Another American university is planning on cutting academic programs and laying off faculty. Now it’s a public institution in the upper midwest.
(I’ve been calling such moves “queen sacrifices” for several years. That’s a metaphor based on the chess strategy, the desperate move whereby a player gives up their most powerful piece in an attempt to win the game. In the metaphor tenure-track faculty are the campus equivalent of the queen, having (in theory) greater powers and influence than most others. You can find far too many posts on this here.)
This time it’s the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and their leadership is proposing significant cuts after floating the idea last month. The way the administration frames this is as reallocation, of “shifting resources to invest in areas with growth potential” and away from those with… the opposite, presumably: “programs where fewer students are enrolled.”
Programs facing the axe include – sorry, “Discontinuing the following programs is recommended”:
- American Studies
- Art – Graphic Design will continue as a distinct major
- English – English for teacher certification will continue
- History – Social Science for teacher certification will continue
- Music Literature
- Political Science
- Sociology — Social Work major will continue
Since reducing majors means decreasing demand for instructors advising students and teaching upper-level classes, cutting tenure-track faculty positions is right on the table: “If a reduction in tenured faculty positions is recommended, cuts would occur no sooner than June 2020.”
In contrast, note the programs being added or expanded:
UW-Stevens Point proposes expanding academic programs that have demonstrated value and demand in the region, including:
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Information Systems
- Conservation Law Enforcement
- Fire Science
- Graphic Design
These programs have existed as options and would expand to majors. In addition, new bachelor’s (or advanced) degree programs are proposed in:
- Captive Wildlife
- Ecosystem Design and Remediation
- Environmental Engineering
- Geographic Information Science
- Master of Business Administration
- Master of Natural Resources
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
Broadly speaking, this is a shift away from the humanities and towards the natural sciences, which fits into other enrollment trends we’ve been examining.
What is the reason for these drastic steps? Say it with me, dear readers: declining enrollment and tuition dollars: “UW-Stevens Point faces a deficit of $4.5 million over two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.” More:
This repositioning is necessary because of declining financial resources, demographic changes with fewer students in K-12 schools and rising competition among public and private universities, said Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs…
A key part of this is the state of Wisconsin cutting support under a Republic governor and legislature (cf my previous posts).
In another statement, Stevens Point administrators describe this proposal as the latest strategy after a series of have tried, well worth quoting in full. It’s a catalog of modern university options, and many of my readers have doubtlessly experienced some of these:
Within Academic Affairs over the years, we have tried nearly every other strategy except this approach, from improving the marketing, recruitment, and retention strategies of enrollment management to endlessly searching for cost-savings until efficiency became pervasive austerity. We have increased workloads, raised class sizes, reduced administrative spending, and nearly eliminated budgets for supplies, equipment, technology and facilities. We have restricted travel, sabbaticals, and other professional development, and declined for years to invest in salaries for our faculty and staff members. We have squeezed administrative support functions to a point where we are failing to provide badly needed services, especially in those areas on which we depend regardless of enrollment. In Information Technology alone, nine and a half positions have been lost in the past three years, a number that will likely grow further in the current restructuring—this at a time when the demands on their services and expertise are greater than ever.
Which brings them to this point:
In short, we have “lived without” across the entire Division of Academic Affairs, disadvantaging nearly all of our programs and services, and most importantly, undermining the education we provide our students. There is a limit to how long a university can thrive under these kinds of across-the-board austerity measures and remain a vital and thriving institution, and we have reached it. (emphases added)
Yet, as David Vanness notes on Twitter, Stevens Point did not declare financial exigency. Interesting:
13 programs are slated to close at @UWStevensPoint. Staff and faculty, including those with tenure, will lose their jobs — not because of a financial exigency, but because of program prioritization. 1/ https://t.co/gNav1HkM1K pic.twitter.com/8NVaZY5CrC
— Dave Vanness (@djvanness) March 5, 2018
So, to sum up: this looks like a classic queen sacrifice. A university, buffeted by enrollment and therefore financial problems, driven in part by demographics, decides to fix its business model by cutting programs and therefore faculty. There’s a shift to more student-attractive programs, and also one from the humanities to STEM, generally.
As long as these forces are in play – aging demographics, states no longer supporting public higher ed while demanding more students take classes there, a tightening business model for campuses, decreasing appeal of the academic humanities, soaring STEM reputation – we should expect more such queen sacrifices.