UW-W Faculty Senate Responds to Chancellor’s Plan for Layoffs and Program Closures

(UW-W Faculty Senate press release) At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee rescinded a compromise plan to collect budget information from academic programs in response to statements made by Chancellor Dwight Watson asserting he would not permit the faculty to make curricular decisions based on that information. Chancellor Watson stated at a previous Faculty Senate meeting on Dec. 8 that he would instead receive the Senate’s work and make decisions himself about what programs would be offered going forward.

In August 2020, Chancellor Watson began a “Program Optimization” process in which up to 40 percent of UW-Whitewater’s programs would be identified for possible reduction or elimination by May 2021. The timeline called for this process to take place during a pandemic, and with an Interim Provost who is leaving the role in June 2021. This process was met with immediate opposition from the faculty, based on the rationale that the entire Program Optimization plan is a short-sighted response to budget shortfalls caused by recent enrollment declines exacerbated by COVID-19. The faculty contends that such drastic decisions should not be made so quickly and during such an unprecedented year.

If Chancellor Watson goes forward with Program Optimization on his own, the resulting cuts would permanently eliminate some programs (meaning fewer major and minor choices for students and limited course offerings), which would likely accelerate the decline in enrollment. This plan would also result in employee layoffs, which would harm the city of Whitewater and surrounding areas.

The Faculty Senate opposes any hasty decisions that would have long-term and widespread impacts, instead opting for sacrifices that can get UW-Whitewater through this difficult time while protecting its ability to be successful for decades to come. Furthermore, the return to stability is already on the horizon: COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available; applications for Fall 2021 are up, and universities will be in high demand as workers seek new skills in response to the changes caused by a year of remote business. If UW-Whitewater plans to remain as successful in the next ten years as it has been in the previous 20, closing programs and laying off instructors is not the way forward.

The Faculty Senate will meet Tuesday Feb. 2 from 2-5 p.m. to discuss institutional direction. Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson has been invited to attend this meeting, which will be streamed via Facebook Live. For more information, contact: Faculty Senate Chair Tracy Hawkins at facsenate@uww.edu or 262-472-1975.

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