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Biennial budget puts University in bind

March 10, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-2013 UW-System biennial budget proposal has left UW-River Falls administration, faculty, and students concerned about the future of some academic programs.

Previously, the university had been planning for a 10 percent cut. This percentage has now been risen to an estimated 11 percent, said Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance Joseph Harbouk.

Provost Fernando Delgado said he was disappointed to hear Walker’s proposed budget.

“It is a difficult time right now,” said Chancellor Dean Van Galen.

Besides the biennial budget, the UW System s also dealing with Walker’s budget repair bill.

“State funding has been going on a downward spiral,” said Delgado.

When UWRF was supporting 1000 less students than it is currently, the state allocated $21.6 million dollars. By these standards and when calculating inflation, UWRF should have received a sum closer to $35 million. Instead, it received a number closer to $28 million, said Delgado.

Harbouk said when the state gives money to the UW-System schools, restrictions, or allocations are set in place as to where and how the money is spent.

UW-Madison has been granted “flexibilities,” which is something atypical. The rest of the UW- System schools, including UWRF, are now also requesting flexibilities, said Harbouk.

With this request, the Universities are hoping to have more control over how money is spent in areas such as purchasing costs, Harbouk added.

Regardless of how the funds are allocated, Van Galen said, there will be significant cuts to some of the university’s departmental programs.”

“It would be easier to take away an equal amount from everything, but that would not put the university in a good strategic position,” said Van Galen.

Van Galen said efficient classroom instruction and mentoring is his highest priority.

“We have reached the point were we can’t be all things to all people,” said Teacher Education Chair Teri Crotty, “this current crisis has really brought that to the forefront.”

In light of the budget cuts, some programs will be changed and others will be eliminated, said Psychology Chair Cynthia Kernahan.

Sociology major Janae Baggott said the programs with the least amount of students enrolled should be the first removed.

The top 20 percent of the academic programs on the Prioritization Program list, created in the 2009-2010 academic year, will receive priority and, in some cases, enhancement by the University, said Van Galen.

According to the Prioritization list, these programs could include psychology, biology and dairy science.

In preparation for the proposed budget cut, department chairs have been asked to consider a plan for a five to 10 percent reduction in their program’s structure.

This request has caused some department chairs to consider radical changes, said Faculty Senate President and Physics Chair Jim Madsen.

“It would mean that we would have to serve the same number of students with less staff,” said Madsen.

With less staff, class sizes will grow. The problem that some chairs are having to consider, however, is the fact that their departments do not have large enough classrooms to fit more students, said Plant and Earth Science Chair Don Taylor.

“Psychology class sizes are basically managed by fire code,” said Kernahan.

Engineering major Jordan Fischer said he is concerned about future receiving individual help in the classroom from professors.

In lab classes, the ideal number of students is 16 and beyond 20 students classroom instruction becomes difficult, said Taylor.

Madsen said to prepare for the budget cuts next year, his department has dropped one basic physics course and replaced it with an art and science course. The first course can support 30 students, while the second can support 90 students.

An online class, which can hold 45 students, has been moved to being taught on campus, therefore, allowing it to support 90 students, added Madsen.

“Our commitment is to keep students on track,” said Madsen.

The goal of keeping students on a four-year track is weighing on departments that service other majors, such as the mathematics department.

A lot of programs need math for prerequisites and classes fill up quickly said, Mathematics Chair Robert Coffman.

There are some classes that students can’t get into or are only offered every other year, said Crotty.

When students take additional classes or credits beyond their major, the additional cost becomes a concern for UWRF, said Delgado.

“Most of our costs are in salaries,” said Delgado. “We have to shrink the number of courses students take because they are taking an extraordinary number of credits.”

Students only need 120 credits to graduate from UWRF.

In the spring of 2010, 65 of the 546 students that graduated with one major, walked away with less than 130 credits. Three single-major students from the music education department graduated with an average of 177.83 credits.

The year before, there were three-single major students from the art education department that graduated with an average of 192.33 credits, said Delgado.

“It’s costing us more money than we can generate at this point,” said Delgado. “The question students should ask is how much learning can I maximize with 120 credits?”

There are special cases for some students to take additional courses.

For example students are required to student teach which is an additional 12 credits, said Crotty.

Still, departments such as the education department are taking actions to reduce the number of credits needed for education students to graduate, said Crotty.

The cuts and changes currently being made by the University and department chairs are a response to a proposal.

The final decision, however, should not be much different because there is a lot of republican influence led by Walker, said Madsen.

“It’s during these trying times that good leaders emerge, to lead us to a better place,” said Crotty. “We will get there together, the chancellor has shown himself to be an excellent leader in that regard, he has demonstrated care and that is reassuring.”