Popular UWRF instructor who lost job to budget cuts may be back again

Posted April 13, 2016

Instead of preparing to clean out his office because he has lost his job to budget cuts, one UW-River Falls instructor has been informed that he has the option to continue teaching this fall.

Joe Blum is an instructor in the Department of Screen and Stage Arts (SASA), the manager of production operations who oversees equipment checkout for students and a video producer with University Communications and Marketing. Earlier this semester, he was told that his two-year contract with UWRF would not be renewed, which he said surprised both him and his colleagues.

“I think we were all pretty shocked when we found out,” Blum said, “especially because I do support quite a few different things, so we weren’t expecting that to go.”

While Blum was breaking the news to his students, Chair of SASA Robin Murray was trying to figure out a way to keep Blum at the university. She said that she and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Bradley Caskey worked something out that would allow Blum to teach six credits each semester of the 2016-2017 academic year. They are also in the process of making sure that Blum can continue overseeing the equipment checkout.

“This has been in the works and there’s nothing official yet,” Murray said, “but I feel very confident that between myself and the dean, we have figured out a plan that’s going to work really well.”

Meanwhile, students decided to get involved in the effort to save Blum’s position. Corey Fern and Emma Johnson, co-presidents of the improvisation troupe that Blum advises, began circulating a petition after Fern spoke to Blum and noticed that he seemed upset.

“He said like, ‘Well I just found out that I’m going to be out of a job in June,’ and my heart immediately sank,” Fern said. “So what I did is I said, ‘I’m not just going to sit down and let this happen.'”

Fern said that he shared the petition with Johnson and ended up with approximately 250 signatures before the petition was delivered with a stack of letters of support to Chancellor Dean Van Galen. Johnson said that, upon learning that Blum could be returning, she was surprised.

“Corey and I went into this with a realist view,” Johnson said. “We said, ‘All right, this might not save one guy because it’s one person, but at least it’ll get the word out there to the chancellor that there’s people who care about the budget cuts.'”

The support from students is something that Blum said blew him away, especially because he likes working with them in particular.

“Just to hear that was ending was really tough, but all of the students coming together in all the different facets that I work with was just amazing,” Blum said. “That’s why I’m here is to help the students and work with them.”

Murray said that some of her students threatened to leave if Blum’s position was not renewed, so she was happy to see them taking action even though it was she and Caskey who ultimately figured things out.

“I just feel like a few years ago, if this had happened, students would have just complained and not done anything,” Murray said, “so I’m feeling good about it.”

However, Caskey said in an email that he was already convinced of Blum’s importance to the university and that the petition did not influence him when making the hiring decision.

“I knew how important he is to our students’ success and I just needed to see how the budget cuts were playing out across all CAS programs before I could determine whether or not we had money to fund his assignments,” Caskey said.

Murray said that the result so far is not perfect, but that the goal is to keep Blum at UWRF for another year while more details are worked out.

“It’s not the best solution in the world, but it’s kind of like a Band-Aid for a while,” Murray said, “and that gives us time to think about what we can do and where we can possibly find funding and reorganizing.”

Unless University Communications and Marketing figures out a way to fund Blum’s position as the video producer, he would no longer be a full-time employee. Murray said that equipment checkout hours may be decreased and Blum may not have as much time to work with students on independent studies if his position is only part of what it is right now.