The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point plans to address “fiscal challenges” by expanding some academic programs and discontinuing others, it announced Monday. Tenured faculty positions are at stake, with possible layoffs occurring by 2020.
Programs pegged for closure are American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.
Currently enrolled students in closing programs will be able to conclude their degrees. Courses will continue to be taught in the affected fields, and minors in English, art, history and philosophy, among others, will remain, according to the university.
Stevens Point’s proposal must be reviewed by a campus governance committee, the campus chancellor and the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
“Because possible program elimination may result in the layoff of some tenured faculty members, a new UW Board of Regents policy will be followed,” the university said in a statement, referring to a controversial change to the circumstances under which Wisconsin’s universities may terminate tenured faculty members -- made possible by a similarly controversial 2015 change to state law backed by Republican governor Scott Walker.
"If we accept the need for change, and we confront and solve the financial issues currently facing the institution, we can create a new identity for the regional public university,” Greg Summers, provost, said in the statement. “Stevens Point can move forward with fiscal stability, new opportunities to build programs and grow enrollment, and renewed capacity to improve our service to the students and communities of central and northern Wisconsin, which are complex, diverse and ever changing.”
Stevens Point says it faces a deficit of $4.5 million over two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.
Programs up for expansion include chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing. Others include aquaculture, captive wildlife, ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources, and doctor of physical therapy.
Summers said the recommendations demonstrate a growing student preference for majors with clear career pathways. “Stevens Point is committed to strengthening our academic offerings while improving our liberal arts core to ensure students graduate with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the future,” he said.
Ed Miller, longtime professor of political science at Stevens Point, told Wisconsin Public Radio that he was not expecting the announcement.
"I was personally surprised about the radicalness of the change," Miller said. "We do live in a democracy, and universities are supposed to be preparing people to participate in a democracy, besides participate in the work force, although that’s certainly important."
Miller said students in his department learn how to think critically and end up succeeding when they graduate.
"Our majors have done well in the job market, plus getting into graduate schools -- not just in political science, but in public administration, city management and certainly law schools, so we have actually had lots of success since I've been here,” he said.
Professors on other campuses reacted to the announcement on social media, expressing concern.