The Advance-Titan

The College of Letters and Science at UW Oshkosh is proposing to increase teaching loads in 2019-20 in an effort to overcome a $1 million budget shortfall.

Under the plan, announced Wednesday morning by email to the COLS faculty and instructional academic staff, full-time professors on curriculum modifications must teach at least 21 credits in 2019-20 versus the 18 credits they currently teach. The plan comes as part of a series of budget cuts to deal with declining revenue, decreasing state funding and lowered enrollment numbers.

Advocates of the move say it will allow the University to continue to offer a variety of classes while not laying off any full-time faculty, while opponents say it will hurt student research opportunities and worsen faculty morale.

A three-year recovery plan that was introduced last year called for the COLS to cut $1 million during the 2019-20 fiscal year. According to COLS Interim Dean Colleen McDermott, this is the second year in the three-year plan.

“The first year of the cut is this year, academic year ’18-’19, and the academic units cut 30 percent of their total share of the cut,” McDermott said. “The second year, ’19-’20, we’re supposed to do 50 percent of the cut. Then the third year would be 20 percent. Right now, we’re working on the cuts we need to make for ’19-’20, and that’s where this $1 million number comes in. That’s about half of the total cut that the College of Letters and Science had to take.”

Multiple factors have played a role in the need for budget cuts across the UW system. Declining enrollment rates have hurt UWO and other UW colleges in recent years. According to an article released by the Chancellor in early 2018, UWO’s undergraduate enrollment has fallen by 1,624 students, a 15-percent drop, from 2012 to 2017. However, in fall 2018, freshman enrollment was up nearly 200 students.

In 2013, Gov. Scott Walker enacted a tuition freeze that prevents state colleges from raising the price of their tuition. If re-elected in November, Walker has already said he would extend the tuition freeze at University of Wisconsin campuses for four more years. That would mean the state universities would be facing 10 years of tuition freezes. This, as well as close to $500 million in cuts to the UW System budget, has crippled UW Oshkosh and other UW schools financially in recent years.

McDermott said the college has worked to do the best it could to cut the budget without harming students’ experiences at UWO.

“We’ve tried to be as lean and as efficient as possible while still getting students through the curriculum and allowing them to have a successful academic career.”

History department chair and Interim Director of Student Research and Creative Activity Stephen Kercher said the added workload for professors in COLS will hurt the students more than the teachers.

“Faculty are going to have even less time than they normally have to work with students on research,” Kercher said. “The only way that student research succeeds at a University like ours is if faculty are able to have the time they need to do research on their own and with students.”

Kercher said the change in policy could also be very harmful to the research that is done within COLS. While professors might be frustrated by the policy, students are ultimately the ones that are damaged by it, he said.

“We’ll have to teach more,” Kercher said. “We’ll survive. We’ll research less. Students are the ones who are going to be hurt.”

Kercher said he believes a change in the policy that determines the teaching load at UW Oshkosh is tricky and potentially harmful.

“It’s like messing with the college DNA,” Kercher said. “Research is very much a part of what professors at the college do. We have a very strong program of student research and we’ve been making gains. We’ve been improving and catching up to some degree [with] some of our sister institutions in the UW system that I’m afraid that changing the teaching load of faculty in our college will deal a very big blow.”

Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor John Koker said this is just the COLS way of doing its part to help the college regulate its budget.

“Decreases in enrollment and cuts in state subsidies over the last five years have lowered our revenue,” Koker said. “We need to bring spending in line with revenue. The College of Letters and Science is working to meet their reduction with as little impact on students and course offerings as possible.”

In a statement released to COLS faculty and instructional staff, McDermott said this should be a temporary change and after the budget has been regulated, the staff could go back to having lighter teaching loads.

“I fully understand the hardship that this change may present to faculty and instructional academic staff,” McDermott said. “We have exhausted every other route of cost cutting for the college short of laying off faculty or closing programs. Please remember that this is a temporary adjustment to teaching loads and the COLS dean’s office is committed to a return to the original spirit of the curriculum modification policy once University ‘right sizing’ has been accomplished.”

UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt will be holding budget open forums next week.

Neal Hogden, Managing Editor

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Neal Hogden