Budget cuts strain hiring efforts, work loads
WHITEWATER—Few in higher education would argue that quality
education starts with attracting and keeping talented faculty, and
creating a personalized learning environment for students. Ironically,
these two benchmarks of quality may be most sensitive to state budget
At UW-Whitewater, the unprecedented round of state budget cuts led
to a loss of more than $2.6 million in state funding. The university
ultimately lost 31 positions and reduced the incoming freshman class
by approximately 200 students. While faculty and staff work harder
than ever to maintain quality with fewer colleagues, two of the realities
of a reduced budget have been larger class sizes and staff attrition.
In the marketing department, for example, work loads are complicated
by an explosion in student popularity. Lois Smith, chair of the
marketing department, said the department has grown from 170 majors
five years ago to 269 this year, a 58 percent increase. Enrollment
in the department’s vaunted MBA program has also increased dramatically.
At the same time, market forces are causing the department to lose
faculty positions. Last spring, when two faculty resigned to take
higher paying positions out of state, the department could only
afford to hire one replacement because of the lack of funding for
competitive salaries, Smith said.
“The impact of this combination of reduced faculty and increased
student demand has caused us to change the way we serve our students,”
"Perhaps the biggest pain felt is
from people who aren’t here to express it.”
Chancellor Jack Miller
That has meant more large-format marketing principles courses.
These entry-level courses used to average about 45 students per
class, but have ballooned to more than 100 students in some cases.
“Obviously, the kind of education students have in these classes
is not as personal or interactive as they would receive in smaller
classes, no matter how excellent the instructor,” Smith said.
To manage enrollment, the department also raised standards for
declaring a marketing minor, contributing to a drop of minors from
172 students in 2002 to 138 students today. Smith noted that the
change “does not serve our campus community well in that we are
limiting access to information and to careers that students want.”
Faculty recruiting a tough sell
Faculty hiring is especially compromised by the budget cuts and
the lack of salary increases. Chris Clements, dean of the College
of Business and Economics, said the cuts have exacerbated a decade-long
trend of having to collapse positions to find enough money to make
one reasonable faculty offer.
“For the last three years, we have been able to fill half of our
faculty positions with faculty before running out of money,” Clements
said. “The rest we fill with academic staff. Next year, three academic
staff positions have no funding left in them. We have to dry them
up or find ‘soft money’ (grant money) for one year.”
Money is not the only reason good faculty leave, Clements said.
Regional comprehensive universities like UW-Whitewater place great
expectations on faculty for research and service productivity, yet
offer less relief in classroom workload. Many faculty look to find
a better professional balance elsewhere.
“We’ve just got to hope they either love the location or love the
campus,” she said.
Retention woes continue
John Heyer, dean of the College of Arts and Communication, has
noticed two new trends in faculty hiring. The first is that leading
candidates in many searches are declining to even come for interviews
after learning of the salary limits and teaching loads in Wisconsin.
And for the first time in his 24 years of administration, Heyer
said he is losing his top candidates to schools in the South, including
South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi.
“That never happened to me before three years ago,” he said.
Last fall, Heyer lost one of his most distinguished faculty members,
who was in the peak of her career. Former music department chair
Janet Barrett accepted a position on the music faculty at Northwestern
University. Clearly the new job was a great opportunity, Heyer said.
But as a dean, he said he is left with little ammunition in trying
to keep faculty stars like Barrett — and he fears losing more of
the same leadership and experience.
“My philosophy of leadership is that you hire the best people possible,
and you do everything you can to keep them,” said Heyer. “The prospects
for that do not look good right now.”
Teaching loads increase
Increased work loads are another reality of the budget cuts. To
preserve course sections with fewer faculty and staff, the university
adopted a “5-4” teaching plan that requires academic staff to teach
nine courses per year, rather than eight. Academic departments are
adapting to the change, but some staff worry about maintaining high
quality with additional students.
The department of languages and literatures is one such example.
By teaching four classes per semester, a load that was lower than
many UW System campuses required, the department helped establish
a reputation for excellence, including a prestigious Regents Teaching
Award in 1999. But with the fifth course, staff members in languages
and literatures are now responsible for about 120 students during
that semester, up from 100 a year ago.
Patrick Moran, an instructor in the department, said most English
composition courses require four written essays each semester, which
means an instructor will be evaluating and grading approximately
480 essays that semester. “The quality of learning, the development
of ideas and the amount of interaction with students are all reduced,”
Moran said. “We can cram more concepts into fewer assigned essays,
but it really goes against the incremental development of good writing
Moran is not alone in concern over how workload issues will impact
the quality of student writing at UW-Whitewater. A petition signed
by more than 50 faculty and academic staff was delivered to the
UW-Whitewater administration in early January.
George Savage, chair of the department, said the increased academic
staff work load affects faculty as well. To focus on teaching, academic
staff no longer have time for service work that was once a shared
responsibility. Work on curriculum committees and the superior writing
awards now falls almost entirely to faculty, he said.
But of all the perspectives on state budget cut impacts at UW-Whitewater,
the most telling ones may never be heard, said Chancellor Jack Miller.
“We’re always concerned about maintaining quality education for
the students we do admit,” Miller said. “But I’m also concerned
about what happened to those students who weren’t enrolled last
year due to budget cuts. Our decisions were geared toward reducing
access in order to protect quality and options for the students
already enrolled. Perhaps the biggest pain felt is from people who
aren’t here to express it.”
Access is one of the cornerstones of public universities in Wisconsin,
Miller said. If the trend of cutting university budgets continues,
campuses will have to continue making unfortunate choices between
access and quality.