Yet another American state is experiencing harsh pressures on its public higher education system, and is considering a queen sacrifice. This time it’s the University of Wyoming, whose president is preparing to declare of financial emergency.
According to the Caspar Star Tribune, “she will declare a financial crisis that will allow for the evaluation and possible elimination of academic and nonacademic programs at the state’s only public four-year university…. ” President Laurie Nichols states openly that “The overall goal is downsizing”.
An official statement makes things quite clear:
“We have managed to avoid program cuts and layoffs in the fiscal year that begins next month, but those types of reductions will be unavoidable in the following year,” Nichols says.
This story has all of the sacrifice’s usual patterns.
Why the crisis? Economic problems, driven in part by the collapse of oil:
The university has to cut more than $40 million from its budget over the next two years to compensate for reduced state aid because of a drop in tax revenue from the downturn in Wyoming’s energy extraction industry.
Being a public institution, UW is hit hard by the political results:
Gov. Matt Mead says the state will have to cut about an additional 8 percent from the state’s $3 billion two-year budget. Mead has already told the UW trustees that the university will see its state support reduced by about another $35 million.
How will the “evaluation and possible elimination of academic and nonacademic programs” process proceed?
Nichols said declaring a financial crisis allows her to appoint a committee that will review all programs at the university this summer.
“It kind of opens the door to allow you to really look at elimination of academic programs,” she said.
This demonstrates a strong leadership move by the president. As another article puts it, “President Laurie Nichols’ sudden move Wednesday to declare a ‘financial crisis’ will create a quicker, and easier, way to eliminate programs.”
Also in line with the queen sacrifice: this is not the first step relief Wyoming has taken. Already under way are
a number of actions, including eliminating 70 faculty and staff positions that are currently vacant, asking faculty to spend more time teaching, eliminating overtime and offering an incentive for early retirement.
It is hoped that at least 50 employees will accept early retirement.
Public institutions are being hammered across the country. Alaska, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin… I should whip up a meta-post on this, or write a long-form article.
As I keep saying, these are hard times for American higher ed.