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UWS staff: Administration made cuts without following rules

Members of the University of Wisconsin-Superior faculty union say they have obtained emails from the school's administration that show established rules weren't followed when two-dozen academic programs were suspended in October.

Members of the American Federation of Teachers Local 6514 say they obtained emails through an open records request that faculty members say gives a "detailed picture of UWS administration's actions before and after the surprise suspensions of 24 programs on Oct. 31, 2017."

The union said the emails showed school administrators not only left faculty in the dark but also failed to inform the UW System administrators of the pending cuts. Union leaders stopped short, however, of taking any legal action against administrators but said they still wanted the community to know what happened.

"The chances of actually getting the decision overturned seem very small now. The UWS System is standing behind the decision of our administration,'' Deb Augsburger, UWS Local 6514 president, told the News Tribune. "But we thought it was important to get their actions out into the court of public opinion. ... I don't know where it's going to go from here, if anywhere."

Augsburger said efforts continue to push UWS administrators to work cooperatively with faculty before making big decisions, so-called shared governance.

Jordan Milan, UWS communications director, said UW-Superior administration "met its obligations in regards to making program suspension decisions and has the support of UW System and the Board of Regents. Faculty members have been involved in these discussions over the past five years."

The school also released a statement.

"It was a difficult decision to suspend programs due to low enrollments and poor completion rates, and we value the input we received from faculty and staff over the past five years regarding our program array. The students currently enrolled in the suspended programs will be able to finish their degrees, and we wholeheartedly support them in that effort,'' the school's statement said. "Looking to the future, we will focus on the programs that have thriving enrollment, offer students the courses they want to take to meet the demands of our region, and serve our community."

The union says the emails, which the News Tribune also requested, show:

• The UWS administration failed to consult with faculty governance, despite the UW System legal counsel advising them that consultation was obligatory. UWS administration did not consult with faculty as required.

• The UWS administrators gave no formal notice of suspensions to the UW System in advance, though UW System policy requires a four-week notice. Formal notification of the suspensions was supplied to the UW System on Nov. 3.

• A formal document containing a detailed rationale for the suspension of each program was only produced a week after the suspensions.

"Overall, a look at the emails suggests that the sudden suspension of the programs was a surprise not only to UWS students, staff and community members, but to the UW System personnel that corresponded with them, who expressed concern about consultation with shared governance and lack of notice,'' the union claimed in a statement Tuesday.

More than two-dozen academic programs, including major programs for sociology, theater and political science — will be suspended, meaning no new students will be admitted as the remaining students finish and the programs enter a sort of limbo. The news was a surprise to employees and students, many said. No faculty will be laid off as a result of the cuts but some may be teaching different courses.

UWS officials in October said programs were targeted for suspension based on low enrollment and poor completion rates, citing the university's desire to streamline its offerings in an effort to reduce dropouts and get more students to graduate in a timely fashion.

Despite a continuing budget deficit — this year at $2.5 million — the decision wasn't made to save money, UWS officials said, but cost savings will be realized as the students remaining in those targeted programs graduate and staff are reallocated to areas with healthier enrollments.

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