UPDATED: NWC board cuts journalism, broadcasting and farrier programs

Posted 5/10/16

Trustees also voted to accept 17 early retirement applications and approved a reduction in force to eliminate four classified or professional staff positions, one each in extended campus, the Life and Health Sciences Division, college relations and …

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UPDATED: NWC board cuts journalism, broadcasting and farrier programs


Journalism, broadcasting and farrier programs will no longer be offered at Northwest College following the NWC Board of Trustees’ vote Monday evening to terminate those programs to cut expenses. 

Trustees also voted to accept 17 early retirement applications and approved a reduction in force to eliminate four classified or professional staff positions, one each in extended campus, the Life and Health Sciences Division, college relations and residence life. 

“I am not recommending any reductions in force for faculty or administration,” said NWC President Stefani Hicswa. 

Six of the early retirees’ positions will not be filled this fall, and the other 11 still are being evaluated to determine whether they will be filled, Hicswa told the board.   

Early retirement applicants have 30 days in which they can back out “if they were to have buyers’ remorse,” she said. 

All told, 20 positions will not be staffed for the coming school year due to a combination of positions vacated through attrition, early retirement, program elimination and a reduction in force, she said. 

More cuts coming

Those cost-cutting measures and others have reduced the college’s expenses by $2.6 million.

However, that number will rise as Hicswa, administrators and budget officers continue to cut costs to deal with additional revenue reductions coming down the pipe.

“On April 22, I received that lovely letter from the governor” ordering state agencies to cut 8 percent more from their current budgets, Hicswa said. “That caused us to rethink. ... There’s still work to be done.”

Hicswa said she doesn’t know yet how much more the college will have to cut, but as of last week, she was planning for an additional $1.3 million for a total reduction of about $3.9 million, or nearly 17.5 percent of the college’s $22.3 million budget last year.

‘Community keystone’ not considered

Trustees’ votes to end the three programs came after passionate, time-limited comments by journalism instructor Rob Breeding and incoming Faculty Organization President Steve Thulin, and discussion by trustees about possibly delaying a decision to consider other factors.

Breeding said it was “ironic and a little sad” that the analysis used to determine which programs to terminate “excluded the community keystone as a criteria for making decisions about programs.”

“It is a little bit scary to me to think that, if you can’t reduce it down to a number on a spreadsheet, you can’t consider it,” he said. 

Breeding said a club newspaper cannot fulfill the role that will be vacated by the termination of the journalism program. 

“A student newspaper in the absence of a journalism program is doomed to fail,” he said. 

Breeding has contended that the program, and his position, were targeted because of news stories that appeared in the NWC student newspaper, The Northwest Trail. 

“I won’t rehash the controversial stories the newspaper has reported the last few years,” he told the board, “but I will say this: The students did not create these controversies. Nor did they make the mistakes that led to the embarrassment of the college and damage its reputation.”

Breeding said he has been treated unfairly in regard to a credential review, and his students and the newspaper they produce have been disparaged by administrators, who “seem determined to end independent student reporting on this campus for good.” 

Breeding suggested that the board delay a decision until an independent investigation could be conducted. 

He said the college has “failed to respond in a meaningful way” to a records request made by Wyoming Education Association attorneys.

“The administration is dragging its feet, and when the truth is on your side, you don’t need to do that,” he said. “The administration, by design or by accident, is becoming a nationally recognized opponent of the First Amendment. That’s a stain that’s going to harm this institution for years.”

Thulin said the thing he regrets most is that both the journalism and broadcasting programs recently “reupholstered themselves.”

“They’ve done all the work to position themselves, starting next fall, to recruit more, to expand more, to increase participation by making courses available through general education,” he said. 

If those programs are terminated, that work won’t bring the desired result of increased enrollment, he said.  

NWC Board President John Housel of Cody read a letter from Kimball Bennion, a graduate of the NWC journalism program, who urged the board to not terminate the journalism program. Bennion’s letter was printed on the Opinion page in Tuesday’s Powell Tribune. 

Delay considered, but rejected

Trustee Paul Fees of Cody made a motion to delay the board’s decision a week or two until more analysis could be done “because of the enormity of what we are about to do.” 

“I think the ramifications of eliminating any of these programs has not been explored or explained,” Fees said. “I think that’s a terrible way to pick what program to terminate, strictly by profit and loss.”

