University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students will be less prepared for their future careers if campus officials change programming to focus on training them for specific jobs at the expense of humanities and social science education, said members of 20 scholarly associations.
“It is deeply misguided to eliminate humanities majors based on an inaccurate presumption that they do not prepare students for high-demand careers. Technology and business leaders continually affirm the value of humanities degrees, and employments rates and job satisfaction among humanities majors rival those in STEM and business fields,” reads the statement, citing data from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Groups such as the American Anthropological Association, Modern Language Association and National Council on Public history urged Chancellor Bernie Patterson to reconsider a plan to eliminate 13 undergraduate majors, including art, English, history, political science and Spanish. Resources would be shifted towards 16 other fields of study considered to be in high demand in the workforce, including business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, fire science and graphic design.
The changes are likely to involve layoffs of tenured faculty members, which was made easier under controversial changes to law and university policies in 2015.
Community members, faculty and students blasted the plan -- which campus officials say is needed to address a $4.5 million structural deficit - at a town hall meeting last week, the Stevens Point Journal reported. Some said the plan would reduce, rather than increase enrollment, as campus officials claim.
Enrollment at the UW-Stevens Point has declined 15 percent since its peak in 2012-2013 to 8,208 this school year. The campus is scheduled to merge this summer with two two-year campuses, UW-Marathon County and UW-Marshfield/Wood County, as part of the UW System reorganization.
Patterson said that officials had tried nearly everything short of cutting programs to address decades of declining state financial support, and more recently declining enrollment. “We have cut everywhere else,” he wrote in an op-ed piece.
Patterson said that the proposal is part of ongoing strategic planning but just the start of a decision making process.
If approved, the cuts won’t mean the end of liberal arts at UW-Stevens Point, officials have said. Minors and certificates would continue to be offered in many of the fields affected.
“We remain committed to ensuring every student who graduates from UW-Stevens Point is thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, as well as prepared for a successful career path. It is critical our students learn to communicate well, solve problems, think critically and creatively, be analytical and innovative, and work well in teams. This is the value of earning a bachelor’s degree,” Patterson wrote.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, who hosted the town hall session with the UW-Stevens Point Student Government Association, blamed Republican legislators for the crisis, citing years of cutbacks and underfunding.
“They’ve been dealt a difficult hand,” she said of the university leaders.
Shankland added that she would ultimately like to see the proposal walked back, citing opposition from the public and campus communities.