UWSP Changes: When in Doubt, Blame Scott Walker

By Amelia Heupp for Media Trackers

Monday, March 5th the campus of UW-Stevens Point received an email from the office of Chancellor Bernie Patterson with the subject title, “Reimagining the University.” In the email, the Chancellor outlined a proposal to eliminate thirteen curriculum majors, primarily those in the area of humanities. The list of potentially eliminated majors include;

  • American Studies,
  • Art (Graphic Design will continue as a major)
  • English (Teacher Certification will continue)
  • French
  • Geography
  • Geoscience
  • German
  • History (Teacher Certification will continue)
  • Music Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Sociology (Social Work will continue as a major)
  • Spanish

This announcement came as a shock to the students, faculty and staff involved in the College of Letters and Sciences and the College of Fine Arts and Communication, where many of these majors are housed. Chancellor Bernie Patterson said that for several years the university has been seeing a decline in enrollment. Patterson said this is due in “part because more students are graduating in four years and because fewer students are in the K-12 pipeline.” This decline of students has affected the revenue flow to the university, thus a need for change. By eliminating these programs, which have lower enrollment rates, and adding or re-adjusting sixteen other majors, Patterson states, “they will create new opportunities to meet the evolving needs of our students and a more responsive, sustainable future for UW-Stevens Point.”

The announcement drew outrage, especially within the liberal arts departments. The reaction in the days to follow included professors encouraging protesting and spending class time to discuss the eliminations. Students took to social media to voice their outrage. Even the school newspaper took this chance to shift the blame away from the actual reasoning given by the Chancellor and focused on how Governor Walker has left the legacy of Wisconsin as devaluing education in the state. The editorial that was released on Wednesday, pushed a clear political agenda using emotion to take a shot at Walker. Even taking a step back to the recall election of 2012, referring to a “Save Wisconsin: Recall Scott Walker” bumper sticker as “an indelible but weakening hope for reviving the state.” The article compared the notice given by Patterson to “a death sentence” for staff, students, and faculty who were involved in the College of Letters and Sciences. Further stating that the Chancellor “had the unfortunate job of pulling that trigger”.

However, there is one important fact that many students and faculty members are ignoring. “Students currently pursuing a major that may be discontinued eventually will have the opportunity to complete the program.” These students include those who are currently enrolled in the program, or those who declare the major by fall 2018. This then gives all current students the ability to not only finish the major that they are pursuing, but it also gives students time to declare the major that they wish to undertake. Another part of this proposal is that minors, certificates and classes will continue to be provided in the programs potentially eliminated. This type of restructuring is nothing new to the UW system, especially in UW-Stevens Point. Talks and proposals such as these have been in the works for many years. The difference is, these are no longer rumored changes, rather they are confirmed actions in response to the financial tribulation UWSP is facing. This fact is vital to understand that these proposed changes will not be taken into effect until those students who are involved in those majors receive their diploma.

On Thursday, March 8th, the Student Government held an open forum to discuss the proposals with the Chancellor, the Provost and other administrators involved in this decision. A record number of people, ranging from students to staff to community members showed up to the Legacy Room in the Dryfus University to express their disdain for the decision to eliminate these programs. After a four-hour meeting, Chancellor Bernie Patterson and others stood by the decision as an act to ensure the positive reputation of the university remains intact. Clapping turned into finger-snapping as student after student, faculty member after faculty member made their voice and opinion heard to those who were listening. The concerns for the future of UWSP raised at the forum included the potential lay-offs and staff reductions (expected to be around 15 faculty member reductions) and even going as far as accusations of sexism for eliminating prominently female majors.

The Student Government Association also released a statement in response to the Monday email;

“We are eager to see how the new majors will provide opportunities to meet the evolving needs of our fellow students and create a more responsive, sustainable future for UW-Stevens Point. We are however, still concerned with the list of majors proposed to end.”

Student organizations have also released statements on these recent cuts. The UWSP College Democrats shared the initial article announcing the proposed changes on Facebook with the caption; “Even with these proposed cuts, please don’t give up on being politically active!”

The UWSP College Republicans also released a press release, in stating “The UW-Stevens Point College Republicans encourage the university, the Board of Regents and Chancellor Bernie Patterson to take the necessary actions to maintain the reputation of this great university for future Pointer students.”

The academic market has become extremely competitive in recent years. Rather than selling a single subject, the responsibility lies on the university to make the campus, the programs and the student life as attractive as possible to draw in students. UW-Stevens Point took the steps in an attempt to fulfill the demand of those who are looking to attend in the coming years. Governor Scott Walker has implemented another year of tuition freezes, this is the fifth year of this beneficial policy. The expectation is for the institution to capitalize on the opportunity granted them to sell the campus.

The actions taken by the administration at UWSP is in response to the financial situation along with the demand for the sciences. What also needs to be taken into consideration is the merging of UW-Marathon and UW-Marshfield, where Marathon has the greatest debt in the UW system that UWSP is ultimately going to have to absorb. These financial questions and uncertainty demanded a restructuring to ensure that students can graduate with the major that they attended for. To call for immediate action as suggested by some, including faculty members recommending to students, before more information can be released and discussion can take place between administrators involved is to react prematurely to a single factor to this decision.

In the coming months, all the majors proposed to be eliminated will be evaluated by the Chancellor, the UW-Stevens Point governance committee and the UW system Board of Regents beginning in August 2018. These are only proposals at this time. However, there is a need to re-imagine the curriculum for the future of UW-Stevens Point. This type of change can seem dramatic, but in the end students who are currently enrolled will not see a mass exodus of faculty members, nor the elimination of the major that they are involved in.

Rather, the expectation is that it will breathe new life into a curriculum that has been stagnate for several years with a decrease in enrollment. This move is the university recognizing the direction in which the world is headed and by expanding the STEM programs, it appears to be taking the steps to remain in the current era. The proposed eliminated programs are not because these majors are failing, as explained by the Chancellor, rather it has to do with the moderate success that draws in a small percentage of the student body. This move by UW-Stevens Point focuses on the budgetary necessity to keep the institution maintained. In the following months, continued input from students, faculty and staff will take place by open forums and town halls with state legislators in solidarity with #WeArePointHumanities. A final decision has no set date to be released at this time.