College ponders potential cuts

Morgan Van Lanen, Editor in Chief

The UW Oshkosh College of Letters and Science is facing a potential budget cut of $1.2 million over the next two academic school years, according to the college’s dean, Colleen McDermott.

McDermott said recent budget shortages have left her no choice but to begin planning in case drastic measures need to be taken.

“I did not take on this job to fire people, but we have to be fiscally responsible,” McDermott said.

McDermott broke the news on Tuesday during a monthly College of Letters and Science council meeting. Although McDermott assured professors and department chairs that this cut is a worst-case-scenario, she still encouraged department heads to begin coming up with ‘Plan B and Plan Cs’ for the next two years.

Stephen Kercher, the chair of the history department on campus, said he is concerned about how the budget cuts will continue to affect the College of Letters and Science.

“I worry about the impact these cuts will have on the morale of the entire College of Letters and Science community,” Kercher said. “The budget cuts, furloughs and lack of agency we have endured have pushed some to the brink of despair and has certainly contributed to the loss of some very promising young professors to other universities.”

The chair of the English department, Roberta Maguire, said she is also fearful for how professors may react when a legit plan is put into place.

“The biggest risk we face is when the stressful circumstances we are enduring allow differences of opinion to escalate and turn toxic,” Maguire said. “I am anxious for that not to happen.”

McDermott stated that the $1.2 million budget cut to the UWO College of Letters and Science stems from the estimated $7 million budget shortfall of the 2017-18 school year. Lack of enrollment at UWO is contributing to this shortfall, McDermott said.

“We are projected to continue to decrease in enrollment,” McDermott said. “The University is now looking at how to budget for enrollment, not for some fantasy number.”

In addition to cutting the College of Letters and Science budget, McDermott spoke of proposed plans that could affect students. Among these prospective ideas includes central cuts which would save the University about $2 million throughout the next four semesters.

These central cuts could include closing student computer labs around campus and replacing the the Mac computers in classrooms with PCs to help save costs, McDermott said.

Budget reductions to colleges, like the College of Letters and Science, are considered Academic Affairs cuts, McDermott said. According to McDermott, the University is making efforts to affect the budget of academic-type funds as minimally as it can.

“[The plan is to] hold the academic units to as little as possible, but we are all going to have some pains in the resizing of our campus,” McDermott said. “We need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

McDermott dove into how the College of Letters and Science is going to decrease its budget for the next two years. She pitched the idea of covering 60 percent of the $1.2 million cut, or $720,000, in 2019 and 40 percent of it, or $480,000, in 2020.

The College could do this through a multitude of different ways, McDermott said.

The first could be increasing professors’ class load from a 3/3 load to a 4/3 load, which would basically mean professors would teach an extra class for the same amount of pay. This would save the College roughly $700,000.

Another idea would be to eliminate some of the majors and programs that are offered within the College of Letters and Science or asking for professors to retire or resign. The amount this would save the College is variable and could not be determined.

Furthermore, the College is looking into reducing travel allocation for professors, which would create a $110,000 savings. Asking professors to use furloughs (leave of absences that are unpaid) for eight days (or a 3 percent reduction) is another idea and would save the College $450,000.

The final idea McDermott suggested at the council meeting was reducing academic staff. To meet the full reduction needed, the College would cut 43% of instructional academic staff. However, the amount saved would be varied and can not be determined yet.

Kercher explained how reducing academic staff would lead to professors having to teach more classes. This would take away from time spent researching outside of the classroom.

“Pursuing the joys and challenges of research, often in close conjunction with our students, is what has prompted many of us to work at UWO,” Kercher said. “So the prospect of losing research time in order to teach the classes of instructional academic staff who are not hired back next year comes as a real blow.”

Professors at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern of determining what classes their department should be offering for Fall 2018, considering class enrollment begins in about two weeks, when staff may be laid off, classes be added or dropped, programs be cut, etc.

Maguire said the unknown of next semester is one of her greatest worries.

“That also makes planning impossible in departments, so I am taking a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Maguire said. “I don’t think it is a good idea to alarm people when the actual situation and actions we will take are still so unclear. In my discipline, and throughout the humanities, we teach the importance of clarity and consistency of communication. I am keeping that in mind as we go forward.”

McDermott told professors to stay on schedule with class enrollment, but be prepared to change class schedules if need be.

“We can’t cancel classes or postpone enrollment until we know,” McDermott said. “We can’t do that to students.”

McDermott encouraged professors to relax for now because no final decisions have been made.

“I know the Chancellor has used the ‘L word’… layoffs, but that is not the intention,” McDermott said.