More job layoffs are expected at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where administrators say plunging undergraduate enrollment over the last few years has effectively made the historic city arts institution a smaller college.
At a Wednesday “State of MICA” event, college President Samuel Hoi told faculty and staff that the institution continues to reel from the blows of the coronavirus pandemic, which sent students packing in March 2020 and kept international students from the campus the following fall. The college has seen lower-than-average residential undergraduate enrollment ever since: Hoi said the five-year average before the pandemic stood at about 1,700 students and has now leveled to 1,200 to 1,400 over the last three years.
No layoffs will occur through the end of the academic year, which concludes in May, according to the college. Administrators say they hope the need for layoffs will be offset partially or entirely by voluntary buyouts. If layoffs are still required, “involuntary separation” is expected to take place during the first half of the summer.
While graduate admissions have increased, Hoi said it does not compensate for the loss of residential undergraduates. He referred to the coming cuts as “institutional right-sizing” and “re-scaling.”
Hoi said Wednesday the college is responding to “changed enrollment circumstances,” which it defines as sudden or unplanned declines in student enrollment causing detrimental financial effects unable to be offset by other means. It allows administrators to take more “rapid response actions” than are otherwise possible, according to the college, such as faculty layoffs.
Initially, college administrators posted on MICA’s website that the college would offer buyouts to employees whose age and years at the college total more than 70. Later, a college spokesperson said details about the “voluntary separation package” have not been finalized.
In addition to job cuts, Hoi said the college also will redesign its “educational and operational model” to become more sustainable. The college will consolidate its 18 undergraduate studies departments to about seven, and will aim to create more interdisciplinary options for students. It also will offer more “applied practical” courses that teach skills outside art-making.
“While it’s true that the pandemic triggered ... enrollment challenges, it is not the sole cause. There are larger factors at play,” Hoi said. “It is painful to implement a process that will lead to departure of colleagues and friends. Our wish is to protect everyone and preserve all the positions. Regrettably, that is not a feasible scenario because of the of severity of the financial challenges.”
The campus community experienced a round of cuts ahead of the 2022 fall semester. Administrators slashed about 20 staffed and unstaffed positions, covering both unionized and nonunionized employees.
Campus amenities deemed nonessential, such as library hours, also were trimmed to save money, and faculty members say departmental budgets for equipment, supplies and other utilities have decreased. Meanwhile, tuition increased by 3.4% this academic year.
Campus personnel have criticized the administration for its failure to protect jobs and find more creative solutions to the financial pressures. Hoi has been criticized for his more than $600,000 annual salary, although he said he took a 20% pay cut in the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year, along with some other campus leaders. More faculty and staff members have unionized in recent years in response to what some described as long-standing concerns about job security.
“Anxiety permeates the school right now, and we realize we have to maintain the quality of teaching and fulfill our obligation. It is very difficult to do that when you feel the ground shifting under your feet every day,” full-time faculty union member David Cloutier said in an interview with The Banner last year.
MICA administrators said they are not planning to reduce pay for campus employees at this time, calling it a lesson learned during the pandemic. “Pay reductions may provide some short-term benefit but their lasting negative effects on morale, motivation, and retention outweigh that benefit,” a post on MICA’s website reads.
Hoi on Wednesday defended the coming cuts, saying the MICA faculty handbook outlines what steps to take in difficult financial periods.
He told students later during an afternoon assembly that a student representative will begin sitting in on weekly meetings with campus leaders as the college undergoes its operational shifts.
Still, tensions ran high during the assembly. “[Hoi] and about 10 other people already make a quarter- to a half-million dollars a year,” first-year animation major Chano Chance said. “Is that slated to increase after laying off your staff?”
Another student asked administrators how educational quality could be maintained after consolidating departments.
“We’re already seeing a degradation of classes,” first-year painting major Ellie Works said. “It doesn’t really track.”
The institutional turmoil has brought to the forefront old criticisms about the college’s high price tag in a changing economy. Faculty and staff said MICA administrators knew for years enrollment was expected to decline this decade, given national trends in higher education. Some said they felt administrators could have done more to avoid layoffs and attract more students to the college.
“The [3.4%] tuition increase is modest compared to the rate of inflation last year. So I think it was very stupid that the institution did not give the full brunt of the rate of increase in the consumer price index last year,” said Eddie C. Brown, a former MICA trustee and donor.
Brown said he has confidence that MICA can bounce back from the latest crisis. “Many institutions have financial challenges, and they just have to adjust to balance the budget,” he said.
Located in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood and adjacent to the city’s Station North Arts District, MICA is considered a vital city anchor institution, a cultural gem and an academic draw that attracts a diverse student body. Its development has revived a critical city corridor that serves as a gateway into Downtown Baltimore.
MICA administrators say divesting from the college’s real estate holdings is “a last resort” option they don’t plan to use. “Our ongoing investment in Baltimore and our community where we are currently located is a significant benefit to us and to our community with whom we share Baltimore.”
The college owns property and equipment worth close to $170 million, according to its latest publicly available financial records, and has some $117 million in endowment funds. Many of these funds are restricted by donors, which means administrators can’t use them for needs outside of what donors intend when they give.
A review of its latest consolidated financial information shows a more than 25% drop in revenues last year, from $68.9 million in fiscal year 2020 to $50.3 million in fiscal year 2021. Meanwhile, expenses dropped from $92.6 million in 2020 to just under $75 million in 2021.
MICA spent less in 2021 on instruction, academic support and student services, among other line items, according to the latest consolidated statement of activities. Salaries and wages also decreased from more than $44 million in 2020 to just under $38 million in 2021.
In the fall of 2020, members of MICA’s faculty assembly conducted a vote of no confidence in the executive leadership team, including Hoi, over concerns about financial transparency, breakdowns in communication and excessive workload demands. MICA’s board of trustees responded to the vote with a public letter, citing its commitment to Hoi as well as the “strategic direction of the college.”
“We must move forward together now to preserve MICA’s legacy for generations to come,” the response read. “This will require trust and collective goodwill.”