Faculty workload and class sizes threatened by cuts

Bailey Mcclellan, News Writer

Budget cuts to come in fall 2019 could mean bigger class sizes and increased workloads for faculty, according to UW Oshkosh officials.

The three-phase fiscal plan, which took effect in September, calls for a $9.5 million reduction to general-purpose revenue spending over the next two years in order to make up for a $7 million shortfall caused by declining enrollment in recent years. Reductions to academic spending for each of the University’s colleges are spread over a three-year period, with 50 percent of the cut occuring in 2019-20.

According to officials from the College of Business and the College of Education and Human Services, administrative staff are considering several options to reduce spending, including increasing class sizes, changing degree requirements, eliminating some course sections and not replacing positions vacated through attrition.

The College of Letters and Science previously proposed to increase teaching loads in 2019-20 to overcome budget shortfalls.
COB Dean Barb Rau said without changes to address increased class sizes, the cuts may force faculty to take on more work.

“Without pedagogical changes and/or support to address larger class sizes, faculty workload will increase or result in more preps,” Rau said. “As the faculty workload has been increasing over time, I am concerned that we will reach a tipping point for faculty.”

UWO economics professor Marianne Johnson said increasing workloads effect students and faculty.

“Whether it is larger classes or more classes, that takes the time I have during the week and spreads it across one-third more students,” Johnson said. “That means longer lines at office hours, longer waits until I can respond to emails, longer waits until you get your assignments graded and back and less individual attention. It also makes it harder for faculty to volunteer to do things like be honors thesis advisers, to supervise student research grants or take students on study abroad trips.”

Johnson said she is worried increased workloads will result in increased turnover.

“I know some amazing professors who are looking for jobs elsewhere,” Johnson said. “It is hard to believe that we would lose award-winning faculty to other schools. But that’s the situation that’s been created.”

Rau said she is concerned that losing faculty now could lead to bigger problems down the road.

“Ideally, we would not make such deep cuts because replacing faculty is very expensive and very slow,” Rau said. “Academic labor markets have about an 18-month cycle, so if we lose too many faculty now, we will not be able to meet increased demand quickly.”

Rau said University administrators are also working to find other ways to minimize the effects of the budget cuts.

“Costs are only one side of the equation,” Rau said. “COB faculty have been very active in offering solutions related to enrollment and retention to increase revenues. In addition, we have been working hard to develop new programs that will run on cost recovery. As we grow these programs, we are able to preserve jobs by re-deploying our faculty and staff while also building new revenue streams for the institution.”

Johnson said it’s important to recognize that the cuts are largely the result of the state’s control over tuition.

“If the University was allowed to set its own tuition and operate like any other business that is allowed to set prices, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Johnson said. “The problem is that while tuition freezes sound like a good idea, this is the outcome.”

COEHS Dean Linda Haling said regardless of what challenges the budget may bring, she believes good things are on the horizon for the University.

“I continue to be optimistic for the future,” Haling said. “As a University, our enrollment is increasing, which means that our reputation as a quality institution remains despite these budget cuts.”

Rau said whatever decisions are made regarding the budget, she urges students to be considerate of University staff.

“We have excellent faculty and staff and they are working very hard to meet (student) needs in an extremely difficult environment,” Rau said. “Students can improve faculty working conditions by simply being patient, understanding and supportive. Larger class sizes and increased demands on their time are not their fault.””