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UW-Stevens Point Chancellor on proposed liberal arts program cut: “Reaction has led to an incorrect narrative”

UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson defended a proposal that would cut humanities majors in a piece he wrote Tuesday.

Image By: Samantha Nesovanovic

Pushback continued Tuesday after UW-Stevens Point announced a proposal to cut 13 humanities majors while adding or expanding 16 STEM programs last week, even as Chancellor Bernie Patterson wrote a piece in the Stevens Point Journal to justify the university’s proposed cuts.

In a statement about the proposal, UW-Stevens Point would shift resources from programs with lower enrollment to expand programs with “high-demand career paths” to try and maintain enrollment. Coupled with a $4.5 million deficit and less state funding, Patterson said in the Journal Monday that the university has done all it can — with the exception of cutting programs — to deal with the debt.

“We have implemented cost-savings, increased workloads, raised class sizes, reduced administrative spending, and nearly eliminated budgets for supplies, equipment, technology and facilities,” Patterson said. “We have restricted travel and professional development, reduced students activities, and declined for years to invest in salaries for our faculty, 95 percent of whom are paid below national averages.”

The UW-Stevens Point chapter of the College Republicans encouraged the university, Board of Regents and Chancellor Bernie Patterson to take “necessary actions to maintain the reputation of this great University,” according to their statement released Monday.

Still, many were unhappy with the announcement and Patterson’s response.

“The dismantling of #liberalarts @UWStevensPoint is infuriating for many reasons, not the least of which is that NO evidence is being advanced to support claims that arts/humanities grads have “no clear career pathways.” This claim is demonstrably false,” Matt Hora, director of Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, tweeted.

UW-Milwaukee American Association of University Professors tweeted Patterson’s story and linked the situation to the UW System’s highly controversial restructuring plan, which leaked to the public in October. In wake of the leak, students, faculty and staff throughout the UW System were angry that they weren’t consulted about the plan.

But Patterson said the largely negative response has led to “an incorrect narrative.” He emphasized that 80 percent of the humanities courses at UW-Stevens Point will still exist under the proposal and students entering into the university next fall will still be able to complete their degrees.

“It is critical our students learn to communicate well, solve problems, think critically and creatively, be analytical and innovative, and work well in teams. This is the value of earning a bachelor’s degree,” Patterson told the Stevens Point Journal. “It is a false choice to suggest we must offer these broad skills or majors with career pathways. Both are essential, and both will continue to be offered at UW-Stevens Point.”

In September, the university said that amid these issues, it would eliminate programs, cut staff positions and invest in ways to bring more students to campus.

UW-Stevens Point Provost Greg Summers told The Daily Cardinal that part of the enrollment problem UW-Stevens Point faces is due to a “success story.” The school had recently changed its graduation requirements, allowing more students to graduate on time. The four-year rate has increased from 22 percent to roughly 35 percent, according to Summers.

The flip side of this is that quicker graduation rates lower the overall headcount at the university, meaning UW-Stevens Point earns less funding from tuition. This, Summers said, is the challenge.

“We had a lot of enrollment bottlenecks … we’ve been addressing those issues really aggressively,” Summers said at the time. “But what it means is, the only way to keep our enrollment steady is to increase our incoming class.”

Bremen Keasey and Noah Habenstreit contributed to this report.

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