Budget cuts create challenges

UW-Eau Claire faces $4.5 million of budget cuts; Lack of money making it more difficult for students to get into required courses and increases class sizes


Photo by Anna Mateffy-The Spectator

Junior Molly Dunlap pages through a UW-Eau Claire course catalog. Thanks to budget cuts to the UW System, the university must compensate with bigger class sizes and less of them, making it more difficult for students to register for required courses. – Photo by Anna Mateffy

Story by Nick Erickson, Courtney Kueppers, Kristina Bornholtz, Editor in Chief, Managing Editor, News Editor

Editors note: Peter Hart-Brinson’s quote, “The university wants students to be quiet, but we want students to be pissed. We want them to stand up,” is directed at the state government, not the university administration. 

Donning the iconic blue and gold rugby shirt, Casie Kamph has dedicated much of her college career to showing off Wisconsin’s most beautiful campus to future Blugolds as a campus ambassador.

However, even being the university’s best and brightest, like Kamph, doesn’t guarantee you a spot in your senior level classes when registration season rolls around.

Kamph, like many other students, dealt with these frustrations this fall and fought tooth and nail to earn a seat in her capstone English class, which is her last required course in the subject matter before graduation.

“Where does the line get drawn of when it starts affecting your students, and when your students start to be unhappy with what’s happening?” she said. “Because of how much I care about this university and how much I care about my job, it was really hard for me to give a tour at that time because I was just so unhappy with what was going on.”

According to a general fund budget sheet distributed by Chancellor James C. Schmidt’s office to faculty and staff, the university is running a $4,532,043 deficit.

Currently, enrollment at UW-Eau Claire is down about 400 less students since the 2010-11 school year. Because Gov. Scott Walker has a tuition freeze on the UW System, this deficit is going to result in cuts across the university in the next two years to balance the budget.

Students need to know their classes are going to be harder to get into and they are going to be more crowded when they do get there, Peter Hart-Brinson, sociology professor, said of the looming budget cuts.

The university ideally wants the departments and colleges to absorb a relatively small cut each without anyone noticing, Hart-Brinson said, noting some will add seats without students noticing, others will not.

“The university wants students to be quiet, but we want students to be pissed,” Hart-Brinson said.  “We want them to stand up.”

Some faculty and staff members will be “standing up” tomorrow by wearing black in solidarity with those losing their jobs due to cuts. This will come on a day originally planned to wear festive holiday attire across campus.

Last year the university received $2,044,260 from the state, which was up 7.4 percent. However, health insurance rates went up $2,008,000. Ultimately, employment rates are rising due to climbing healthcare costs, therefore money given to the university from the state is spent on those costs.

Additionally, the university enrolled 222 less students than expected in this year’s freshman class. Of those students, 204 were resident tuition students and 18 were from non-resident enrollment states, which cost the university $1,494,600.

For Schmidt, these cuts come as no surprise. Immediately following the governor’s decision to implement the tuition freeze in April 2013, Schmidt knew these cuts were inevitable.

“I knew at that point that we would have to permanently address the structural account that had occurred,” he said.

Hart-Brinson said it is important to note these cuts are a result, to some extent, of the hand the university has been dealt.

“The problem could go away if the legislature would decide the UW System deserves more tax dollars,” Hart-Brinson said.

Schmidt said decreasing the deficit will come as a combination of decreasing expenses and increasing revenue. He said ideally, efforts to increase enrollment will be successful and work alongside budget cuts to recover lost ground. In addition, he said he believes making more specific cuts within academic affairs will be more beneficial than making even cuts across the board.

The largest amount of the budget cuts, $3.2 million, will come from academic affairs: the four colleges within the university. Of that $3.2 million, the College of Arts and Sciences will consume $1.7 million in cuts over the next two years: $800,000 in cuts next year and $900,000 the following. This means professors will have to do “more with less,” Hart-Brinson said.

Senior Dustin Quinn, a business administration major and English minor, had an overfill writing workshop class this semester that saw four more students than there were seats.

He said a major appeal of coming to Eau Claire was the small class size with the ability to ask questions in class and develop a personal relationship with his professors and students.

Like Kamph, he was in a similar situation when registering for classes for what is expected to be his final semester on campus. But of the three senior capstone courses he could have taken, all the seats filled before he could log on to MyBlugold CampS.

Although he was able to find his way into one of these classes, failure to get in would have resulted in him delaying his graduation because those courses are only offered in the spring. The English department did not open up another section of any of these three.

“If I have everything mapped out to where I should be able to graduate in four, I should be able to graduate in four years,” Quinn said. “I think they should accommodate us instead of us accommodating them. We’re the ones paying for these classes, so it would be nice if we could get out in a timely manner.”

Until the Wisconsin legislature, where Gov. Walker’s tuition freeze has widespread support, meets following the first of the year and makes further budget decisions Schmidt and his administration are being proactive.

“I’m not the smartest person in almost any room I’m in,” he said. “But if the team and others can come together to work through these issues, I have no doubt that this institution will be far stronger when we are completed with all this good work.”