UW Proposes Transformation in Light of Budget Reductions, Changing Needs

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 3:33 PM CDT
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Laramie, Wyo. (Release) - Aiming to better serve Wyoming, adjust to economic shifts and respond to a changing higher-education landscape, the University of Wyoming is pursuing a transformation of its academic programs to propel new and ongoing initiatives and to deal with budget cuts.

A proposal from the administration of UW President Ed Seidel to the university’s Board of Trustees, announced today (Tuesday), would reconfigure UW’s colleges; discontinue or reorganize some academic programs; build on UW’s existing Tier-1 Engineering, Science and Trustees Education initiatives; advance the new Wyoming Innovation Partnership; and launch a School of Computing, a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and a Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative.

“The world, Wyoming and higher education are in the midst of major changes; UW must respond. In order to better serve our students and our state amid a significant decline in state funding, we must restructure to put UW on a sustainable path for the future,” Seidel says. “The goals of this plan are to enhance the student experience and train them for success; become a better engine for innovation and economic development; and develop new revenue streams.”

The plan, which will be presented in detail to the UW Board of Trustees during its meeting in Torrington this week, consists of these primary components:

Reconfiguration -- Reorganize UW’s academic colleges to create larger, more stable departments with common disciplinary interests while reducing redundancies.

Specifically, the plan calls for changing the College of Engineering and Applied Science to the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Currently in the College of Arts and Sciences, these departments -- Chemistry, Geology and Geophysics, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics and Astronomy -- would move to the newly named College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and become part of new academic units there.

Meanwhile, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources would become the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Moving to that college from the College of Arts and Sciences would be the departments of Botany, and Zoology and Physiology, as well as the Life Sciences Program.

The College of Arts and Sciences would become the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts -- bringing UW in line with the way many universities organize those disciplines.

“These reorganizations would expand and enhance two very important colleges central to our land-grant mission, focused on agriculture and engineering, better positioning the university to advance the Tier-1 Engineering and Science initiatives, and making its research programs more competitive in the federal science and technology ecosystem. They would provide additional critical mass, create new synergies and bring new opportunities for faculty members and students in all of the academic units housed in these colleges,” Seidel says. “At the same time, we would still have a very robust college focused on the arts, humanities and social sciences, which also are part of the land-grant charge -- and are at the core of a strong university education.”

New and ongoing initiatives -- The university also will propose new initiatives to advance its offerings in computing and digital literacy, needed for all students and all disciplines of study, such as precision agriculture, and central to supporting economic growth in Wyoming.

It will propose to launch a new School of Computing, as well as a campuswide Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) Initiative. These three linked initiatives are aimed squarely at training students in areas important for advancing key markets for the future economy of Wyoming, while propelling the new Wyoming Innovation Partnership.

The Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP) -- formerly the Wyoming Innovation Network -- is a new collaboration with the state’s seven community colleges endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon to develop innovative solutions that will support and enhance Wyoming’s economy and workforce. It includes an emphasis on focusing workforce development on high-potential areas; supporting and training entrepreneurs and new business startups; a research and market analysis agenda aimed at technology transfer and commercialization; and developing outside revenue sources such as corporate partnerships to provide new opportunities for students.

“WIP is about aligning all of higher education to work together on both training students, giving them skills to succeed in the new economy and creating jobs -- attracting companies and building the economy so students can stay in Wyoming,” says Seidel, who notes that WIP is pursuing funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and other potential federal sources. “We have an opportunity to truly move the needle for Wyoming’s economy as we collaborate with the community colleges, private and federal partners, and others.”

The proposed School of Computing is envisioned to be a statewide asset led by the university with statewide and national impacts and global reach. It would provide the organizational infrastructure and emphasis to accelerate the growth and impact of computing, artificial intelligence and data science at UW across research, teaching, entrepreneurship and engagement. The school would collaborate with all academic departments and UW Libraries, student success programs and discovery programs.

The CEI would serve as the hub for entrepreneurship education and practice, supporting the teaching of entrepreneurial skills across all disciplines; providing experiential programs for students; and engaging in statewide outreach. WORTH would serve the state’s second-largest economic sector by providing real-world experiences for students; courses, training and certificates via distance technologies to working professionals; outreach services such as market analyses and business incubation; and applied research in collaboration with industry.

Program elimination or consolidation -- Move, combine or eliminate a number of departments and programs, most with relatively small enrollments.

The proposed program reconfigurations and consolidations would increase critical mass of faculty and students into a smaller number of departments; reduce administrative overhead; better serve students; and organize better for research competitiveness and corporate partnerships. Certain programs with low enrollment would be eliminated.

The proposed changes would reduce expenditures by more than $13 million annually, as the university seeks to address budget cuts and restructure to better support its students and the state economy, and to grow new revenue streams. The restructuring and budget reduction would lead to the elimination of as many as 75 faculty and staff positions at the university, including up to 10 department heads. Programs that are not discontinued or reorganized, including UW-Casper, would receive a 3 percent budget reduction.

The proposed changes to academic programs have been informed by an in-depth review considering enrollment and graduation numbers; scholarly output; external grant funding; constitutional and statutory requirements; private support; and relevance to the state’s economy and goals. Students currently enrolled in programs eyed for discontinuation would be able to complete their degrees.

In the newly named College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the departments of Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering would be discontinued, but those degrees would continue to be offered under new academic units. Likewise, the Department of Chemical Engineering would be discontinued, but its degrees would be maintained under a reorganized unit that includes the current Department of Chemistry. From the current College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Geology and Geophysics would be reduced in size, and it would join the Department of Petroleum Engineering in a new unit to include geological sciences and preserve geological, geophysics and geosciences degrees.

From the current College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics would be consolidated with the Department of Economics in the College of Business; the program in agricultural communications would move to the Department of Communication and Journalism; and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences would be reduced, with the nutrition program moving to the College of Health Sciences, and the Early Care and Education Center moving to the College of Education.

In the current College of Arts and Sciences -- to become the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Art -- the Creative Writing Program would be consolidated into the Department of English; the Department of Visual and Literary Arts would be renamed to the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and add the departments of Music, and Theatre and Dance. The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies would be reduced. And the American Studies Program would move into the School of Gender, Culture and Social Justice, with a number of low-enrollment degree programs in that school combined into a single degree with various concentrations.

The School of Counseling, Leadership and Design would be discontinued in the College of Education, and the college would be reorganized.

A number of low-enrollment degree programs have been identified for discontinuation as well.

Academic program reorganizations, consolidations, reductions and discontinuances are governed by UW Regulation 2-13, which requires a period of review to seek feedback from stakeholders including the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate, the Associated Students of UW and other interested parties. This process is scheduled to be initiated this month by Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman, with the planned deadline for feedback Oct. 1. Under that timeline, the finalized academic reductions are slated to be presented to the trustees in November. More information can be found at www.uwyo.edu/acadaffairs/program-review/current/index.html.

“It is never easy to restructure or eliminate academic programs and positions. The faculty positions being considered for elimination are filled by real people who work hard for this university, and the magnitude of what we are proposing is, as far as we can tell, unprecedented in the university’s modern history,” Carman says. “But, the situation we face as a university, with a 25 percent drop in state funding in recent years and a need to respond to changing times, necessitates a reconsideration of the way we’re structured and what we offer. Our proposal will now go through the collaborative review process directed by university regulation, and we will consider all input in an effort to assure the best possible outcomes.”

Carman notes that specific reductions to programs focused on statewide outreach, such as UW Extension and the university agricultural research and extension centers, are not part of the proposal.

The university absorbed a $42.3 million reduction in the current biennium, accomplished by eliminating about 80 unfilled positions; centralizing budget, facility and operational activities; a utility cost savings initiative; one-time use of reserves; and other efficiencies.

In addition to the changes noted above, the university is considering an across-the-board reduction for academic programs and administrative offices; cost-saving measures related to end-of-appointment sick leave; reduction of sick-leave accruals; centralizing administrative functions; and restructuring debt. UW also is seeking approval to increase parking fees.

“We are committed to making UW a best-in-class, 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots, and that means taking bold steps even during a time of financial distress,” Seidel says. “We look forward to our discussions with the Board of Trustees and our many constituents to refine our plans to serve the best interests of our students and the people of Wyoming.”

More details of the administration’s proposal are available in the materials prepared for the Board of Trustees’ July 13-16 meeting, which may be found at www.uwyo.edu/trustees/2021-meeting-materials/july_13-16_2021_meeting.html.

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