The University of Wyoming announced major proposed transformations and budget reductions in a Tuesday news release.
The proposed changes include launching new initiatives, creating a School of Computing, implementing program consolidation, and eliminating 75 faculty and staff positions. These proposals mark an ongoing conversation and effort to reduce the budget for the state's only four-year, public university.
The proposed changes must be approved by the Board of Trustees, which is meeting this week in Torrington. If the board approves the plan, it will then require a 120-day period for public review. According to UW Regulation 2-13, academic program reorganizations, consolidations, reductions and discontinuances require a period of review to seek feedback from stakeholders.
The stakeholders include the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Associated Students of UW and other interested parties. Should the board approve the plan, the deadline for feedback would be Oct. 1.
“The world, Wyoming and higher education are in the midst of major changes; UW must respond,” UW President Ed Seidel said of the proposed changes. "In order to better serve our students and our state amid significant decline in state funding, we must restructure to put UW on a sustainable path for the future."
Some of UW’s proposed transformations include a reconfiguration of academic colleges. According to UW’s news release, the reorganization is intended to create larger, more stable departments while reducing redundancies.
The proposed plan calls for changing the College of Engineering and Applied Science to the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This college would absorb chemistry, geology and geophysics, mathematics and statistics and physics and astronomy, which are currently housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Additionally, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources would become the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This college would absorb the departments of botany, zoology and physiology and the life sciences program, all of which are housed by the College of Arts and Sciences. In conjunction, the College of Arts and Sciences would become 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,” Seidel said. “At the same time, we would still have a very robust college focused on the arts, humanities and social sciences, which are also part of the land-grant charge.”
UW is the state’s only land-grant university. Land-grant universities are institutions that are rooted in the original mission set forth in the first Morrill Act of 1862. The mission was to teach science, technology and agriculture to working class people, in addition to higher education’s traditional focus on liberal arts.
UW proposed new initiatives in the plan presented to the Board of Trustees. These include the launching of a new School of Computing. According to its release, UW envisions this school as a way to launch the university into the sectors of computing, artificial intelligence and data science.
The plan also proposes the launch of a campus-wide Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) initiative. These initiatives are aimed at training students in key markets for future state economic growth. The CEI would serve as a hub for entrepreneurship education and practice, provide experiential programs for students and engage in statewide outreach. WORTH intends to serve the state’s second-largest economic sector by providing real-world experiences and outreach services such as market analyses and business incubation.
“Qualified faculty and staff whose positions are eliminated in departments that are being reduced or eliminated could be shifted to other open positions, including at the newly proposed School of Computing,” said Chad Baldwin, UW’s associate vice president for communications and marketing.
UW proposed a bunch of program eliminations and consolidations, which it states would increase critical mass of faculty and students into a smaller number of departments. The proposed changes would reduce university expenditures by more than $13 million annually. The restructuring and reductions would eliminate about 75 faculty and staff positions, including 10 department heads. Programs that are not discontinued or reorganized would be subject to a 3% budget reduction.
The proposals for eliminations and consolidations include:
• In the newly named College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the departments of computer science and electrical engineering would be discontinued, but these degrees would be offered under new academic units;
• The Department of Chemical Engineering would be discontinued, but its degrees would be maintained under a reorganized unit that includes the Department of Chemistry;
• The Department of Geology and Geophysics would be reduced in size, and it would join the Department of Petroleum Engineering;
• In the current College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics would be consolidated with the Department of Economics in the College of Business;
• The program in agricultural communications would move to the Department of Communications and Journalism;
• The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences would be reduced, with the nutrition program moving to the College of Health Sciences, and the early care and education center moving to the College of Education;
• In the current College of Arts in Sciences, which is proposed to become the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Art, the creative writing program would be consolidated into the Department of English. UW would continue to offer the Masters in Fine Arts for creative writing;
• The Department of Visual and Literary Arts would be renamed the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and add the departments of music, and theatre and dance;
• The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies would be reduced. Additionally, the American studies program would move into the School of Gender, Culture and Social Justice.
A number of low-enrollment degree programs have been identified for elimination. According to a spreadsheet provided on the UW website, the low-enrollment programs include the bachelor’s degrees in German, French and secondary education in Spanish/French/German language education.
Proposed elimination of advanced programs includes degrees in sociology, philosophy, political science, international studies, architectural engineering, entomology, family and consumer sciences; MBAs in finance and energy; and the statistics doctoral program.
“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 Charman. He added the university has been faced with a 25% drop in state funding in recent years, and therefore needs to respond to these changes accordingly.
UW recently absorbed a $42.3 million budget reduction for its current biennium, which was accomplished by eliminating about 80 unfilled positions; centralizing its budget, facility and operational activities; a utility cost savings initiative; and one-time use of reserves.
In addition to these extensive proposed changes, UW is also considering across-the-board reductions for academic programs and administrative offices, debt restructuring, increased parking fees and a reduction of employee sick-leave accruals.