CASPER — The University of Wyoming on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes at the institution, including budget cuts that would lay off 75 positions — some tenured, a reorganization of a slew of academic departments, and the formation of a school of computing — among other additions.
The proposal must be approved by the university’s board of trustees, which meets all this week in Torrington. If approved, it would still require a formal public review for 120 days, a process mandated by the university’s regulation 2-13. Trustees are expected to hear much of this proposal Wednesday, but that body was primed months ago for these kinds of changes by university administrators.
The plan offers both dramatic cuts and significant additions to Wyoming’s sole public 4-year university.
The cuts include discontinuing more than a dozen degree programs, largely for low-enrollment advanced degrees. Every program proposed for elimination has low enrollment or has had admissions suspended for several years. Here are those cuts, according to a supplemental document from the university:
Bachelor’s programs: German, French, secondary education, and Spanish/French/German language education degrees.
Advanced programs: Sociology, philosophy, political science, international studies, architectural engineering, entomology, family & consumer sciences, statistics and MBA programs in finance and energy.
Four departments are proposed for elimination as well: computer science, electrical and computer engineering, chemical engineering and the School of Counseling, Leadership, Advocacy and Design. The degree programs for each department would be preserved and consolidated into new colleges, according to the university.
The staff positions proposed for elimination will result in layoffs of tenured and nontenured employees. At least 10 of those positions are department heads, according to the release.
“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,” university executive vice president Kevin Carman said in the release. “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.”
The layoffs may be unprecedented, but the university is focusing on how it plans to replace what may be lost. In its Tuesday release, the school led with how the “reconfiguration” will make room for new initiatives, namely a new school of computing, a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and a “Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative.”
Making way for the additions will require a sweeping reorganization of the institution’s remaining offerings, which is expected to affect employees in various university departments. A variety of departments would be merged or moved under the plan. For example, the College of Engineering and Applied Science would become the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Programs in chemistry, geophysics, mathematics, statistics, physics and astronomy would move into this college.
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources would become the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and would absorb botany, zoology, physiology and life sciences from Arts and Sciences.
The College of Arts and Sciences would become the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, giving students a more “focused” liberal arts education, according to the university.
“Faculty from existing departments that are discontinued, reorganized, consolidated, or reduced and who are qualified and have discipline specific expertise will be considered for open and funded positions,” reads the document outlining these changes.
Programs that aren’t discontinued or reorganized will also see a 3% budget cut, including UW-Casper.
“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,” President Ed Seidel said in the release.
The university has already absorbed $42 million in state cuts to its biennium budget but must find more ways to save amid the decline in fossil fuels. The proposed reductions will free up roughly $13 million, according to the release.
The proposed “discontinuations, reorganizations (and) reductions” account for just over $4 million of those savings, according to a spreadsheet uploaded to the trustees’ webpage following the university’s announcement. Another $1.2 million comes from the 3 percent across-the-board cuts to other academic programs.
The remaining nearly $8 million in cuts come from administrative and non-academic “efficiencies” and “consolidations,” though the spreadsheet is vague about what those measures entail.
The university began a program review early this year that Interim Provost Anne Alexander told trustees could result in $20 million in cuts at the end of that work.
In addition to the program review, the university in February finalized plans to end nearly a dozen low-enrollment degree programs and eliminate 80 unfilled positions. Administrators at the time warned Trustees those cuts were only the beginning.
All the while, the university’s strategic planning committee has been meeting to determine a new way forward for a public university that has lost its reliable funding source. Those recommendations were presented to trustees in May and included plans for new degree and enrichment programs, including the new school of computing and the innovation and entrepreneurship hub.