Trustee Mark Westerhold of Cody said waiting longer won’t solve any problems. 

“We’re barely to where we thought we needed to be (with budget cuts) — and now we have more to eliminate,” he said, referring to Gov. Matt Mead’s April 22 executive order that all state agencies cut their budgets by an additional 8 percent.

“We’re going to have to start somewhere soon,” Westerhold said. “You could make an argument for every program on campus. We wouldn’t have them if they didn’t enhance the campus.”

Westerhold said he has nothing against the journalism program or Breeding, and he reads The Northwest Trail. But the suggestion to terminate any program would prompt a group of people to say, “This is what I do; you can’t get rid of it.”

Trustee Nada Larsen of Meeteetse asked, “If we delay this decision, what is the ramification of that?”

Hicswa replied, “We have a lot of work to do to prepare the budget for you for June. We can do more analysis and prepare for a special meeting, but that distracts us from other work that we need to do.

“I believe we have prepared a very good program sustainability analysis that shows where the programs are,” she said, “and regardless of the process we use — however this one may be flawed — the results are not going to change. 

“I would respectfully request that we move forward on this so that we as a college community can move on,” Hicswa said. “This is very painful, and there’s a grieving process that needs to happen, and we won’t be able to move forward if we don’t vote on this tonight.”

Trustee Dusty Spomer of Powell said, “I think a lot of what we don’t see is the hours and hours and hours that it takes to compile this kind of information. If we don’t make some kind of a determination one way or another, we’re not giving the administration a foothold to move forward into the next tough steps. ... I really question whether we’re really cutting into the time for those steps when we get there. This isn’t the end of the road for this.”

Westerhold said the process for identifying these cuts “is probably one of the best instances of shared governance we’ve had. I just don’t know how much we can keep kicking this down the road.”

Votes divided

The board voted 4-2 against delaying a decision on the programs, with Fees and Trustee Carolyn Danko of Powell voting to wait, and Trustees Larsen, Westerhold, Spomer and Mark Wurzel of Powell voting against waiting.

Shortly afterward, trustees voted 4-2 to end the journalism program, with Fees and Danko dissenting; 5-1 to terminate the radio and television broadcasting program, with Fees voting against; and unanimously to end the farrier (horseshoeing) business management program.

First Amendment drives journalism program

Housel said the administration has followed the board’s instruction to do a careful analysis and bring back its recommendations for cutting costs to deal with expected revenue declines, but he still had reservations.

He said his favorite courses in law school were the Bill of Rights and Constitutional Law. 

“I am very, very beholden to what the framers of our Constitution devised in the first 10 amendments to our Constitution,” including freedom of speech, he said. 

“It is extremely important that we have a voice,” he added. “Journalism isn’t the exclusive place where we learn about the First Amendment. But the fact is, that’s what drives our journalism program.”

Housel said journalism doesn’t exist just to teach the students. Beyond that, “it exists to project the character of the college; it exists to project information, not only to the college community, but to the community at large in the district,” he said. 

Housel said one of the college’s main reasons for starting the broadcasting program was to get the college’s voice out into the district, “and folks do listen to our radio and watch the television.”

He noted that considerable effort and expense went toward obtaining a radio broadcast license for the college’s broadcasting program.

“The financial criteria, likely, ultimately, will trump any other analyses that may involve subjectivity,” he said. But “from my perspective, I really would like to see more analyses of those components (and) a breakdown of how those costs were determined.”

But, as president of the board, he added, “I will only vote in the case of a tie.”

After the board voted to end the programs, and while explaining the process for a reduction in force, Hicswa broke into tears. Housel called a five-minute break to give her time to recompose herself.

Hicswa apologized afterward, saying, “Obviously, I don’t take any of this lightly.”

Nine Northwest College programs were analyzed for possible termination to cut costs at the college, with five of them showing greater expenses than income. 

The three with the largest losses — journalism, farrier business management and broadcasting — were terminated by votes of the NWC Board of Trustees on Monday.

Trustees voted 4-2 to end the journalism program, 5-1 to terminate the radio and television broadcasting program and unanimously to end the farrier (horseshoeing) business management program.

None of those programs had tenured faculty, NWC President Stefani Hicswa told the board.

Program analysis was based on cost vs. revenue, the number of majors in the programs, job prospects for students and other funding sources.

The nine programs, their five-semester median enrollment and their gain or loss totals are as follows: