By: Amelia Heup
UW-Stevens Point came under fire of students and faculty when Chancellor Bernie Patterson and other executive staff proposed “Point Forward” back in the spring. This original proposal offered to add and expand thirteen majors including chemical engineering, graphic design, and environmental engineering while also adding two master programs; business administration and natural resources, along with a doctorate program in physical therapy. This is in response to the growing demand for employees in the market with a focus on STEM programs but also to curtail the growing financial deficit that UW-Stevens Point has been facing. In order to add such programs, Patterson also proposed the elimination of thirteen majors primarily within the humanities including German, art, and history.
Without fully looking at the details of such a plan, students and staff began to protest under the campaign “Where are Your Humanities? They Have Been Cut”. Under this proposal, 80% of the classes within the eliminated programs would be retained even without having a direct major or that there would not be a mass exodus of faculty. After tabling the proposal before accepting the UW Board of Regents approval, UW-Stevens Point took the summer to work with student body leaders, staff and faculty to cultivate another proposal.
The focus on STEM and eliminating six low-enrollment programs [under Regent Policy Document 20-24], according to Patterson will help the short-term spending reductions to stabilize the universities budget. These majors targeted for elimination include French, German, Geography, Geoscience, History, 2-Dimensional Emphasis and 3-Dimensional Emphasis Art. The overall drop in enrollment of over 2,000 students in two years has had an impact on the university as a whole and with an impact of the declining population replacement rate, the question to universities is how can administration sustain the curriculum already proved without such changes to make it streamlined.
Fast forward to November 2018, another proposal has been released in an effort to take in consideration the requests made by faculty, staff and students (past and present). Chancellor Bernie Patterson released the proposal via email to students stating that he has “a vision for a new kind of regional university, one that will help you [students] become among the best prepared professionals in Wisconsin, with a competitive edge in your career and life.” Rather than the focus being on UW-Stevens Point as a sole entity, UWSP acquired two other extension schools within the UW system including UW-Marathon and UW-Marshfield. This shift has caused Point to become considered a regional university. In the proposal sent by Patterson to the UW-Stevens Point Common Council, he acknowledges that these academic changes can truly make UWSP a new kind of regional university. The idea of an academic change goes further than just the university making necessary adjustments but also the intention is to, “reduce time-to-degree for our students as well as create shorter-term, stackable credentials that working professionals can combine flexibility into baccalaureate and graduate degrees.”
On Wednesday, November 12th, the Student Government Association of UW-Stevens Point hosted a public forum to allow for students, staff and community members to voice their concerns and the questions to administration including Chancellor Patterson and Provost Charles Summers. The outrage over this proposal rang true within the halls of the Collins Classroom Center where the College of Letters and Sciences is primarily housed. Professors spent class time to the discuss the proposal, adding up to hours of class time being directed to the subject to students that would not be directly affected by any changes to the curriculum. Patterson in his email to students stated “all students currently enrolled in those majors will be able to complete their degrees. Courses will continue to be taught in these disciplines.”
In response, The UWSP Eco-Socialists (formerly known as the UWSP Greens) distributed literature calling for the resignation of Patterson and Summers after “attacking humanities” during their “Purchase Your Privilege Bake Sale” in the Dreyfus University Center. For this event, students sold white toast with avocado. The white toast would be purchased to represent heterosexual, cis gender, white males, including buttons that stated, “stop pretending your racism is patriotism.” At the same event, after a College Republican confronted them, members of the UWSP Eco-Socialists stated that the calls for the chancellor to resign was due to the Point Forward Proposal being “free market bulls—.”
On Monday, November 19th the Portage County Eco-Socialists posted bright green papers on light polls on campus “calling upon all the members of the UWSP community to demand the immediate resignations of Chancellor Patterson and Provost Summers.”
Further making the claim that the current financial circumstances facing UWSP are “the ultimate and unavoidable outcome of failed leadership including misinformation, disinformation, manipulation, duplicity, gaslighting, obstinacy in the face of facts and willful ignorance” and “the Chancellor and Provost are bad faith actors operating on behalf of wealth and power in direct opposition to the well-being of people and communities UWSP is meant to serve.” Concluding the bulletin, “Save a program, save faculty jobs, save the future—The first cuts should come from the top!” including the phone numbers of both Chancellor and Provost.
The UW-Stevens Point Student Government Association also provided input to the issue when President, Brailey Kerber released a press release via Facebook on the day of the proposal release.
“I understand and appreciate the hard work, time and effort put in by the Program Unit Discontinuance Consultative Committee (PUDCC) and the Academic and Budget Advisory Work Group (ABAWG) throughout the past few months. I understand the gravity of the structural deficit on our campus. It is not an easy task to remedy a problem of this nature.”
While SGA stated that it was in support of the proposal based on the adoption of maintenance of more programs than previously thought. However, the questions raised by SGA includes four points.
What is the total cost-savings?
Where do the rest of the cost-savings come from (in terms of staff lay-offs)?
Are there additional costs associated with the proposed institutes/centers?
How will Administration advocate for an increase in base funding from the state level?
The statement finishes with a call for students to become involved in the ensuing decision- making process.
Those who support the proposal refer that this shift in the curriculum of UW-Stevens Point is not out of the ordinary in terms of adjusting to the market and the job demand. With the decrease in enrollment, the university, according to supporters face a conflict. Make changes now and attempt to get a head of the continued drop in student attendance or put the issue off until there is a direct impact on the academic field. STEM and those majors within the realm of natural sciences thrive at UW-Stevens Point based on location and level of education. There is a call that each UW-system school, besides Madison should not be offering everything to everyone. It is not sustainable. The career and market-based proposal is meant to provide a solidified regional university among the extension schools UWSP has acquired over the year.
UW-Stevens Point has not fully adopted this proposal as it continues to move through the approval process. The next step is to be approved by the UW-Stevens Point Common Council and then moving toward the regulatory branch of the UW system. Chancellor Patterson states in his email to students, “Our new regional university will help you meet education goals and prepare you for the success throughout your career and life.” The conflict on campus with the proposal and the communication between students, staff and administration will continue until this proposal is either adopted or turned down.
State legislators are expected to get involved in the process and discussion soon.