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UWRF’s largest college looks to the future with recovery from budget cut

Falcon News Service

December 14, 2016

After being forced to cut $1.5 million from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) budget, officials with the UW-River Falls say they are prepared for the future.

Earlier this year, the college announced its 2015-2017 biennial budget would need to be adjusted to account for an unexpected change in the numbers as well as a group of faculty who left the university for retirement or other employment opportunities. At the time, CAS Dean Brad Caskey said the shift in the budget would result in larger class sizes, a reduction in the number of courses offered, and some contracts not being renewed for adjuncts, known as instructional academic staff.

This presented a major problem for the largest of the four colleges in the university, which also houses most of the school’s general education courses.

“At that time, we probably would have been able to afford general education classes for about 300-400 students and we had 1,200 coming in,” Caskey said.

To provide a temporary resolution, Caskey was able to negotiate with the university administration to find enough money to fund a full schedule of classes for the 2016-2017 school year. This summer, the UW System provided a $442,000 base budget allocation to the university to cover the cost of general education classes and university requirements. Although the money is being used only for CAS, Interim Provost Faye Perkins said it benefits the entire student population.

“General education affects every single student on campus, so this was not just a CAS problem. This was a campus-wide problem,” Perkins said.

Some of the effects of the budget trimming were realized, including larger class sizes and classes with smaller average enrollments being cut. Caskey said those measures will maintain sustainability within the college.

“The upshot for students is you’ll really see no differences in the schedule. You would not really notice any of these small changes that’ll take place and when people come for next year, classes will be sitting there,” Caskey said.

Caskey said in the past, the largest classes on campus consisted of around 80 students, but some introductory classes will now hold a maximum of 140 students. However, only about 12 large classes will be offered each semester. He said faculty are now trained to teach effectively in larger classes and student feedback has been positive. Caskey has also made it a point that no student should be in enrolled in more than two large classes during a semester.

One of the concerns for some students last semester was that programs would have to be cut within the Modern Language Department. The program ended up cutting German and French while maintaining the Spanish program. Perkins said that although the college would like to maintain all of its current degree programs, a $2.5 million dollar budget cut from the UW System makes it a challenge.

“With less money, less funding, less state support, we can’t fund everything that we’ve always funded,” Perkins said.

Within the next month, a new recommendation from the UWRF Strategic Task Force will be released, which will give a clearer picture of what programs may be terminated or merged with other larger programs. The task force was created in May to address the budget issues, undergraduate enrollment declines and tuition freezes. Caskey, who is on the task force, said the recommendations will be sent to all university departments.

“Some of the recommendations on campus will be, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ Other recommendations may be, ‘You’ve got three options in your major, you need to look at getting rid of one of those or something, really look at those numbers because they’re small,’” Caskey said.

Caskey said that no students or faculty should be afraid, but if action is taken after the recommendations are made, it could have a major impact on the university. He said that although other recommendations have been made in the past, this will carry more weight.

“In this case, I think it’s more likely some actions that you might see are some of these sub-plans or these mergers take place sooner or later,” Caskey said.

CAS has already merged several of its programs together and will likely continue that. Through mergers, CAS has created brand new departments including Stage and Screen Arts, and Communication and Media Studies.

Once the task force finalizes the recommendations, they will be passed on to Faculty Senate for approval.