Battling lower revenues, smaller first-year class sizes and increased expenses, the Maryland Institute College of Art is expected to eliminate full-time faculty and staff positions ahead of the fall 2023 academic semester.

Initially, several dozen jobs were eyed for cuts, according to two people with knowledge who requested anonymity because they could lose their jobs. But the total number of positions to be eliminated will depend on how many employees accept voluntary buyouts first, as well as how many students commit to enrolling in MICA this fall.

The cuts will affect both unionized and nonunionized employees, though it’s not clear how many will be cut from either group. MICA reports having some 900 full-time and part-time employees, according to its most recent financial statements.

The college community first learned of the coming layoffs in March, when MICA president Samuel Hoi made public the institution’s plan to “restructure” the state’s lone accredited arts institution. As part of the ongoing shake-up, the institution will condense its roughly 18 specializations into seven areas of study, with one general fine arts degree available to students whose tracks do not meet predetermined enrollment thresholds.

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MICA’s troubles, not unique in the realm of higher education, stem largely from declining college enrollment, decreases in the U.S. population and a drop in foreign student enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Like other colleges, it sent students home in March 2020 to learn remotely for more than a year. In-person learning resumed in fall 2021 with fewer students, higher operating costs and more pressure from its faculty and staff unions to offer better wages and benefits.

Representatives from MICA said higher education’s challenges are “undeniably difficult” and they are tasked with not just delivering high-quality education to students but making the school run sustainably. That will require “institutional rightsizing,” they said, which includes buyouts and possibly layoffs — though the latter of which will depend on the number of people who accept a separation package.

In a statement, administrators said they are not able to disclose how many positions will be cut yet due to an extension of the “voluntary separation” process and with fall enrollment data still being finalized.

“The road ahead will be challenging, but we are seeing progress,” the statement said. “We are cautiously optimistic in our enrollment outlook moving forward.”

Faculty and staff members at the college said they had been at odds with school leaders since at least 2020, when faculty sent a letter of no confidence to Hoi as well as MICA’s provost and Board of Trustees. They have cited increasing workloads, eroding job security and inadequate compensation as central to their concerns with the administration.

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Now, preparing for the possibility of being laid off, some faculty members said they’ve gotten little information about what to expect as the fall term draws near.

“We won’t know for a while, which is ridiculous, because people are putting in time, effort and money into their classes already,” said Cindy Cheng, a drawing instructor and member of the faculty union. “I’ve put about $500 into materials, and I don’t want to do that if I’ll be laid off.”

Cheng said many experienced colleagues she knows have accepted buyout packages, which she wasn’t eligible for due to her age. “I would’ve taken the money and run,” she said.

Among Cheng’s colleagues to accept the buyout was David Cloutier, another full-time faculty member who said he received nine months’ of continued health insurance as part of the package.

“I had to take it: I can’t risk losing my insurance so quickly. And they accepted, which means I’m not considered ‘essential,’” he said. He officially parted ways with the school after the end of the spring semester.

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The arts instructor had been teaching at MICA for nearly 20 years and had earned a graduate degree there, too. “The writing’s been on the wall for somebody like me,” he said. He said he learned in an email that administrators were aiming to cut more than 50 full-time faculty members.

Cloutier said he worries about what will happen to MICA when the dust settles from the wave of departures among senior-level faculty and staff. “I personally think the school will be unrecognizable,” he said.

Ahead of the fall 2022 academic semester, MICA cut about 20 staff positions, including about six open positions that had not been filled. That included both union and nonunion positions. The college also cut down on some student services, which included reduced hours at the library, and diminished departmental budgets. Tuition increased over the 2022 to 2023 academic year and is expected to increase again this upcoming school year, Hoi told The Baltimore Banner in October.

According to the college’s latest balance sheets for the year ending May 2022, MICA increased the amount of cash included in its assets while experiencing a dip in its total revenues. Its expenses increased by nearly 23%, according to the balance sheet, as costs associated with instruction, academic support, student services, institutional support and auxiliary enterprises all increased.

Last August, Fitch Ratings gave the college a BBB+ bond rating, revising its outlook of that grade from “negative” to “stable” due to its “flexibility” managing its operating costs and enrollment stabilization in the wake of the public health crisis.

hallie.miller@thebaltimorebanner.com

Hallie Miller is a reporter at The Baltimore Banner, where she hopes to dive deep into the city's communities and highlight solutions. She is passionate about engaging readers and using new tools to tell stories. Hallie spent four years at The Baltimore Sun, where she helped lead the organization's medical coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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