Augsburg Budget Cuts Eliminate Nine Positions

Olivia Allery, news editor 

Photo of “Office of the President” Sign in Old Main taken by Abi Hilden on Sept. 7

Back in 2022, Augsburg had a projected $5.5 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year of 2023. With classes starting up, the projected shortfall effects are now coming to the surface, namely with Augsburg staff retirement contributions being frozen and nine staff and faculty positions being laid off throughout varying departments.

According to Maren Stoddard Mack, study abroad advisor and staff union member, a mass email was sent by Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University, on Aug. 4 to all Augsburg staff announcing that significant problems had arisen when closing the 2022-2023 finances. In this email Stoddard Mack shared with the Echo, it states, “During the process of closing last year’s financials, which will be finalized in late September, we identified two negative trends that will carry over into the current year—specifically, payroll costs that are higher than forecast and total revenue that is lower than forecast.”

Pribbenow specified in the same email, “Without corrective action, these issues will substantially affect our ability to meet the terms of the debt agreement with our bank, which was part of the funding for the construction of the Hagfors Center. As a result, we must take immediate cost-cutting steps to ensure our ability to meet or exceed that requirement in the current year.”

This initial email did not outline any other specific measures that would be taken, except for a 12 month freezing of faculty’s 403(b) retirement contributions. Stoddard Mack continued to explain that after this email was shared, the Augsburg staff union held a meeting on Monday, Aug. 14 with Pribbenow, along with Human Resource staff, a Leadership representative, a University lawyer and the Union’s stewards to come up with an admin offer that best suited concerns of staff union members with the budget shortfall changes. 

“The final offer that was presented and eventually accepted, was that staff union members would receive a nine month 403(b) contribution freeze, as opposed to the 12 month one, a 3% raise on January 1st, and some additional floating holiday days for both 2023 and 2024,” said Stoddard Mack.

“At this point, we knew that there were going to be layoffs. It was guaranteed no matter if the union accepted the offer or not, we just didn’t know how many there were going to be or in what departments.”

Stoddard Mack continued to explain that after the union accepted the administrative offer on Aug. 21, another email was sent out on Aug. 25 to Augsburg staff, detailing the final changes that were going to be made. Rachel Farris, director of public relations and internal communication, confirmed these changes in an email on administration’s behalf to the Echo.

Photo of The Norman and Evangeline Hagfors Center taken by Olivia Allery on Sept. 7

“At this time, the adjustments include a targeted reduction in staff positions (not full-time faculty), which were determined at the division level; a hiring pause on vacant positions in select areas; a freeze to the employer contribution to the 403(b) plan, though employees may still contribute; no cost-of-living adjustments for administrative leadership this year; and targeted operational budget cuts in specific divisions.”

Stoddard Mack also shared this targeted reduction had laid off nine staff members in total, all in various departments across campus. The lay off would be effective as of Sept. 11, and those affected by this layoff were notified through email, only one week prior to classes starting. The Echo will not be sharing their names for their privacy during this sudden and troubling transition.

Administration’s decisions have been met with push-back and feelings of outrage and confusion from staff and students alike. According to Bridget Robbinson-Reigler, faculty senate president and professor of psychology, in an email to the Echo, on Aug. 31, an Augsburg’s faculty senate meeting was held following the announcement. At this meeting, the senate had passed a resolution directed to Pribbenow, calling for greater transparency from Augsburg’s administration on the university budget. After the resolution’s passing, Pribbenow announced that he was going to be attending a full faculty meeting the following Wednesday on Sept. 6 to explain the budget shortfall further. 

At this Sept. 6 meeting, concerns and frustrations were shared amongst the faculty members in attendance. One member in attendance was Kalista Miller, student body president and fourth-year student. Miller shared with the Echo that a lot of people and even Augsburg student government were not informed of these staff layoffs until after classes had already started. “I was not aware of any position cuts until last week. It was like the second day back on campus (Aug. 31), and one of the people who had been laid off let me know and that was the first I had heard of it.”

Miller continued by saying, “Mike Grewe had asked me ‘Has anyone in upper admin scheduled a meeting with you?’ and I said ‘No,’ and so, apparently, this is something that has been on the radar for awhile and they [admin] have communicated next to nothing.” Miller continued by saying, “Then in my one meeting I had with the president, he essentially said he told them [lower admin members] to make the decision, and someone else made the decision, and I don’t even know who made it.”

Miller further explained that the problem lies with both higher and lower admin members having clear communication between themselves, but staff and student leaders are being simply left in the dark. Miller is set to have another meeting with Pribbenow within the next few weeks, where she will be asking for an organizational chart and further clarification on the budget process.

With tension and confusion still running high, more information has yet to be announced about the budget cuts and how Augsburg, as a whole, will be affected by them. Immediately following the Sept. 6 faculty meeting, Sarah Denger-Riveros, senate faculty member and lecturer of language, shared with the Echo that all of the actions staff are taking already reflects their commitment to Augsburg students. “I see the faculty are still deeply focused on the success of students and are committed to following through on promises made towards their education. You as a student have a relationship with your institution and we [staff] want to still nurture that relationship.”

This article was previously published under the headline “Augsburg Budget Cut Lays Off Nine Faculty Positions.” This headline was inaccurate as no faculty have been laid off as of the time of publication. It has been corrected to accurately reflect the positions affected.

This article was originally published in the Sept. 11, 2023 issue.