The College Republicans chapter at UW-Stevens Point backed the university’s proposal to cut $4.5 million from 13 liberal arts programs to shift funding into 16 STEM-related programs Monday.
In a statement, the UWSP College Republicans encouraged the university, Board of Regents and Chancellor Bernie Patterson to take “necessary actions to maintain the reputation of this great University.”
The move has caused debate among state politicians on the future of higher education and whether universities should have an education that widens their worldview, or one that teaches skills for a specific occupation. State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the proposal is a part of Republican effort to “transform” the UW System, even though the plan was crafted entirely on campus, according to UW-Stevens Point spokesperson Greg Summers.
“I believe that this is 100 percent a product of conversations with Republicans who’ve done all these budget cuts and this is their goal: they want schools to specialize,” Shankland said.
The potential move to more “specialized” universities created fears that the increase in specialization could discourage students from enrolling, especially nontraditional and first-generation students, Shankland said.
UWSP College Republicans Chair Amelia Huep said she disagrees with the “devaluing” of education from Republican lawmakers, such as Gov. Scott Walker, “as many in the media portrayed it.” Huep, a political science major — one of the proposed programs to be cut — supports the proposal.
“Changes were going to be an inevitable reaction to ensure the reputation of this university,” Huep said. “The UWSP College Republicans and I support the necessary actions needed to coincide with the change in the academic market.”
Many of the programs proposed to be cut by the university have seen modest enrollments that have been trending downward, according to Summers. Shankland and some at UW-Stevens Point said they haven’t seen data showing fewer students are picking the majors, but other faculty are happy with the university offering more “attractive” majors, said physics and astronomy professor Ken Menningen.
UW-Stevens Point Student President Sean Piette said students were “shocked and worried” about what the potential cuts mean for the university, but because of the budget deficit, he feels most students understand the need for the proposal.
“With our current financial situation we cannot survive by continuing to cut all programs on campus across the board,” Piette said. “We must prioritize what we spend money on to most benefit the university and community as a whole.”
The proposal to discontinue programs will be reviewed by a campus governance committee, Patterson and the UW System Board of Regents.