New UW deal does not affect already-announced layoffs, potential majors and minors cuts

GREEN BAY, Wis.— The Universities of Wisconsin has headlined the news for months and particularly, over the past week.

The Board of Regents passed a proposal between UW and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature on Wednesday.

The deal calls for a hiring freeze of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions through 2026, among other concessions.

Republicans will release already-approved money for a 6% raise for 34,000 UW employees and for capital projects, including a new UW-Madison engineering building.

The Board of Regents initially rejected the deal in a vote of nine to eight on Saturday.

What this deal does not do is reverse the hundreds of layoffs that have already been announced at four Universities of Wisconsin campuses since October, as a result of structural budget deficits.

UW-Parkside will eliminate about 50 full-time positions through layoffs and voluntary retirement. UW-Platteville announced it will remove 111 positions. UW-Oshkosh is laying off 140 employees, with an additional 76 taking voluntary retirement.

Projected structural deficits plagued 10 out of 13 UW campuses this fiscal year.

UW-Green Bay laid off nine staff members and announced furloughs for some administrative staff making more than $100,000 per year to address a budget shortfall.

In November, the university also announced it is considering eliminating its six majors and minors. Those include Environmental Policy, Economics and Theater and Dance.

Jennifer Witt and Audrey Soberg are seniors. They’re also roommates. Witt is a theater minor and Soberg is a theater major.

When they found out their university might stop offering theater as both a major and a minor next school year, they said they couldn’t believe it.

“We were distraught, and it was a very emotional night,” Witt said. “There are a lot of classes that are being cancelled in the theater department, which means students could have to take independent study and that’s not the same as taking a class from a professor.”

“How are we not supposed to feel the effects when we see them happening live, essentially?” Soberg said. “They’re going to lose so many people if they cut this out.”

UW-Green Bay faced a $2.2 million deficit this fiscal year, which Chancellor Michael Alexander said has decreased to about $2 million.

He is confident the deficit will be rectified by the beginning of the fall semester. He also said the potential cuts to majors and minors would not be in response to that.

Instead, he cited high faculty-to-student ratios and low enrollment within those programs.

“If you look at the student to faculty ratios across the university, it ranges anywhere from three or four to one up to much higher than that, sometimes over 55 to one,” he said.  “We owe it to our students to teach all of them really well and we can’t be all things to all people.”

UW-Green Bay has a budget for this fiscal year of about $140 million. Alexander said a decision regarding potential cuts is likely to come in February.

Currently, he said administration is meeting with faculty in each unit to discuss the future of these six majors and minors. Then, the Faculty Senate will weigh in.

“We have not made a final decision on this yet,” he said. “We want to expand the number of people who are involved in the theater, but it doesn’t mean we have to have a major and you’re probably not talking to the students who are sitting in a classroom with too many students in it.”

Professor Jon Shelton is UW-Green Bay’s chair of Democracy and Justice Studies.  He’s also Vice-President for Higher Education of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin (AFT).

He said he has spoken to at least one faculty member in all six majors and minors that could be eliminated.

“There’s been, I think, a manufactured crisis of austerity in this state,” he said.  “You hear administrators on many campuses saying we have to offer our students fewer options and this is at a time when our state has a $4 billion surplus.”

He said the faculty he’s spoken with have voiced the same concerns.

“What every faculty member I talked to wants to be sure of is that faculty and staff in those programs involved in these conversations are listened to and are a key part of the decision-making process,” Shelton said. “There are certain programs that are fundamental to the core of a regional comprehensive and one of those examples is theater.”

In the meantime, Soberg and Witt will finish their degrees before they graduate. They said they’re not thinking about themselves. They’re thinking about future students.

“I do a lot of work with younger students who are interested in theater,” Witt said.  “Knowing they may not have the opportunity to learn and grow post- high school is concerning.”

“Truly cutting all of this off is cutting off a huge form of self-expression and emotion,” Soberg said.

According to the Chancellor’s office, Theatre has a 4:1 student to faculty ratio of 28 majors and seven full-time instructors. The staffing ratios for Geography and Physics are similar.

Source: UW-Green Bay considers cutting six majors and minors