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UWS faculty votes 'no confidence' in administration

Graduates attend the spring commencement ceremonies at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in May 2011. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The University of Wisconsin-Superior Faculty Senate late Friday announced a majority of its members have voted "no confidence" in university administration, in the wake of a decision earlier this year to suspend more than two dozen academic programs.

The vote of no confidence passed with the support of about 59 percent of Faculty Senate members who cast ballots, the group said. Eighty-eight of UWS' 96 faculty members voted.

"The faculty requested a chance to be heard on the administration's actions of unilateral suspensions, and this vote provided that opportunity," Faculty Senate Chair Terri Kronzer said in a news release that outlined a lengthy process leading up to the vote, including discussions between faculty and administration. "(The) Faculty Senate will need to work with administration on how we move forward from this point. UW-Superior's first commitment has always been to a top-rate education for our students. We all need to focus out how we achieve that goal under these conditions."

In response to the vote, University of Wisconsin System leaders issued statements affirming their support for Chancellor Renee Wachter and the academic changes that were announced Oct. 31.

"In light of a history of declined enrollment is some classes, (Wachter) put forth a very reasonable and appropriate plan to focus the University's resources on better aligning to the needs of northern Wisconsin," UW System President Ray Cross said. "She has maintained a robust program array that closely resembles those of her peer institutions and remains dedicated to the success of her students."

UW System Board of Regents President John Robert Behling said that the board "has full confidence in Chancellor Wachter and she deserves credit for her leadership. Eliminating or suspending programs with low enrollment can be difficult and controversial, but Chancellor Wachter has made the right decision for the University."

The Faculty Senate vote came at the end of a week in which the Superior City Council narrowly rejected a resolution calling on university administration and the UW System to rescind the program suspensions, and in which the Douglas County Board passed a resolution to "encourage the UWS administration to put a hold on all suspended major and minor programs until such time that the administration, the faculty and students can meet in accordance with the governance policy in a public forum as it has been done with prior issues."

University officials said in October that the school wanted to streamline its offerings to reduce dropouts and have more students graduate in a timely fashion. Students already enrolled in the suspended programs can complete their degrees, but no new students will be accepted.

In its announcement, UWS also noted that 46 percent of its students are first-generation college students, and said those students are susceptible to "becoming overwhelmed" by many academic choices.

The programs were targeted for suspension based on low enrollment and poor completion rates, according to UWS. Five percent of UWS students are in one of the affected programs. The decision — and the process leading up to it — has drawn criticism from students and faculty, with some saying there was a lack of transparency. An online petition opposing the program suspensions has gathered more than 5,300 signatures.

Brent Notbohm, a 16-year UWS staff member in communicating arts, said at last week's Superior City Council meeting that he's lost half the programs in his department.

"It's sad it's come to this," Notbohm said. "I'm here because I've not heard a satisfactory answer from our administration about why we did not work together to solve our common problems."

Wachter told the Douglas County Board last week that the size of the university's program array has been under discussion since 2012, and with the implementation of performance metrics, the university has to show improvement in student success and efficiency or risk losing state funding.

"Trust me, there is no easy way to suspend programs," Wachter said. "It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation."

The Superior Telegram contributed to this report.

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