UW System strives for solidarity as cuts plague future of faculty, humanities
Faculty throughout the UW System have encouraged solidarity among their peers in light of the budget deficit and faculty cutbacks that plague the UW-Stevens Point community.Image By: Max Homstad
On Nov. 12, UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson released a proposal that would eliminate six humanities majors. Two weeks later, faculty have propelled a movement calling for his resignation.
But for many educators, this is only the beginning.
“Hold on tight, there will be a fight,” said Noel Radomski, director and associate researcher at the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.
Earlier this month, members of the UW-Stevens Point community crafted a letter justifying their “lack of confidence” in the current university administration led by Patterson and Provost Greg Summers.
Instead of imparting “forward-thinking” methods to tackle financial uncertainty, the letter discusses how the new Point Forward proposal, which documents the university’s decision to shift their focus towards the workforce, “singles out” low-cost programs to cut, including history and geography.
Jim Oberly, a UW-Eau Claire history professor, obliterated the belief that UW-Stevens Point reduction in faculty and programs were a result of decreased funds and labor force variability.
“The budget shortfall at UW-Stevens Point is not the result of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire,” Oberly said. “It is caused by a long-running policy of austerity with state support for the UW.”
More specifically, the letter documented the evolution of the university’s administrative “mismanagement.” Curricular reforms, demographic projections and long-term reductions in state funding together pointed toward improving graduation rates, declining numbers of high school graduates and an ongoing imperative to cut spending.
Upon obtaining his position eight years ago along with Patterson, Summers foresaw these challenges on the road ahead. The declining number of high school graduates and the necessity to cut university spending was rooted in curricular reforms, demographic projections and continuous reductions in state funding.
Despite expecting these shifts, little modifications were made to change the tide.
“Instead of preparing for a leaner future, they pursued a misguided policy of expansion at odds with demographic and economic reality,” they wrote in the letter.
Although the community members acknowledged there was no comprehensive solution, they could not deny the influence Patterson had on the failure for the university to maintain open faculty positions and degrees for students to pursue.
“Had this been done the past several years, there would be no ‘budget crisis’ at UW-Stevens Point,” Oberly said.
The support is not only isolated to the Stevens Point community, as more than 100 faculty, administrators and concerned Wisconsin citizens have signed a document in rejection of the cutbacks.
Many — including Oberly and Nicholas Fleisher, an associate professor of linguistics at UW-Milwaukee — signed the document in hopes that the proposal will be rejected by the Board of Regents as well spark a change in the university’s leadership.
“I hope that by signing the letter, we can get people talking about real solutions to the problems at UW-Stevens Point,” Fleisher said. “The UW-Stevens Point administration is trying to put a happy face on their proposal, but I think there is very little reason to believe that they have promising ideas for how to turn things around.”
For Oberly, solidarity is both an expression of standing in support of faculty and students that have become victims of the cuts, but also making a statement across the system of “no confidence.”
"That leadership has mismanaged the university and should not be allowed to do further damage,” Oberly said. “It is folly to continue cutting at Point, Oshkosh, Superior and elsewhere.”
The budget deficit at the university follows repeated cuts to state support amid the tuition freeze and dwindling enrollment rates.
UW-Stevens Point concerns also came from a lack of effective management, as well as little use of foresight by the administration to tackle financial instability before they boiled over the surface. The university spent some of their reserves and hired people despite the constant constraints.
“At this point, there are no good options for reducing our deficit,” said UW-Stevens Point Professor Jennifer Collins. “In fact, we have already seen our faculty numbers diminished due to early retirements and people leaving the University.”
For Oberly, the answer to alleviate this is for the legislature under Governor-elect Tony Evers to fund the full cost of tuition that has been frozen for the past six years.
Despite this solution, more questions still hang in the air.
“Will there be a vote of no confidence? How will the Walker-appointed regents respond? How will UW System President Cross respond?” Radomski said.
Radomski’s concerns signify the beginning of tenure support degradation. But, he is not the only one who views this as a system-wide attack.
“It’s an indication that these cuts may be coming to other campuses soon,” UW-Stevens Point Professor Nerissa Nelson said. “It’s a very scary time for UW-Stevens Point and the UW System.”
Even campuses that seem to be thriving, like UW-Madison, should recognize the impact of UW-Stevens Point’s cuts at their own universities.
“Faculty at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee need to recognize that their own fate is intimately connected to the fate of UW-Stevens Point,” Fleisher said.
Nelson also noted her concerns of decisions that local legislators make in education, as these cuts may also “reflect the erosion and weakening” of nationwide tenure policy.
As UW-Stevens Point is confronted with declines, they must configure how to factor in the voices of those who are losing an opportunity to work and study at the university.
“My hunch is that they will accuse faculty as agents against change. That the faculty provide roadblocks to change needed to solve UW-Stevens Point's enrollment declines and budget deficits,” Radomski said. “Are they living in never-ever land?”Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter