R1 is as R1 Does: L&S Budget Cutting Practices Threaten both Governance & Quality

As we take a moment to celebrate our recent R1 status and the successful no confidence vote in President Cross and BOR, there is still much to be concerned about…Beware the budget cutting committees!

Over the last year UWM has faced numerous budget crises related to the confluence of historic cuts in state aid and declines in enrollment. Together these have contributed to a roughly $40 million operating deficit for the campus as a whole, and a $5 million operating deficit in UWM’s largest college: Letters & Science.

In response to the budget situation, campus administration has put pressure on L&S to address its deficit over three years. We maintain that the degree of cuts that are occurring in the College and the time frame for these cuts will do irreparable harm and threaten both our R1 designation and dual research and access missions as well as our ability to remain a community engaged university.

We also object to the L&S ad hoc committee that was formed this year to address these cuts.  Although we recognize the dire budget situation in the College and the urgent need to address the budget situation, UWM AAUP maintains several objections to the composition of the committee, its charge, and the current actions taken by this non-governance committee:

1)      This committee operates outside shared governance bodies, yet its charge, focus and recent decisions have huge implications for reshaping the College and University and impacting university employees and program array.  In addition, the composition of this committee is unrepresentative of the breadth of units in the College and should be broadened to reflect the full range of interests that are affected.

2)      Decisions made by this committee have been made without formal adoption by any governance group, and no written record has been established that lays out the rationale or nature of those decisions.

For example: the committee has defined certain principles that are guiding their work, such as the idea that the core of the College is made up of departments and that programs and centers remain outside this core and thus are expendable and will lose College support. A direct action drawn from this logic (which was never publicly debated or approved by any governance body and which goes against key principles identified in UWM’s mission) has been the defunding of all academic research centers, to zero out their 101 funding support from the College.  Such a dramatic cut would threaten the very existence of most centers and will likely lead to layoffs of academic staff who work in those centers.

3)      This committee is deliberately operating in a non-transparent way. For example, no agendas or minutes have been posted since its inception despite repeated requests. College administration has repeatedly stated that decisions have not been made when center directors have been told otherwise and required to meet before the committee.  In response to concerns about this committee, Dean Swain has said any decisions made by the L&S ad hoc budget cutting committee would go through the APGC, but to date nothing has come before the APGC related to this committee’s decisions.

4)      The logic applied by this committee is precisely the approach taken by the Board of Regents regarding its new tenure policy and using the broader financial basis for program discontinuance rather than the narrower and more appropriate academic basis that faculty and AAUP advocated for and continue to support. In other words, the decision to defund/eliminate centers rests purely on a financial basis; it is not a reflection of poor performance or relevance as defined by some metric, but simply the fact that it is a center and in this budget environment based on the principles the committee has adopted that privilege departments, centers are considered a luxury the College can no longer afford.

5)      The decision to single out centers for defunding/elimination is entirely non-strategic and inconsistent with UWM’s mission and often-stated goals to be more cost-efficient.  Centers in the College work with hundreds of community partners (e.g. CED, CLACS), are engaged in community development work to address urban problems and provide policy expertise in the region (e.g. CED), represent an important source of student scholarships and support (e.g. CLACS, CED, C21), provide high levels of visibility in the community through their work and events (e.g. CLACS, CED, C21, Jewish Studies), foster collaboration and interdisciplinary research such as the authorship of books, fellowships, speakers, disciplinary cross-fertilization (e.g. C21, CLACS, CED, Jewish Studies), and represent an important source of gifts, grants, and contract revenue (e.g. CLACS, Jewish Studies, CED).  These centers are important for recruitment of faculty and graduate students and a form of distinction for UWM.  To put it bluntly: the decision to defund L&S research centers is reckless and should be stopped before this committee does irreparable harm to UWM.

6)      Academic research is supported through 101 funds in other ways beyond centers in the College, such as through financial support for labs and lab supplies, but little or no attention has been directed at cutting these funds.  Why not other research activities on campus?  Where is the data for these expenditures?  Why only the focus on centers? Before dramatic cuts are made to research centers that threaten our R1 status, a full accounting of all research expenditures should be undertaken.

7)      The decision to defund centers is not following the approach that already exists to evaluate and discontinue centers, one that was actually approved by governance bodies after years of work by faculty and governance groups (Document S-71 RESEARCH CENTERS AND INSTITUTES APPROVAL AND EVALUATION PROCEDURES)

http://www4.uwm.edu/secu/faculty/senate/agendas/15-16/upload/S71-Research-Centers-Institutes-approval.pdf

This committee, therefore, constitutes a violation of UWM’s well-established protocols of shared governance, and is pursuing actions harmful to the university and College without respect to public debate and our culture of shared governance. These actions to defund centers (and possibly programs in the future) threaten UWM’s dual mission and sacrifice our community engagement and visibility.  They ignore the impact on alumni and donors and the ability to generate grant and contract revenue, as well as the significance of scholarly collaboration and interdisciplinary research, our recently achieved R1 status, and the importance of a diverse array of programming, particularly for underserved students and underrepresented fields. They also fail to recognize the many ways in which the contributions of our academic centers are intertwined with the work of our departments, and the damage that will be done to the latter by defunding the former.  Finally, these decisions to defund centers will also impact our ability to recruit students and faculty and maintain areas of prestige and distinction in the College consistent with our newly designated R1 status.

For these reasons, we demand the following:

  • Do not defund/eliminate academic research centers. Instead, follow existing procedures for evaluating centers; any budget cutting that goes beyond proportional cuts should be strategic with reference to UWM’s mission as a key criterion as well as the notion that a “whole UWM is better.”
  • Utilize existing shared governance bodies to consider any recommendations proposed in the L&S ad hoc committee.
  • The L&S ad hoc committee should have broader representation to include center and program directors.  In addition, we request that an AAUP committee member be included on this committee similar to what Chancellor Mone agreed to for CCOET.
  • Post both agendas and minutes to meetings of ad hoc budget cutting groups and follow legal procedures for ad hoc committees.  If the L&S ad hoc committee wishes to invoke its legal authority to go into closed session under Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(1), as it has done, it must follow the attendant legal obligations for governmental bodies under Wis. Stat. sec. 19.83 and 19.84.
  • Provide full disclosure of all data that is being used to inform discussion and recommendations, and a fuller breakdown of costs within the College.  These data should be made public in an easily accessible place such as on the main page of the L&S website.  We also call on the Dean and his committee to present data on all College research subsidies with 101 funds to examine the full extent of research costs and College support for them.
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