforcement track or their corrections track. Positions were lost in our College of Liberal Arts, College of Science and Engineering, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, College of Business and College of Education.

Those lost positions mean fewer courses for students, longer waits to get into classes, fewer options of when and how students can take courses and longer times to graduation. That hurts our students and drives up student debt.

Rather than focusing a $5 million dollar supplemental appropriation on the creation of one new program at one university, help us make these department whole. A supplemental appropriation distributed across the MinnState campuses would provide enough funding at Winona State to make one or more of these departments whole so that we can prepare tomorrow’s police officers, accountants, nurses, teachers and entrepreneurs.

My colleagues from our six other respective state universities have dealt with even more dramatic impacts. Currently, each of your state universities is facing similar and extraordinary challenges. We urge the committee to invest in our campuses, for the same reason you’re compelled to invest in this one program.

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.