University Of Wyoming Proposes Sweeping Academic Reorganization, Including Staff And Tenured Faculty Cuts

The University of Wyoming (UW) is proposing a major reorganization of its academic programs that, if adopted, would result in the elimination or consolidation of multiple academic units, the boosting of several special initiatives, the closing of more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and the elimination of as many as 75 staff and faculty positions, including some tenured faculty.

The basics of the plan were unveiled by the university administration on Tuesday. It now will be considered by the UW Board of Trustees, which is meeting this week in Torrington, Wyoming.   

Commenting on the proposal, University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel said, “The world, Wyoming and higher education are in the midst of major changes; UW must respond. In order to better serve our students and our state amid a significant decline in state funding, we must restructure to put UW on a sustainable path for the future. The goals of this plan are to enhance the student experience and train them for success; become a better engine for innovation and economic development; and develop new revenue streams.”  

The plan consists of three primary components, according to the University, the only public four-year university in Wyoming.

Reconfiguration

Several academic colleges would be restructured to create what the university described as “larger, more stable departments with common disciplinary interests.”

Specifically, the College of Engineering and Applied Science would become the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Four science departments now in the College of Arts and Sciences — Chemistry, Geology and Geophysics, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics and Astronomy — would move to the new college. 

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources would become the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and it would absorb the departments of Botany, and Zoology and Physiology, as well as the Life Sciences Program, all from the current College of Arts and Sciences

A downsized College of Arts and Sciences would be named the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. 

“These reorganizations would expand and enhance two very important colleges central to our land-grant mission, focused on agriculture and engineering, better positioning the university to advance the Tier-1 Engineering and Science initiatives, and making its research programs more competitive in the federal science and technology ecosystem. They would provide additional critical mass, create new synergies and bring new opportunities for faculty members and students in all of the academic units housed in these colleges,” Seidel said. “At the same time, we would still have a very robust college focused on the arts, humanities and social sciences, which also are part of the land-grant charge — and are at the core of a strong university education.”  

Special initiatives

The university also wants to boost several initiatives that it claims are “needed for all students and all disciplines of study… and central to supporting economic growth in Wyoming.”

To do so, it would create a new School of Computing, a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) Initiative. These three initiatives are intended to prepare students to work in key markets for Wyoming’s economy. They also support what’s called the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, “a new collaboration with the state’s seven community colleges endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon to develop innovative solutions that will support and enhance Wyoming’s economy and workforce.”

Program elimination, consolidation and layoffs

Several low-enrollment degree programs would be discontinued under the plan, and a number of academic departments and programs, most with small enrollments also, would be combined.

The university projects that these proposed changes would reduce expenditures by more than $13 million annually. The restructuring would also lead to the elimination of as many as 75 faculty and staff positions, including up to ten department heads. On top of that, even those programs that aren’t discontinued or reorganized would see a 3% reduction in their budgets.

In addition, the university is considering other across-the-board reductions, including changes to its end-of-appointment sick leave policy; reduction of sick-leave accruals; centralization of administrative functions; and restructuring debt.

Among the more noteworthy changes, the entirety of which can be found here, are the following:

  • Four bachelor’s degree programs are slated to be discontinued, including German, French, secondary education, and Spanish/French/German language education degrees.
  • Several graduate programs will also be eliminated, in sociology, philosophy, political science, international studies, architectural engineering, entomology, family and consumer sciences, statistics and two MBA programs – in finance and energy.   
  • In the newly named College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering would be discontinued, but those degrees would continue to be offered from new academic units.
  • The Department of Chemical Engineering would be discontinued, but its degrees would still be offered under a new department that includes the current Department of Chemistry. 
  • The Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics would be consolidated with the Department of Economics in the College of Business along with several other reconfigurations or reductions. 
  • The School of Counseling, Leadership and Design would be discontinued in the College of Education, and the education college would be reorganized.
  • The College of Arts and Sciences would also see a number of departmental and program consolidations or reductions as it transitions to become the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Art.

Under the University’s Regulation 2-13, academic program reorganizations, consolidations, reductions and discontinuances require a 120-day period of review to seek feedback from stakeholders including the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate, the Associated Students of UW and other interested parties.

That process is scheduled to start this month so that it’s completed in time for the Board of Trustees to make final decisions in November. More information about the program reviews can be found at www.uwyo.edu/acadaffairs/program-review/current/index.html

With that much time available for debate, the plan is almost certain to garner stiff opposition from affected faculty, staff and engaged alumni so the proposal is far from being a done deal. And it’s not the first bad budget news the University of Wyoming has had to deliver this year. Back in February it announced several initial cost-cutting measures as it began to address a $42.3 million short-fall in the current biennium.

The administration appears to be bracing for the fallout. “It is never easy to restructure or eliminate academic programs and positions. The faculty positions being considered for elimination are filled by real people who work hard for this university, and the magnitude of what we are proposing is, as far as we can tell, unprecedented in the university’s modern history,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman. “But, the situation we face as a university, with a 25 percent drop in state funding in recent years and a need to respond to changing times, necessitates a reconsideration of the way we’re structured and what we offer. Our proposal will now go through the collaborative review process directed by university regulation, and we will consider all input in an effort to assure the best possible outcomes.”

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