A top academic staff representative expressed concern over what will happen to academic staff members at UW-Milwaukee in regards to the restructuring of the UW colleges.
Furthermore, at the meeting of the University Committee, the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate on Nov. 7, UWM’s provost expressed worries about Congressional tax reform that would impact higher education, ranging from taxes on donors and graduate students, to large cuts to Pell grants.
Many questions face UWM’s governance, and among the most pressing of those problems is the fate of academic staff at UWM. Susan Cashin, chair of the Academic Staff Committee expressed the worries of UWM’s academic staff to the University Committee during their meeting.
“We are concerned about what is going to happen to our academic staff colleagues on this campus, particularly if there’s a lot of shift in what courses are offered, if there’s going to be a push slash draw to the two-year institutions on our gen-ed or 100-200 level classes which are often taught by academic staff,” said Cashin. “And will there be- because we have heard in every newspaper that tenured faculty will not be affected. There is nothing said about academic staff, and this scares me.”
University Committee chair Kristian O’Connor responded saying that nothing has been said about pre-tenured faculty either, but Cashin was unmoved.
“We are more than two and a half times the number of faculty on this campus,” said Cashin. “We are the largest employee group on campus and we are probably going to take the biggest hit on this. And that is something we have to watch out for.”
Cashin was unhappy about learning about the proposed restructuring in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the lack of communication between the administration and the academic staff.
“Until yesterday (Nov. 6), I have had two communications total… We are the largest employee group and we were left cold, completely,” said Cashin.
The restructure of the colleges is needed, according to UWM Provost Johannes Britz, due to enrollment drops across all of the two-year campuses, along with a budget deficit of $5 million.
“It’s a significant number, and that’s why it’s not sustainable,” said Britz. Britz added that if UWM had a deficit of the same proportion to the colleges, it would equal $32 million.
Another problem brought up by the University Committee and one the steering committee in charge of implementing the restructure will need to address is the handling of 2-year associates degrees that the 2-year colleges would normally handle.
“…Because we don’t have, I think from the Higher Learning Commission the authority to grant associates degrees,” said Britz.
University Committee members were not pleased that they had to deal with these issues.
“It seems like somebody, like the system, should be thinking about these issues, not us,” said Professor Mark Schwartz.
While much was discussed about policies and procedures, Britz did not want the focus just on those things.
“You can look at policies, procedures, departments, but what about people? Britz asked. “My thinking was to get the economists, faculty and invite them here for coffee. Just get a sense of the human face. That we shouldn’t let that go, or forget about it. It’s not just about policies, procedures, learning commissions, but it is the human part.”
Besides restructuring, the committee also discussed the proposed tax reform from the U.S. Congress.
Especially concerning to the committee were cuts to the Pell Grants program, along with graduate student remissions being taxable, and changes to donations.
“This is alarming,” said Britz. The proposed $3.3 billion cut to the Pell grants was not well received by the committee. According to Britz, 37 percent of UWM students receive Pell grants, a subsidy the Federal Governments provides to students who need it to help pay for college.
Graduate students remissions would also face taxes. Instead of their tuition being waived, graduate students remissions would instead count as income and therefore eligible for taxation.
“This is the bankrupt philosophy, giving money to all those poor investors that have to pay extra on their taxes, but then we’re going to go after these graduate students…,” said Schwartz.
Donors too are affected by the proposed tax reform, as they would have to donate a higher amount in order to have it be tax deductible.
“So it’s not supportive of higher education,” said Britz of the proposed tax reform. “If this goes through it will have huge implications.”