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UWS dropping multiple academic programs

Barstow Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. (2010 file photo / Superior Telegram)

The University of Wisconsin-Superior is dropping a hefty chunk of its academic offerings as it moves to streamline its programming, it announced Tuesday.

More than two dozen academic programs, including major programs for sociology, theater and political science — will be suspended, meaning no new students will be admitted as the remaining students finish and the programs enter a sort of limbo. The news was a surprise to employees and students, many said.

“My reaction is one of shock and surprise that professors in affected departments weren’t consulted, nor given a clear rationale for why the decisions were made,” said Alison Wielgus, an assistant professor of media studies.

No faculty will be laid off as a result of the cuts, but some may need to teach courses they haven’t taught in a while or those they haven’t prepared for before, said Jackie Weissenburger, interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs for UWS.

Programs were targeted for suspension based on low enrollment and poor completion rates, said Weissenburger, citing the university’s desire to streamline its offerings in an effort to reduce dropouts and get more students to graduate in a timely fashion.

She said research shows that students don’t benefit from a wide array of course offerings.

Despite a continuing budget deficit — this year at $2.5 million — the decision wasn’t made to save money, UWS officials say, but cost savings will be realized as the students remaining in those targeted programs graduate and staff are reallocated to areas with healthier enrollments. That would mean a lesser need for adjunct instructors who teach one or two classes. The UW System measures universities on degree completion rates and distributes money accordingly, Weissenburger said.

“As a result, we know we will be under more scrutiny for years to come,” she said, noting there were some programs where students were averaging 150 credits for their degree, at a cost of nearly $20,000 more than necessary to graduate.

In its announcement, UWS said 46 percent of its students are first-generation college students, and those students are susceptible to “becoming overwhelmed” by many academic choices. Citing a study by the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, the announcement said students faced with a multitude of program choices struggle with course selection, which can lead to making misguided decisions.

UWS faculty union president and anthropology associate professor Deb Augsburger said there are questions about the research the university is citing.

“My first thought is that our students deserve better than to have their choices limited in this way,” she said. “It’s pretty striking.”

Political science professor Haji Dokhanchi doesn’t know what it means for his 25-year career at UWS, and he said other affected faculty are in the same position. Faculty weren’t involved in the decision, he said, and were blindsided by it.

The idea that students have too many choices isn’t “logical,” he said.

“This was not a transparent decision and won’t benefit students and the community,” he said. “If this is how they make decisions, God help higher education.”

Weissenburger said faculty and staff had been involved in a program prioritization process a few years ago, and feedback was that the process was “exhausting” and stressful, causing low morale, she said. This time, faculty and staff were not involved. She said the loss of faculty may be an unintended consequence, but the decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We will do what we can to retain them and keep them here,” she said.

UWS will hold forums for faculty, staff and students this week. Faculty and academic advisers will work with students in the discontinued programs to ensure they can complete their studies, officials said. About 3 percent of UWS students are in one of the affected majors; about 5 percent are in an affected minor.

Senior business administration major Ben Damberg said the news “hurts,” but “if we want to see the well-being of this campus continue, there needs to be cuts somewhere.”

Senior Nikola Kumanovski, majoring in math and computer science, said the loss of core areas such as physics will affect other programs that are linked to those courses.

“You can’t cut something completely, like physics or math; you need to have some courses,” Kumanovski said. “You can do it, but I don’t know if you can call it a liberal arts college afterwards.”

Suspended programs are essentially in limbo once the remaining students graduate.  A suspension lasts 10 years until the program officially closes, and then the university decides whether to shut it down or reinvest.

UWS suspended more than a dozen programs in 2014 and put 50 under review. Then, the school was facing a $4.5 million shortfall from years of declining enrollment, state budget cuts and a tuition freeze. Enrollment at UWS this year increased slightly thanks to online programs, and sits at about 2,500.

Suspended programs:

Major Programs

Broad Field Science (major)

Broad Field Science (Teaching) (major)

Chemistry: Forensic (concentration)

Communicating Arts: Journalism (track)

Communicating Arts: Media Studies (track)

Political Science (major)

Sociology (major)

Theatre (major)

Visual Arts: Art History (concentration)

Graduate Program

Masters in Art Therapy

Minors

Computer Science  

Computer Science (Teaching)

Earth Science  

Geography  

Geography (Teaching)

Global Studies  

Health and Human Performance

History (Teaching)

Journalism  

Legal Studies

Media Communication  

Photography  

Physics

Physics (Teaching)

Psychology (Teaching)

Superior Telegram staff writer Maria Lockwood and News Tribune staff writer Brady Slater contributed to this report.

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