UWSP Cuts Felt Like A "Thunderclap" On Campus | Wisconsin Public Television

UWSP Cuts Felt Like A "Thunderclap" On Campus

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Premiere Date: 
March 9, 2018

UWSP Cuts Felt Like A "Thunderclap" On Campus

UW-Stevens Point is facing major cuts to many of its academic programs and majors. Discussing the impact is the school's Vice Chancellor Greg Summers. He says the university is facing budget shortfalls as the school receives less state funding and pushes for more students to graduate on-time. Summers says the news has been a "thunderclap" felt on campus.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

An inside look now from someone in the middle of big changes proposed at UW-Stevens Point. That's where 13 majors have been put on the chopping block even as 16 new or expanded programs have been proposed. The cuts include majors in art, political science, English and languages, including French and German. Expanded programs include finance and computer information systems. Additionally, new programs would include an MBA and doctor of physical therapy. These changes could lead to tenured faculty layoffs. All of this must be approved by the UW Board of Regents. Greg Summers is the UW-Stevens Point Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Thanks very much for being here.

Greg Summers:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why this move?

Greg Summers:

Well unfortunately, we're no stranger to budget reductions here at UW-Stevens Point. Back in the 1970s when the UW System was first created, we got about 50% of our budget from the state, from taxpayers. And tuition was almost free and fees were relatively modest. Today we get about 13% of our budget from the state and fees and tuition have become quite a burden for our students. There's not much new there. What has changed recently though are several other factors. We're in the fifth year now of a six-year tuition freeze, which is certainly constrained our ability to raise revenue. The demographics of the state do not favor recruitment. The number of 18-year-olds graduating from high school has been going down, not up. And most interestingly for us, we've recently dramatically increased our four-year graduation rate. In 2011, we had a 22% graduation rate. Today it's more like 34%. That's really emptied out the university and led to some of our enrollment decline. So we're having to make some real strategic changes.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so what kind of budget crunch are you looking at?

Greg Summers:

We have about a $4.5 million structural deficit presently.

Frederica Freyberg:

What's been the reaction from students and families to these changes?

Greg Summers:

This is easily the most painful process that I think I’ve been through as either a faculty member or an administrator. I've been on campus now for 17 years and it's a very difficult process to let a major go, particularly in some of the disciplines that we're talking about. These are the traditional liberal arts disciplines. Even though it remains true that we're going to be offering all of these courses and curricula in the form of minors, and in our general education curriculum, to let go of the majors themselves is a very difficult process. And so it's been kind of a thunder clap for the campus to absorb.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because in fact one of those majors is history and that is a department you came out of before you went into administration. So what is your response to critics who say that those humanities are important to education?

Greg Summers:

Oh, they're critically important. I wouldn't disagree with that at all. I think we need to be careful to acknowledge the loss here. When I was a student in the Ohio state system, I went to school at a public open enrollment university and I got to major in history and study the discipline and I went on to become a college professor. The fact that that particular journey may not be possible here at Stevens Point is kind of heartbreaking for me personally. But again, I want to emphasize that we're maintaining large parts of the curriculum in history, in philosophy, in sociology and political science. We're going to continue to offer a very strong liberal arts core in our general education program. We're going to preserve a lot of minors and certificates rooted in those disciplines. And we're going to be developing new disciplines grounded fundamentally in the humanities and the liberal arts.

Frederica Freyberg:

How many layoffs might result?

Greg Summers:

We don't yet know yet. There's a process that's going to be unfolding in the governance structure here. There's a very formal policy that has been mandated by the Board of Regents that we'll be following. We're going to be fine-tuning the proposals. We simply wanted to give the campus a sense of what our recommendations were and to ask for their help in the next six months or so to work together on shaping up the proposals that we need to move forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is this the direction that other campuses across the state are looking at as well, to your knowledge?

Greg Summers:

Well, I don't know. I know that we're all struggling to recruit new students and many of the institutions in the UW System are dealing with the demographic issues that are making us really work harder to bring in new students. And we're all seeing some declines in enrollment. I think what's different about this institution is that graduation rate issue. Because we've so dramatically increased our graduation rate, our situation has been a little bit different and a little bit more acute than some of the other institutions. That's a great thing for students. We're really proud of that accomplishment. Students are getting out of here sooner and with less expense. But financially, it's really put a crimp on our budget.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We leave it there. We wish you luck. Greg Summers, thanks very much.

Greg Summers:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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