As the UW-Milwaukee campus grapples with an unprecedented budget cut, Dean Rodney Swain told the College of Letters and Science budget cuts committee that the focus, at least now, should be on “what to do with” people he called “temporary employees,” which he defined as lecturers and ad hoc teachers.
The College is compiling a list of all non-faculty teaching staff for study and potential cuts. These instructors are often brought into the university (sometimes directly from industry or professions) for their specialized knowledge in certain skills or teaching areas.
Faculty workload has been a point of controversy throughout the past year. But upping the workload of professors (who are not temporary employees and are called faculty) is probably not going to the top of the agenda to fill an unprecedented budget deficit at UW-Milwaukee’s largest college. Their jobs aren’t the ones in line for elimination, either, although voluntary retirements have already affected faculty ranks.
The committee members said the possibility of raising professors’ workloads is being studied but was complex, likely long-term, and couldn’t be implemented by fall. “It’s not going to get us to the target,” Swain said, although the issue is currently being studied in depth using a model from Texas.
Instead, those whose jobs may be on the line are teaching staff on temporary appointments. The college must find a way to fill $15 million of the university’s estimated $25 to $30 million budget deficit, the dean said. The university is already partly into the two-year budget process.
“We can go through department-by-department…You could eliminate the front office staff in every single unit, and it doesn’t get you to $15 million,” said Swain. “So we know that ultimately we have to get down to those temporary employees. Those are going to be primarily lecturers, etc.” Swain added that looking at workload is only one piece of that pie.
“The question is what is the best way to address temporary employees,” he said, adding that looking at the fill-rate of courses is another way to do it. “Even after we do that, I still don’t think we are going to have reached that target,” he said.
Committee members discussed “cutting” such temporary workers and raised concerns about the fact that some departments have far more of them than others do. But it became clear that the focus of the committee, when it comes to cuts, will be on the non-faculty teaching staff, not professors, at least now.
The committee discussed compiling a list of non-faculty instructional staff in L and S and the courses they teach. This will give the committee a better idea of where faculty would need to supplement these courses, taking over these lecturers’ roles, if that were deemed valuable (such as in high-enrollment lower-level courses). Nothing is certain here; the role the L and S committee takes is purely advisory, informing the dean of possible outcomes during what are brainstorming sessions. A campus-wide efficiency committee could trump what L and S does in the end, too, including instituting university workload or other changes. However, as the university’s largest college, L and S does have a powerful voice in how the campus handles the budget cuts.
Ad hocs are sometimes instructors who teach a single class on a semester-by-semester basis; they often come directly from industry (some hold prominent roles in it) and bring specialized expertise to students that others in a department might not have. Some departments rely on them more heavily than others do, and in some (but not all) departments they focus more on skills training.
Fixed-term lecturers are hired on contracts of often 1-2 years and are often full-time (sometimes these fixed-term lecturers are also labeled ad hocs although they are often at the university for many years with full-time course loads in departments. Some have doctorate degrees, but many do not as they are often hired for specialized experience in industry. They are known as academic staff). Further complicating matters, fixed-term lecturers often hold a heavier teaching workload than faculty, who are usually hired to satisfy a blended research and teaching mission and sometimes teach theory oriented courses as well as meeting scholarly research and service obligations. Those on limited appointment at UWM outnumber faculty (see above chart).
Letters and Science houses 25 departments as well as many undergraduate and graduate degree programs, centers, and certificate programs. They encompass Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences and include such well-known majors as Physics, English, History and Economics.
Later in the meeting, the dean referenced “fixed termers and ad hocs” (complicating matters, some lecturers at UWM are also probationary status and some of those people have indefinite or permanent status, a process that takes years of work and many approval stages.) Swain said he wasn’t including those non-faculty instructional staff with indefinite status in his definition of “temporary worker,” although it wasn’t clear what would happen to those lecturers with probationary status who aren’t fixed termers. All of the ideas are in flux.
At the Nov. 30 meeting, the dean also explained to the committee that it’s cheaper to hire ad hocs than graduate students to teach classes, which he said is something that could also be considered. However, he also pointed out that it has to be a balance because graduate students are critical to graduate programs. He did say toward the end of the meeting that he wasn’t including teaching assistants in the definition of temporary workers. But he said he wants to do a historical analysis of TAs in L and S.
