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Students question budget deficit, reconstruction after UW-Stevens Point majors secure future

Five months after introducing proposal to cut six humanities majors, UW-Stevens Point announced plans to keep all degrees intact Wednesday. 

Image By: Sam Nesovanovic

After more than a year of deliberation, UW-Stevens Point humanities majors will be saved from potential cuts — but at a cost. 

UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson announced the university was able to keep the majors due to faculty retirements and resignations Wednesday, five months after announcing the official proposal —  Point Forward — in November 2018. 

The intended alterations to the university’s degree programs led to protests, Reclaim the UW T-shirts and even demands for Patterson to step down from leadership for not including faculty and students in the decision to limit the liberal arts education. 

“It's kind of a ‘victory at what cost’ situation, considering all the upheaval on campus while all this was getting sorted out,” UW-Stevens Point graduate Lexie Neeley said. 

The upheaval was the risk of cutting 13 humanities programs, but this number was slimmed down to six in Patterson’s official proposal. He announced 14 faculty resignations and retirements in February, resulting in history, geography, geoscience and two art concentrations — two- and three-dimensional art — still at risk. 

"Any business person would tell you that you can't always cut your way to prosperity," Patterson said.

Patterson’s words “frustrated” Neeley, seeing as that was the university’s argument for cutting the majors from the start. 

“I guess there's just a lot of work left to be done, but with slightly more stable ground under their feet, I'm hopeful the university can keep making changes for the better,” she said.

However, although they are saved, the majors will be adapted. The university is launching new programs not only on the UW-Stevens Point campus, but also its branch campuses, UW-Wausau and UW-Marshfield. 

“Moving forward, I would expect to see a lot of residual tension as programs get restructured and new cuts inevitably come forward,” UW-Stevens Point Student Body President Brailey Kerber said.

The history major will now have a teaching partnership with the School of Education. This could bridge courses in public policy, nonprofit management, as well as business and health care careers with history. 

“I think this will bring a positive impact to the status of liberal arts at UWSP. This shows that the university values the liberal arts and is willing to fight to save them,” Student Body Vice President-elect Rayvn Knipple said. 

The geoscience and geography majors will merge into the geospatial science program, and the two art concentrations will join the School of Design to enhance a more interdisciplinary approach for subjects like graphic design, studio art and interior architecture. 

Faculty members plan to continue developing new programs in the coming year. Patterson praised shared governance, saying it “served [them] well.” 

Although UW-Stevens Point Communications professor Mark Tolstedt saw the positives, he said, “It’s also a negative because that’s only in place because so many people have left this campus.”

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, a longtime advocate for keeping the majors, said it was time that advocates’ voices were heard in a statement. 

"While I believe they should have been brought into the discussion prior to the proposal garnering national attention, I'm pleased that their poignant feedback was heard,” she said. 

However, students shared their concerns about one burden the university still carries — an $8 million budget deficit. 

“I still have a lot of questions, and I am nervous,” Kerber said. “The biggest being how we are going to address the $8 million structural deficit. Where are we going to find that money? I think we still have a lot of work to do.” 

Yet despite the lack of funds, Knipple called a liberal arts degree “important” and “valuable” to the university. He commemorated UW-Stevens Point faculty, stating how much time and effort they put into their curriculum is proof that liberal arts is integral to the university.

“This can be used as a sign to the public that this university and these majors are worth fighting for and that there is nothing that can't be overcome when administration, faculty and students work together,” Knipple said. 

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