On Oct. 11, the University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announced the proposal of a merger.
Greg Summers, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, said that the UW colleges have been experiencing a decline in enrollment for a while. Many institutions in the Midwest are experiencing this problem and the merger has been proposed to help with that problem.
“Basically, the two-year colleges would become branch campuses of the four-year campuses,” Summers said.
In the Stevens Point area, UW-Marathon County and UW-Marshfield would merge with UW-Stevens Point.
The Stevens Point Academic Representation Council is a union on campus that was established in 2011.
Nerissa Nelson, outreach and marketing coordinator and SPARC member said, “Most people found out by the newspaper before any announcement was made, and that typically doesn’t make a lot of people happy.”
Nelson added that the plan is that the merger would be complete by July 18, but it’s not known who will report to whom between the main campus and the branch campuses.
Nelson said the merger is frustrating because “most people felt this came out of nowhere. It’s very frustrating that there was no staff input.”
The Capitol Times said that Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of UW Colleges and Extension, would have her unit eliminated under the new structure. She said that she was notified of the plan only days before the public announcement.
Professor Mary Bowman, SPARC chair member, said, “I agree with the concern about the lack of input. I do think any plan like this should have input from the various people who will be affected. Faculty and staff, the surrounding communities and especially students. The timeframe is an issue also. Something this big needs to be done thoughtfully and carefully.”
Both Nelson and Bowman expressed concern for students needs as it is uncertain what credits and requirements will be kept in the transition.
“Since I am the chair of UWSP’s General Education Committee, I’m particularly aware of the fact that the curriculum at the colleges is not the same as ours – different course titles and numbers, not all the same requirements – so that’s going to be a challenge to figure out. Those are a couple of examples of the many things that need to be addressed as this plays out,” Bowman said.
Members of SPARC and of other councils on the UWSP campus as well as the two-year campuses have drafted a joint statement.
“It asks the merger be a transparent process with equal representation of all of those involved in the merger,” Nelson said. “We also want an assessment of curricular and staff needs, preserve each campus’ individual mission and create a combined and complimentary mission, as well as the needs of students are kept as a priority.”
Kelly Wilz, associate professor and faculty senator representing UW-Marshfield/Wood County, said, “Time and time again, we have expressed deep concern that when we merge with our main campuses, tuition will increase to that of our four-year main campuses, and will price out the most vulnerable students.”
According to The Capitol Times, “UW-Madison higher education policy analyst Nicholas Hillman said the demographic trends alone don’t seem to indicate a need for the mergers.”
Wilz said she feels incredibly helpless.
“At the end of the day, we just want to do our jobs,” Wilz said. “We just want to teach our students, conduct research, and do what we love. I care so deeply for my students, and I will continue to fight for them always, but it’s hard. I think many of us are just numb right now.”