With a $15 million deficit, the committee hopes to recommend ways to cut at least $5 million dollars of spending initially to “buy some time.” Upon looking at a chart that compared the cost of ad hocs versus grad students, Swain referenced the cost of ad hocs and fixed termers, saying, “This is the target that gets you to your $5 million for this year.”
At the next meeting of the same L and S committee, the dean revisited the idea of cutting ad hoc instructors and went into greater detail on how workload is being studied, as well as other methods under study to increase revenue and decrease course duplication (Media Milwaukee will have that story early next week).
Not all departments in the college of Letters and Science have the same amount of ad hoc instructors. One committee member questioned, if ad hocs were taken off the table, whether there would there be an uneven distribution across the college.
“That’s where the structural deficit has grown and so that’s where it has to be corrected. So yes, it will be uneven across the board,” Swain responded.
But the question remains, who stays and who goes? One way to determine who makes the cut? Taking at look at the fill rate of classes across the college. Classes are considered to be efficient if the enrollment is 80 percent of the class’ cap. But there are issues with tackling this problem, especially in terms of upper division courses, as well.
“We might think 35 or 40 is a reasonable upper division course cap. We could hit 80 percent of that. If I get a room for 75, we often change it to 50 or 60 so it’s not tied to pedagogy, it’s tied to the room in which I was assigned,” explained Political Science Professor and Chair Kathleen Dolan.
So what of the lower level courses? The ones that are often traditionally assigned to ad hocs? These courses are typically GERs and other courses crucial to students. Herein lies another problem; there is an oversaturation of GER courses across the board. In fact, there is an array of over 600 of these courses. A possible solution is to create a funnel for undecided students.
Now there are “different flavors” of undecided students as Swain puts it. There are those who have no inclination as to what they would like to pursue and there are others who have a vague idea such as pursuing STEM or the Humanities. The idea of this funnel is to give undecided students an array of GER courses that would still keep them on track, regardless of what their major could be.
“My point is, that’s whittling away of 600 courses down to really a handful of each area that would be recommended. Our faculty are going to have to take the primary role in determining what those courses are,” Swain explained.
Taking a step back, let’s look at one piece of the bigger picture: the students’ needs in all of this.
The committee discussed whether to look at students’ needs department-by-department. They raised three crucial questions for the future of the college. What are the essential core courses offered each semester? What is necessary for a healthy program and efficiency? Lastly, as Dolan asked, “What is being taught by ad hocs and why?”
As aforementioned, if cuts come to ad hocs and courses, this means that faculty members could have to teach more, filling the roles of ad hocs in many of the lower level courses, or there would be fewer courses for students. This has become a point of contention around the university, especially after controversial comments that Gov. Scott Walker made in January when the budget cuts were implemented.
“Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work, and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests,” Walker said at the time. Critics responded that faculty, especially at Milwaukee and Madison, also have a research mission that benefits the students and state.
Before the dropping of courses and ad hocs was brought up, the committee focused heavily on the topic of workload. They are looking at the policies enacted by the University of Texas- Austin.
Taking these policies into account and using their model for required workload, Lead Documentation Specialist, Josh Ebert, compiled a workload chart for faculty in the departments of Anthropology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Sociology. Though these are only three departments and other aspects need to be taken into account such as internships, the preparation of new materials, and additional administration duties, Ebert says that many of the faculty in these departments are very close to the threshold of workload already.
“I think this is a good start. I want to expand it,” Ebert explained of the research.
However, the discussion abruptly changed tone. Several committee members voiced their concern that a new set of workload policies could not be implemented before next fall semester. Though workload is an issue, it is a longer term discussion that does not immediately address budget cuts for the next fiscal year, they said.
“I’m not sure this is the budget committee’s work,” Professor Dolan added.
The L and S committee is just part of the process the university is using to fix the deficit. Swain expressed frustration with the university-wide committee designed to recommend budget efficiency (known as CCOET).
“There’s a divorce between the data aspects and the decision making aspects of the CCOET, and I think that’s undesirable,” Swain said.