Stars could go dark to conserve class sizes

Physics and astronomy department considers closing planetarium after state budget cuts



The L.E. Phillips Planetarium may close due to proposed state budget cuts to the UW System.

Story by Nate Beck, News Editor

The UW-Eau Claire physics and astronomy department is considering closing the L.E. Phillips Planetarium to the public next year to compensate for proposed cuts announced in the Wisconsin state budget, Feb. 3.

Lauren Likkel, planetarium director and physics and astronomy professor, said the department may close the planetarium to prevent larger class sizes.

“This is the only place we had left to draw from,” Likkel said.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed a plan inside the 2015-17 state budget, Feb. 3, to slash $300 million from the UW System over the next two years, on top of a two-year tuition freeze.

The physics and astronomy department won’t plug two unfilled full-time positions, after a College of Arts and Sciences hiring freeze ahead of the proposed cuts, Likkel said.

Likkel teaches science classes at Eau Claire, but “release time” allows her to run the planetarium part-time in lieu of teaching. Cutting the program could free Likkel and other faculty to teach more class sections, which could reduce class sizes, she said.

“Are we going to have intro physics classes with 120 students or 60?” Likkel said. “Either courses become much larger, or we close the planetarium.”

If administrators clear the plan to close the planetarium, Eau Claire won’t open the space to the community on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings next year, although the department will still use the planetarium to teach classes. Sessions will be free through May 16, Likkel said.

Currently, four Eau Claire students work paid positions at the planetarium, but those part-time jobs would evaporate if the department decides to close the program.

As of about 4 p.m. Friday, a message on the main page of the The L.E. Phillips Planetarium website stated it would close to the community May 16. As of 6:30 p.m., that message was deleted.

Eau Claire administrators stressed in a press release Friday, that a decision to close the space has not been made.

“Announcements recently were made via social media that UW-Eau Claire’s L.E. Phillips Planetarium will close May 16 due to budget cuts. These announcements are premature,” according to the release. “The university continues its process of determining ways to meet its share of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 state budget reduction to UW System, but no specific decisions have been made regarding cuts in response to the proposed reduction.”