“Education is not a product. The students are not customers. The professors are not tools. The university is not a factory,” declare signs taped to faculty office doors in the Christopher Collins Classroom Center.
We all want to believe this, but the evidence around us shows we can’t. And this means that students how have to start taking a much more active role in shaping the future of Wisconsin.
Budget cuts for fiscal year 2019 are forcing faculty and administration to examine majors and departments based on objective numerical data.
This objective view seems to be hitting humanities departments especially hard as enrollment in these departments has been declining across the country.
In response to declining enrollment, humanities departments are fighting to make themselves relevant to students who often favor majors with a more narrow and direct career outcome.
In objective, numerical data, one number that is on the humanities side is cost. Humanities professors can be hired cheaper, and course materials are often books supplied by the students.
That being said, there is a symbiotic relationship between all departments and colleges. Majors outside of the College of Letters and Science fulfilling the general education requirements help to fill seats and keep a wide-variety of courses open for students in the college.
Eric Yonke, Dean of the College of Letters and Science, is in charge of overseeing budget cuts within the COLS.
“Faculty in the humanities tend to get a bit frustrated because they know that they do cost less and it’s not the same,” Yonke said. “Everybody inputs into the big pot, you know the tuition pot and then it is dispersed out.”
Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, said, “We’re going to have to cut programs and by programs, I mean majors. There’s no way we’re going to have the same number of majors when we get through this restructuring.”
The prospect of eliminating majors is anxiety inducing for faculty across campus. And one way or another, by the end of this fiscal year, our university will be altered drastically.
So, how did we get here?
The current structural deficit these cuts are looking to correct is due in part to a 15 percent drop in enrollment, from over 9,600 students to one just under 8,200 this fall. Additionally, Wisconsin Legislature has frozen tuition for the past five years, and state support has also declined by 25 percent in the past four years alone.
Currently, state funding makes up only 13 percent of our universities entire operating budget and 36.5 percent of the GPR/Fee budget.
In contrast student tuition dollars make up 25.8 percent of the total budget and 63.5 percent of the GPR/Fee budget.
In addition to state funding and tuition, the total operating budget includes federal funds, other state agency funds and program revenue.
The GPR budget is 40 percent of the total and covers instruction, general operations, student services, academic support, physical plant, utilities student services and building amortization.
“Education is not a product.” But, if our university is going to be run like a business, students should have a bigger voice. The state is contributing to 13 percent of our total budget, but in some cases has 100 percent power in decision making.
The university exists for and because of us students. We should have a say in budget cuts. We can use our voice in Student Government, and by contacting state representatives and administration. Because at the end of the day, it’s our university.
Olivia De Valk