Faced with slashing $11 million, Savannah State may cut English, Africana Studies programs

Looking to close an $11 million budget gap ahead of the next academic year, Savannah State University conducted a sweeping internal review that recommends slashing academic programs including English, history and Africana Studies, not renewing the contracts of several non-tenure faculty members and a campus-wide consolidation of academic programs, according to more than 300 pages of internal documents obtained by the Savannah Morning News.

Credit: Savannah Morning News file photo

Credit: Savannah Morning News file photo

The "Strategic Realignment" at SSU, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), comes as the university has faced a decade of declining enrollment, which in turn has led to a decline in state funding.

Between 2011 and 2021, enrollment declined 25% at Savannah State. State appropriations to public universities are based on a two-year lag in enrollment data. Savannah State saw its first decline in state funding in FY2020, when appropriations decreased 3% from the previous year to $24.8 million, according to SSU financial reports. 

The recommended savings laid out in Provost Yolanda Page's report do not come close to shrinking the roughly $11 million budget shortfall the university needs to close by the start of the 2023-2024 school year and do not indicate how athletics and extracurricular activities will be impacted.

Several professors at the university contacted the Savannah Morning News about the internal study, but declined on-the-record interviews, citing a "deep culture" of retaliation and intimidation within the colleges.

Which programs are being cut?

At least four academic programs — which contain more than a dozen majors — are recommended for deactivation, which means the university will immediately stop enrolling students in the program and, in some cases, close the departments under which they are housed. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has to approve the deactivations before the decision is final.

The programs recommended for deactivation are:

  • Africana Studies
  • English, Language and Literature
  • History
  • Environmental Science

The mathematics department will be merged with another to make the degree programs more efficient.

The changes come on the heels of several years of enrollment decline at SSU, a trend that mirrors national enrollment decreases. Some of the programs recommended for deactivation graduated two people in 2021, according to documents obtained by SMN.

Between the fall of 2013 and 2022, Africana Studies saw a 45% decline in enrollment, while History saw more than a 90% decrease in students pursuing the degree during that same time frame, according to SSU enrollment figures.

English, History and Africana Studies are housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS), which the dean said has a "bloated academic budget" and is staffed with professors whose salaries do not justify their lack of teaching, according to Dean David Marshall's recommendation report to the provost, dated Oct. 28, 2022.

"Previous practices in CLASS have contributed to inefficiencies which have resulted in a bloated academic budget. Managing the costs of educational delivery will be key to our long-term success as a unit," Marshall wrote in his report. "Eventually, as the university emerges from this temporary crisis on the other side of this process, each academic department will have to make a commitment to be efficient with resources and be committed to aggressively going after grants and corporate support."

Marshall also made recommendations to increase the teaching loads of professors, and to ensure courses are being fully enrolled. "Far too many classes have (been taught) with 5-9 students," he wrote.

Credit: Shelly Mobley, Shelly Mobley/savannahnow.com

Credit: Shelly Mobley, Shelly Mobley/savannahnow.com

The potential deactivation of Africana Studies, English and History indicate a trend away from liberal arts and humanities studies at the HBCU, which were founded as a response to inequities within higher education that kept African American students from earning bachelor's and graduate degrees.

The programs recommended to expand in CLASS include Mass Communications, Social Work and other majors geared toward industry and growing job fields, particularly as local and state leaders have stressed a need for workforce development.

The school has already tried to deactivate Africana Studies before, but reversed its decision after public outcry. In his recommendation report, Marshall said SSU's requirement for all students to enroll in an Africana Studies course means the teaching of the topic won't go away, just the degree offering.

"Savannah State is one of the few institutions nationally that requires all its graduates to take a course in this area. This experience guarantees that all Savannah State University graduates understand the cultural, political, social, and historical impact on and by African Americans," he wrote.

Credit: file photo

Credit: file photo

Marshall's recommended savings within CLASS total about $900,000.

The potential deactivation of the environmental science degree program represents harder-to-quantify loss of industry pipelines and opportunities for students traditionally marginalized from traditional universities, also known as predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

The dean of the College of Science and Technology (COST) recommended the deactivation of environmental science due to a decline in enrollment, but suggested an environmental science track be added within existing degree programs, which the provost approved, thus passing on the recommendation to the university's president.

Workload to increase while colleges ask for more faculty, marketing

While all of SSU's deans were required to recommend how they would make savings within their own colleges, several used the report to advocate for increased funding and staffing, citing a lack of marketing and vacant positions as top issues for decreased success.

"Savannah State University, like many HBCUs, was established as an institution focused on teacher training... To become a viable College of Education, an investment has to be made in staffing, marketing, and visibility," College of Education (COE) Interim Dean Cora Thomspn wrote in her report.

Credit: Savannah State University

Credit: Savannah State University

The college has three full-time and four part-time faculty who conduct their own recruitment and marketing, Thomspn said, and the program faces an uphill battle after the decades-long lack of education programs at Savannah State, a result of integration-era practices that moved teaching degree programs to Armstrong University (now a Georgia Southern campus).

"Many districts are still unaware that Teacher Preparation returned to Savannah State University. Faculty in COE have conducted recruitment trips, developed a social media presence and increased the (number) of students in COE without an investment," Thomspn wrote. "Imagine what we could do as a college if we had a marketing campaign."

Provost Yolanda Page recommended that the college be funded adequately. “To discontinue any of our current teacher preparation programs would have a negative impact on school systems and fail to address the national need for qualified minority teachers, especially males," she wrote.

The College of Business Administration interim dean, Reginald Leseane, said in his report that COBA has seen a 30% decline in staffing over the past few years. “The decline in full-time faculty has put us at the point where accreditation could become endangered," he wrote.

Several science and technology programs are also at-risk of losing program-specific accreditations if full-time faculty are not added to the staff, according to the report from COST's dean.

Credit: City of Savannah Municipal Archives

Credit: City of Savannah Municipal Archives

A planned increase in tenured faculty's workload comes amid a reduction in non-tenured faculty and adjunct professors, who typically work on a contractual basis. Several professors have already been told their contracts would not be renewed for the 2023-2024 academic year, but the layoffs will not be widespread.

The changes recommended by the college's deans and provost are not yet finalized. SSU's budget must be sent to the state before Christmas, meaning decisions on where and how many savings will be made must be decided in the coming weeks.

This is an ongoing story, expect updates.

Zoe is the Savannah Morning News' Investigative Reporter. Find her at znicholson@gannett.com, @zoenicholson_ on Twitter, and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram. 

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Faced with slashing $11 million, Savannah State may cut English, Africana Studies programs