In wake of budget cut, UWRF college faces loss of instructors, courses

Posted March 23, 2016

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at UW-River Falls has managed to cut $1.5 million from its budget — and the effects will be visible come fall semester.

Bradley Caskey, dean of the college, said that when the budget for the 2015-2017 biennium was announced last year, CAS aimed to make all of the reductions and changes necessary to meet the cuts in the first year. However, the numbers changed and CAS in the past two months has had to make adjustments quickly, resulting in a reduction of faculty, larger class sizes and decreased course availability.

Both Caskey and the university’s administration say miscommunication about support for General Education courses and how money saved from faculty retirements would be treated resulted in the college overspending by $561,000. The college, one of four that make up UWRF, is the university’s largest and accounts for about a third of all undergraduate and graduate students.

Certain departments will be hit disproportionately harder than others, with Modern Language facing some of the most dramatic changes. Caskey said that the major and minor programs for both German and French will be eliminated, and admission to both for the 2016-2017 academic year is being suspended. The courses in Chinese will also not be offered. Caskey said that students who have just started the programs will need to find new majors and minors.

Current students majoring or minoring in German and French who are close to completing their requirements will be able to finish their programs. Caskey said that Kris Butler, chair of modern language, is contacting students and will work through registration plans to help them do so.

However, Butler said that she plans to resign at the end of this academic year to make it possible for the department to offer the upper-level courses. Butler said in an email before spring break that she is worried about the way these cuts will impact the university’s mission.

“If we are to teach our students to be ethical, engaged leaders with an informed global perspective, then we must also demonstrate ethical behavior, leadership and show that we value global education,” Butler said. “I do not feel that this path demonstrates those values.”

Changes continued to be finalized over spring break (March 14-18), and Caskey said that CAS was able to add approximately 90 sections of general education courses to the 2016-2017 schedule. The freshman and sophomore level English courses will see the biggest change, with 35 additional sections. Caskey said that this is to make sure that there are enough courses both for students in specific programs that require them, such as General Psychology (Psychology 101) for social work majors, and for the entire student body. With enrollment numbers for the fall projected to be up from previous years, Caskey said that having enough options is particularly important right now.

“The good news is, more students pay more tuition,” Caskey said. “The potential danger is, if you don’t have seats for them, you have significant PR issues and retention issues.”

Faculty reductions will come as a result of not renewing some instructional academic staff (IAS), who typically teach on short-term contracts. Departments with more IAS will be affected the most. John Heppen, chair of Geography and Geographic Information Science (GIS), said that he had to tell Matt Millett, the GIS lab manager who teaches a course each semester, that Millett would not be returning in the fall.

“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to do as a geography professor,” Heppen said.

The loss of faculty is nothing new for the college. In the last two years, Caskey said that CAS has lost 21 people for a number of reasons, including retirement and simply not continuing to teach at the university.

Some faculty members are angry about the consistent cuts to the university. English Professor Greta Gaard said that part of the problem is that students and families are being asked to feel the impacts of decisions that they do not have a role in making.

“One of the characteristics of a democracy is that those who participate in the decisions are those who then enjoy the fruits or bear the burdens of the decisions,” Gaard said, “and what we have is a different situation whereby those who are paying the costs of the decisions are not the same ones as those that are making the decisions.”

Provost Fernando Delgado said that he understands the general anger from faculty members, particularly from those who have been at UWRF for a long time.

“Had I spilled as much blood as they had in helping build this institution, I would be real angry right now, too,” Delgado said.

The sudden cuts have added to the conversation about the state of higher education in Wisconsin. Gaard said that the budget crisis didn’t have to happen but was created by Gov. Scott Walker. The UW System was hit with a $250 million cut to its overall budget for the current biennium.

“It’s fabricated. It’s a crisis that’s created from a political motive,” Gaard said. “The UW System was not in trouble until the governor of Wisconsin decided that it was.”

Peter Vermeland, who is studying education and is chair of the Academic Council, said that seeing the UW System lose money every year has made him decide not to teach in Wisconsin after he graduates.

“It really makes me not believe that this state cares about higher ed,” Vermeland said. “I know that this university cares about higher ed, and I know that my college cares about higher ed. I don’t know if the state cares about higher ed.”

Caskey said that more specific impacts and definite numbers of seats and faculty lost will be able to be calculated after the fall course schedule is finalized and he can compare exact numbers with what was offered in previous semesters.