UW-Whitewater academic programs could be cut under a budget review now underway, slashing course offerings and harming the local economy, the UW-Whitewater Faculty Senate said in a statement this week.

Chancellor Dwight Watson said Thursday that the senate’s estimate of up to 40% of academic programs being identified for cuts is “woefully inaccurate.”

Tracy Hawkins, chairwoman of the faculty senate, told The Gazette that faculty members fear a repeat of what happened at UW-Stevens Point in 2018, when the chancellor proposed cutting up to 13 degree programs, a plan that was later dropped, or in 2017 at UW-Superior, when 25 programs were suspended.

The dispute at UW-W is over who has the authority to cut academic programs. Hawkins said the tradition is that the faculty decides what courses are offered because they are the experts in their disciplines.

Watson says he wants the faculty’s help in identifying budget savings.

“I want the faculty to do their own deep dive in looking at the programs and giving us recommendations around what they feel that they should do,” Watson said.

But the senate wants to make the final decisions, Watson said, adding: “Well, that’s not really their purview. …

“We give the faculty a lot of autonomy, but when it comes to the budgetary decisions, I need to make the final decision, and the statute says that you work in consultation with the faculty, but our faculty believes that ‘in consultation’ means that they have complete ownership,” Watson said.

Watson issued a statement Thursday, saying he values the UW System practice of “shared governance,” which gives faculty a voice in such decisions, but the buck stops at his desk.

“As chancellor, it is ultimately my responsibility to make the final decisions that will impact the long-term future of UW-Whitewater,” Watson wrote.

“I would not consciously do anything that would harm the growth potential of this university or would have adverse effects on the community or region,” Watson stated.

The senate announced it is calling off a compromise on the issue that it had reached with the university administration because of a statement Watson delivered to the senate Dec. 8, saying he would make the final budget decisions.

The compromise called for faculty to collect budget information from academic programs to be used in the program review.

Watson said the senate wanted each academic program to set up its own criteria for judging whether it is succeeding or not, which is almost like letting students set up the criteria for their grades.

The senate also rejected categorizing programs as doing very well, satisfactory, so-so or unsatisfactory, Watson said.

“We want more objective rather than subjective metrics,” Watson said.

A draft of Watson’s “program-optimization” process calls for each program to turn in its information by Feb. 1, a final report to be issued in May-June and decisions made in the fall.

“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,” according to the senate statement.

Watson said the process has not been hasty and that final decisions will not take effect until the 2022-23 school year.

Hawkins said faculty should not be asked to conduct studies of programs at a time when they are overworked and dealing with the unusual stresses caused by the pandemic.

“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,” according to the senate statement.

The review process could lead to layoffs of professors, Watson said, adding that the university is already trying to fix its budget shortfall by not filling open positions and offering retirement bonuses of up to 35% of base salary to certain faculty members.

Watson said he doesn’t know what the result of the review process will be, but he said some underperforming programs might be kept if it can be shown that changes—to include spending an extra $30,000, for example—could increase enrollments.

The shortfalls are $5.3 million this school year and $17.3 million next year, Watson said.

Hawkins said Taryn Carothers, vice chancellor for administrative affairs, had already come up with a plan for addressing budget shortfalls, so no programs need to be cut.

Hawkins said the faculty has already voted to give up most professional-development money and stipends for summer classes and is working on recruiting students and lobbying legislators.

The faculty senate plans to meet from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 2 to discuss “institutional direction.”

UW System President Tommy Thompson was invited to attend the meeting.

Hawkins said the meeting will include discussion of which budget-fixing steps the faculty could study instead of working on the budget information the chancellor requested.

However, “We’re hopeful we’re going to be able to come to understand each other’s perspectives and address this together, but we just need to be at the decision-making table,” Hawkins said.

This story was modified Dec. 22, 2020, to reflect the following correction:

Because of incorrect information supplied by UW-Whitewater, a story on Page 1A n Friday gave an incorrect figure for the university’s estimated budget shortfall for the 2021-22 school year.

The correct figure is $17.3 million.