Faculty thoughts on UWSP’s proposed reorganization plan
Portage County Gazette
To the Editor:
We are struck by the irony of UWSP students protesting the very proposal administrators claim is designed to meet student demand. This is just one of the incongruities of the proposed elimination of 13 liberal arts majors and the creation or expansion of 16 other programs.
A second incongruity is that UWSP faces a large budget shortfall, but the proposed solution adds a greater number of expensive programs like chemical engineering and physical therapy. Where will the money come from? Will UWSP attract enough students to the new programs to offset those lost? Will students who have lost majors leave? What will happen to enrollments while the new programs are in development?
Third, the cuts to liberal arts programs are just as much a cause of the budget deficit as they are its consequence. UWSP’s leadership has been intentionally reducing the liberal arts for years by lowering general education (GE) requirements. UWSP’s GE is now less demanding than associate’s degree requirements at two-year campuses.
This brings us to the fourth incongruity: the Provost has declared the GE changes as beneficial to students because they have increased graduation rates and lowered graduation times, but they have also contributed to enrollment declines, budget shortfalls, cheapening of the UWSP degree and a precipitous fall in humanities and social sciences courses. The slide in liberal arts programs has been a self-fulfilling prophecy: reduce the GE requirements and then eliminate majors due to low enrollments.
The Chancellor assures us that the liberal arts will still be taught, which brings us to the fifth incongruity: The university cannot attract high-quality faculty to programs that do not have majors. Younger faculty are already heading for the exits.
The sixth incongruity is that UWSP leaders can blame their budget problems on politicians while giving them exactly what they want: a version of the Wisconsin Idea that focuses on short-term business interests, rather than the long-term needs of students, the economy and the state. Development of pre-professional programs has become not just the means to save UWSP, but the end in itself.
The budget deficit is not new. UWSP has been running large deficits for years. The difference is that the reserves are nearly gone and recent changes in tenure rules empower administrators to fire tenured faculty to redirect resources. We believe the administration should search for alternatives to cannibalizing positions and programs in order to keep UWSP a great institution.
The university has clearly lost its compass in this very expensive and risky plan that will assuredly damage the institution. Now, in the face of student and faculty protest, public and alumni backlash, and bad national publicity, UWSP leaders have asked a university group to come up with a counter proposal. This “lead from behind” strategy will most likely demonstrate that faculty and staff cannot solve in a few weeks the harmful budget problems and administrative policies that have loomed for years.
It is obviously inappropriate for the administration to make such deep and widespread changes in haste. UWSP deserves better leadership than this. The future of this top American regional university depends on it.
E. Sherwood Bishop, Barbara Dixon, Bob Bowen, Robert Enright, Hamid Hekmat, William Lawlor, Neil Lewis, Justus Paul, Richard Ruppel, Bill Skelton, Gail Skelton and Robert Wolensky,
UWSP emeritus faculty