In response to a dire state budget situation, Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport on Monday announced he was eliminating a vice president’s post to both save money and improve services to students.

In an e-mail sent to the campus community and the media Monday afternoon, Davenport said his shake up will remove Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Swatfager-Haney. In place of vice president and assistant vice president positions, Davenport plans to institute a dean of students model of student affairs administration.

And the student affairs shake up probably isn’t the end of it.

Davenport also said he’s planning to examine other divisions of MSU’s administration to see if changes can be made to save money.

The changes come at a time when the state is dealing with its largest-ever deficit. The recession has hit state governments hard, and a few months ago when forecasters thought the state’s budget deficit might be $4 billion, MSU figured its share that would have to be trimmed was about $7 million. New numbers due out today, however, were expected to push that state deficit number up to about $7 billion.

Davenport said his decision about student affairs, and his decision to review other divisions as well, were prompted by the increasingly bleak state economic situation.

“One of the realities of these challenging times is the need to consider reorganization and restructuring to more efficiently meet the needs of our students while preserving our core functions,” Davenport’s statement reads. “At this point, I have made the determination to reorganize a major area of our university administration. I have made the difficult decision to restructure Student Affairs under a Dean of Students model.”

In an interview Monday, Davenport said his goal will be to have the academic affairs division, headed by Provost Scott Olson, work more closely with the dean of students.

“There’s a natural synergy between providing student services and academic services. They overlap,” he said. “In student services we’re providing the other half of the student experience.”

He said that having academic affairs and the dean of students departments working closely is a model used successfully at other universities. Now seems like an opportune time to change the way MSU handles student affairs services, he said.

In the near future, he said, “we’re also looking at downsizing and reorganizing other divisions, we’re just not ready to come forward with that yet.”

The cost savings of eliminating the vice president and the assistant vice president — a position currently vacant — for student affairs, he said, is significant. Several other positions may also be eliminated with the student affairs move, he said, but he declined to elaborate.

Just what form the new dean of students position will take remains to be finalized, Davenport said. He said he plans to meet with university leaders, including students, to get as much input as possible before announcing what the new division will look like.

“We’ll be very open about everything,” he said.

Says his statement, “This reorganization will not only result in administrative cost savings, but will also help create efficiencies and allow student services to be delivered more effectively through closer coordination with other administrative units ... The new Dean of Students will sit on both the Academic Affairs Council and the President’s Cabinet to insure there will be consistency and a strong voice for students and that student services will be positively affected.”

While not being able to offer many details, Davenport said the new system should result in more resources being put into advising, financial aid and the course scheduling process.

“This is really something we’ve been thinking about for a few years. And given the budget crisis we decided to more seriously look at this,” he said. “If we can do this, reduce overhead, put it into student services, we’d be helping the budget picture.”

As for Swatfager-Haney, Davenport said she is “committed to working collaboratively to help make a smooth transition to this new model. “

Walt Wolff, MSU’s director of admissions, will serve in a temporary interim capacity so that we can “work through transition issues, determine the best organizational structure for our future and prepare ourselves for a national search for a permanent Dean of Students as quickly as possible.”

Swatfager-Haney has been with MSU for five years. She came from the University of Illinois system where she served as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Springfield and within the U of I system office. Davenport said it was not a demotion or a firing, and that Swatfager-Haney is welcome to apply for the new dean of students post. He predicted, however, that she’d probably move on to a more senior post somewhere else.

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