How One University Went From Proposing to Cut 13 Mostly Liberal-Arts Programs to Eliminating Only 6

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point plans to cut six mostly humanities majors, less than half of the cuts proposed in March, as part of its strategy to offer more career-focused programs, the university announced on Monday.

The cuts would result in the layoff of at least three tenured professors, as well as up to seven more faculty members, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The six eliminated majors are in art, French, geography, geoscience, German, and history, according to a university news release.

In March the university announced that it would cut up to 13 mostly liberal-arts majors while adding 16 vocational programs. The university cited declining enrollment and a $4.5-million deficit as reasons for the cuts.

Monday’s announcement could be a pleasant surprise for the seven departments whose majors were saved from the chopping block.

About half of the original majors to be cut were spared in part because of student and alumni resistance, news-media attention, and criticism from national organizations, said Jennifer Collins, chair of the faculty council and an associate professor of political science.

The preservation of the seven majors, including Spanish, is a partial win, Collins said. However, the overall changes are still upsetting and will hinder the university’s ability to offer a comprehensive education, she said.

The university also found some savings in its budget, said Greg Summers, the provost. The administration spoke with governance committees and advisory boards to refine the proposed cuts after the original announcement was made.

The 13 departments had opportunities to meet with the chancellor and the dean, said Tobias Barske, a German professor and chair of the department of world languages and literature.

Some of those departments were more successful in their meetings than others, he said. The German department, with about 15 student majors, was among the unsuccessful. “I wasn’t surprised that German was on the list,” he said.

Although the university’s proposal suggests that students will be able to continue taking German classes, Barske said he expects all German courses and study-abroad opportunities to be eliminated eventually. In three years, he said, French classes will not be offered either.

Students in the six eliminated majors will be able to complete their degrees, according to the news release.

But Barske questioned the feasibility of that. He said he had already been asked by students if they should leave Stevens Point for a better education elsewhere.

As for the history department, it has seen a 48-percent drop in the number of majors over the past five years, from 146 to 76 students, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The department remains on the list of cuts to help meet budget reductions, said Lee L. Willis, a history professor and department chair.

The history department has 14 full-time faculty members, including 11 who are tenured. The department will most likely be reduced to 10 faculty members, and at least one tenured professor will be let go, he said.

The changes are ultimately a response to the evolving demands of career-oriented students, Summers said.

“Our students are laser-focused on the cost of higher education and the return they’re going to get on their investment,” he said. “They’re looking for careers with multiple pathways and the skills they know they need to succeed in those careers.”

The university plans to maintain its liberal-arts foundation with the creation of two new programs, the Institute for the Wisconsin Idea and the Center for Critical Thinking, according to the news release. The institute will introduce a new liberal-arts curriculum that complements “career oriented” majors, such as areas of study within a proposed School of Computing and Information Science, in addition to a focus on critical thinking, according to the release.

The proposal will undergo several rounds of review before the spring of 2019, and the first changes will be in place by July 2020, according to the news release.


Author: John