– Saying their absence from the decision to merge two schools “makes a mockery of our entire system,” faculty senate leaders at the University of Minnesota Duluth have written a letter to administrators blasting the budget-cut process.

“The way this matter was handled is not acceptable,” reads the letter, signed by faculty senate leaders Jamie Ratliff and Anne Hinderliter. “Faculty senate and shared governance must be consulted from this point forward. Failing to do so sends a clear message that campus input and [perspectives] are not valued.”

Administrators contested those claims about the merger of the School of Fine Arts with the College of Liberal Arts and said the faculty senate, which is part of the university’s governance, was included in the decisionmaking.

“Over the last several years as [the] campus has done continuous work on the budget reductions, faculty senate has been consulted several times including previous consultation on the merger of the colleges,” said Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Fernando Delgado. “Campus leadership values the principles of shared governance and will continue to work with governance groups across campus.”

The merger is part of a plan announced last week to trim more than $5 million per year from the university’s budget, a rip-off-the-Band-Aid approach to address a long-running deficit.

Dozens of jobs will be lost and positions removed as part of the cuts that will take effect July 1. The $5.2 million cut is about 3% of the university’s operating budget.

Faculty senate leaders wrote that the merger “seems like an extreme plan to save less than half a million dollars annually.”

Delgado told the UMD Student Association last month, “When we are looking to increase revenue through tuition, we need to be giving funds to the schools that are getting the major student population increases,” according to meeting minutes.

This fall, 542 students were enrolled in the School of Fine Arts, the university’s smallest unit. A decade ago the school had 716 students.

The Swenson College of Science and Engineering has jumped from 2,741 students to 3,352 in that time. Delgado said Swenson has already shouldered a recent budget cut.

He also said tuition is too large for the university’s size.

“We should be about $2,200 less than we are now, but in order to accomplish that we need about $6/7 million dollars to do that from the cities,” according to the minutes. “I have been shockingly unsuccessful in getting those funds.”

There has long been tension between UMD advocates and the university system over how money is apportioned. On a per-student basis, the Twin Cities campus gets twice as much funding from the system.

State Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, said last week there are “clear inequity issues” that need to be addressed.

Barring a special session of the Legislature next year or a change of heart from the university system, the cuts will go on as announced. Delgado and UMD Chancellor Lendley Black were scheduled to attend Board of Regents meetings Thursday and Friday.

Legislators sent a letter to regents this week calling the proposed hiring of a provost on the Twin Cities campus with a compensation package of more than $500,000 “tone-deaf” in light of the budget cuts in Duluth.

Ultimately, the faculty senate letter said, “We will work with administration on the merger, despite our objections to the process in which this decision was made.”