ST. CLOUD — The acting president at St. Cloud State University on Tuesday approved cuts to about 90 programs and 54 faculty to help balance the chronic budget deficit that also led to last year's drastic cuts.

The reductions come as part of a five-year plan that intends to put the central Minnesota university on solid financial footing by 2028 after years of unchecked spending amid enrollment decline.

"This is it. This will create a financially stable structure moving forward," Acting President Larry Lee said about the cuts required to balance the budget. "There's nothing in the future that I see to be this large or anywhere near it."

But the reductions will be felt across all departments of the university, especially in the arts department.

Critics say the cuts unfairly target the arts. Last year, administrators announced cuts to several programs, including theater. The cuts approved Tuesday include four layoffs and one non-rehire in the music department, as well as all of the music department programs: bachelor's degrees in music, music performance, K-12 music education and music therapy — which was set to launch next fall — and a minor in music.

The changes "would mean the end" of the music department, and "it is assumed that ensemble music groups such as choirs, bands and orchestras would also not survive," states a petition created after Lee announced the proposed cuts in May. The online petition has nearly 4,000 signatures.

"[The] newly appointed administration at SCSU has no idea how much music [at] SCSU has shaped the arts and culture in central Minnesota and beyond," the petition states.

Lee said while it's unfortunate to lose the music department, the students "are telling us what the new reality is and the programs they are interested in."

"When you look at 42 degree programs and 50 minors being eliminated — that represents maximum 8 percent of our current student body," Lee said. "That tells you how sparsely populated those courses are."

Another department hit hard by layoffs is criminal justice, with five retrenchments, as well as the closure of bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice studies, and a minor.

The approved cuts are similar to what was proposed in May, except for one sociology professor who is retiring instead of facing retrenchment, as well as two professors — one in atmospheric studies and one in manufacturing engineering technology — retaining their jobs to fulfill needs in their related programs.

In a letter to fellow professors, St. Cloud State University Faculty Association President Mumbi Mwangi urged faculty to continue to ask the administration to reconsider the decisions on cuts.

"It is disappointing to receive this information, especially as they did not take into account much of the substantive feedback from faculty, departments, programs, students, communities, alumni and the [faculty association]," Mwangi said.

The cuts are intended to help balance what was a projected $24 million budget deficit at the beginning of last year caused by a steady enrollment decline over the past decade that wasn't met with a similar reduction in staffing levels. The university saw its peak of 18,300 students in 2010; it now has about 10,130 students.

Lee said about 175 faculty and staff are anticipated to be eliminated during the five-year plan. The 54 faculty jobs approved to be eliminated Tuesday represent about 13% of the total number of full-time faculty. Because of the bargaining agreement, some faculty will finish in May 2025 and others in May 2027. Cuts also include about 13% of administrators and 8% of staff.

After the cuts, St. Cloud State will have 94 degree programs, including 62 bachelor's degrees, 29 master's degrees and three doctoral degrees. Students currently enrolled in the suspended programs will be able to finish their degrees.

Lee said the university is strong, with a stable enrollment and $140 million in revenue — it just needs to stop operating at a loss.

"People are worried about our survival. That's too bad because we're not at risk," he said. "We just have to be better financial stewards."

The additional programs being cut include bachelor's degree programs in physics, economics, sociology, health and physical education, gender and women's studies, global studies, Spanish, earth sciences, environmental engineering, environmental studies, geography, hydrology, manufacturing engineering, nuclear medicine technology, general science education, entrepreneurship, and hospitality and tourism.

Master's degree programs being cut include gerontology, rehabilitation counseling, cultural resource management, English education and studies, history, writing studies, child and family studies, early childhood special education, educational administration, educational leadership and technology, biological sciences, electrical engineering, geography and public administration.