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Proposed budget forces tough decisions on classes

March 24, 2011

Cutting courses, increasing class sizes and letting some instructional academics staff go are just some of the ways the College of Arts and Sciences is trying to cope with a proposed 11 percent reduction in state funding.

The biennial budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker on March 1 severely reduces the amount of funding to the UW-System.  Although the budget needs to be approved by July 1, it could take several months before it is hashed out in the legislature and the certainties are known.  The administration is therefore making the necessary adjustments now.

Interim Dean of CAS Brad Caskey said that it is imperative to make the course changes now because the fall 2011 course catalog will be available for student to register March 28.

“We need to make sure when students register, they can be confident that the courses will still exist,” added Caskey.

Over 90 percent of the university’s operational budget goes to salary, he said, so in order to work within a smaller budget, courses had to be cut.

The chair of each department in CAS examined the courses and the particularities of their department and sent Caskey a list that contained 5 percent fewer courses.

The 40 or more courses cut, the equivalent of six to eight full-time positions, are sections of general education courses but a few sections of elective courses were cut as well.

The number of instructional academic staff who will be let go will be comparable to 8 full-time positions, Caskey said.

Some instructors already know they will not be teaching at UWRF next year.

Psychology instructor August Hoffman was told she would not be needed next year.

“I will miss my colleagues and students very much at UW River Falls,” she said.  Hoffman said she remains confident that the university community will prevail during these difficult economic times.

The number of students per class will also be increased in many cases.  For instance, an online section of astronomy that was capped at 30 was changed to a face-to-face class that can hold 90 students, said Caskey.

Astronomy professor Glenn Spiczak will be teaching the newly enlarged astronomy course.  Spiczak, who has taught the online course in the past, said he is altering how he teaches the enlarged course.

“With a class of 90 students, this will be taught almost entirely via in-class lectures in one of the few large lecture halls,” he said. “However, I will use the iclickers to engage students and asses their understanding with occasional interactive questions during each class.”

Students will no longer be using D2L to discuss current astronomical news articles as they did in the online course because Spiczak said he will be unable to monitor and facilitate the discussions with so many students.

The online course implemented other teaching techniques that will no longer be translated to the face-to-face course.

“The smaller online course setup uses the publisher’s MasteringAstronomy online system that includes an eText, tutorials, self assessment tools, interactive figures, simulations, and automatically graded assignments,” Spiczak said.

“I feel badly for the students, since the online experience with a smaller manageable number of students gives them a richer experience,” he said.

The other three colleges are also making the necessary adjustments in order to deal with the reduction in state funding.

All of the changes within the CAS will amount to an estimated instructional cost savings of $400,000 to $500,000, Caskey said

The Growth Agenda, introduced by the UW System a year ago seeks to increase the number of college graduates in the state.  Believing in the notion that more college graduates correlates with a stronger, more robust economy, the Growth Agenda set a benchmark for the UW-System of 80,000 more graduates by 2025.

In order to accommodate an increase in students UWRF relies on funding from the state, Caskey said.

“The growth agenda is off the table,” he said. “We will not intentionally grow when our resources are diminishing.”

The decrease in state support for public universities, evident in the 2011-13 biennial budget, is part of a statewide trend over the last several years.

“Relative to the total state population, Wisconsin ranked 37 among the 50 states in 2010 in per capita spending on higher education, down from 34 place in 2009,” according to a report written by President of the Board of Regents Charles Pruitt and former Board of Regents President Jay Smith.

Comments

Matt on 03 Apr 2011: Bobby, we are the ones that want to further our education. While I don't want to pay more for my education, I don't expect taxpayers to keep paying my way. This is what we get when university leaders focus on things like the "falcon promise" instead of finding ways to keep education affordable. If we want smaller classes, were going to have to pay more...there's not way around it. It makes no sense to blame Walker, he's the only one that's being reasonable with spending.