The University of Wisconsin-Superior announced Tuesday that its leaders have suspended 25 academic programs. The move is an effort to positively affect student success and position the school to continue to remain responsive to regional needs, according to a release from the university.
UWS spokeswoman Jordan Milan said a total of 121 students are enrolled in the suspended programs. They will be assisted in completing their program of study, but no new students will be admitted into these programs.
The majors suspended include broad field science, broad field science (teaching), chemistry (forensic concentration), communicating arts (journalism), communicating arts (media studies), political science, sociology, theatre and visual arts (art history concentration).
Currently, 74 students, or three percent of the school's undergraduate population, are majoring in these programs.
In addition, the masters in art therapy program will be suspended along with the following 15 minors: computer science, computer science (teaching), earth science, geography, geography (teaching), global studies, health and human performance, history (teaching), journalism, legal studies, media communication, photography, physics, physics (teaching) and psychology (teaching).
The news was a surprise to employees and students, many said.
"My reaction is one of shock and surprise that professors in affected departments weren't consulted, nor given a clear rationale for why the decisions were made," said Alison Wielgus, an assistant professor of media studies.
Senior Nikola Kumanovski questioned why cuts were made to the academic side of the equation instead of the administrative.
"You can't cut something completely, like physics or math, you need to have some courses," said Kumanovski, an international student from Macedonia. "You can do it, but I don't know if you can call it a liberal arts college afterwards."
He said many of the programs being suspended will impact related programs that require classes in those areas.
Nicole Nath, a senior from Madison, pointed out that the loss of teaching minors in areas like history, physics and geography would limit options for students in the university's education program.
While no faculty will be laid off as a result of the cuts, it will mean that some probably will end up teaching courses that aren't necessarily in their area of expertise as they are moved to fill other sections, said Jackie Weissenburger, interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs for UWS.
Despite a continuing budget deficit — this year at $2.5 million — the decision wasn't made to save money, UWS officials say, but cost savings will be realized as the students remaining in those targeted programs graduate and staff are reallocated to areas with healthier enrollments. That would mean a lesser need for adjunct instructors who teach one or two classes. The UW System measures universities on degree completion rates and distributes money accordingly, Weissenburger said.
The more choices students are given, she said, the more overwhelmed they can get. Streamlining options provides more focus and can increase graduation rates. It also frees up resources for programs that are more in demand.
Losing programs could also UWS less attractive to prospective students, said Jordan Smith, a senior from Janesville.
It comes down to allocating resources, said senior Ben Damberg, who grew up in Eveleth, Minn. If the changes lead to a better experience for students and stronger support, that would lead to better outcomes.
"I mean it hurts, no one wants to do it but I think just looking at the long term this will help benefit us," Damberg said.
With the suspensions, UWS still offers a little more than 50 majors and a little more than 40 minors, Milan said.
However, some of those have been put on a warning status. Although UWS will continue to accept students into programs on warning status, changes in curriculum are required. Action plans must be developed by June 1 for the programs.
They include broad field social science, broad field social science (teaching), chemistry, chemistry (teaching), computer science, economics, history, history (teaching), mathematics and mathematics (teaching).
Biology (teaching), chemistry (teaching), English, English (teaching) and mathematics (teaching) are minors on warning.
Suspended programs are essentially in limbo once the remaining students graduate. A suspension lasts 10 years until the program officially closes, and then the university decides whether to shut it down or reinvest.
UWS suspended more than a dozen programs in 2014 and put 50 under review. Then, the school was facing a $4.5 million shortfall from years of declining enrollment, state budget cuts and a tuition freeze. Enrollment at UWS this year increased slightly thanks to online programs, and sits at about 2,500.
Duluth News Tribune reporters Jana Hollingsworth and Brady Slater contributed to this report.