About 100 faculty and staff positions sit vacant at the University of Wyoming to help account for $35 million in state budget cuts. Now with students returning, departments are going to find out if there are any rippling effects.
The English department has one of the greatest course loads on campus, teaching thousands of students every year.
The department offers required courses that many students must pass before continuing to their major-specific classes. While there are 25 core faculty to teach, they can’t cover everything, English Department Head Peter Parolin said.
In 2015, about 50 English courses were taught by part-time adjunct professors or full-time adjuncts with one-year contracts. Most of the faculty are already close to the standardized workload set by UW President Laurie Nichols of three courses one semester, two courses the other.
“Within English, people are close to that 3-2,” he said. “The professorial faculty in English are not across the board at that 3-2. It’s not because they’re off drinking martinis instead of teaching. Anybody who’s not on a 3-2 is not on a 3-2 because they have other corresponding duties the university needs, whether it’s running a graduate program or a writing center or running the synergy program. There are reasons — one of my faculty is chairing American Indian Studies.”
In the search for possibly hiring less part-time or adjunct instructors, Parolin wrote new job descriptions for every faculty member to determine their workload. Various reasons could then be applied to relax the requirements if a faculty member has other engagements, such as strong research requirements or chairing a committee.
“The university, right from central administration, was saying, ‘We recognize, and we want to name a lot of faculty work that is not simply teaching or research, and find a way and find a way to bring it into visibility,’” Parolin said.
After pouring through the various job descriptions and other work, Parolin said five more courses could be taught by faculty members and not by temporary hires — a far cry from the 50 already taught by temporary or adjunct professors.
“It’s great, and it’s a real savings, but it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “We’ll still have to turn to these temporary people.”
The Department of Chemistry has one open faculty member position and another empty office staff position, causing some difficulties in the department, Department Head David Anderson said.
“We’re still able to meet our teaching schedule, but not having as many people in the office does affect us,” he said. “Every department acted differently, and we didn’t dramatically change. We already teach a lot of classes.”
Similar to the English department, Chemistry teaches some key courses freshmen and sophomores need to advance in several majors. And unlike other departments, faculty teach every class and not graduate students.
“We’re meeting our undergraduate teaching mission,” Anderson said. “We’ve gotten money from Academic Affairs to keep the number of seats in our bottleneck classes as high as possible. I don’t think our students should see an impact.
“But in the next couple years, when faculty retire and if we cannot rehire — that’s where we can get to the point where we can’t teach,” Anderson continued. “That’d have a huge impact. We teach students in many different schools and many different majors.”
Mechanical Engineering also has open faculty positions, Department Head Carl Frick said.
“However, this did not significantly alter the Mechanical Engineering’s course offerings for next year,” he says via email. “We were able to rearrange our teaching resources to compensate.”
One possible problem is the increasing number of students.
“With the continued growth of the Mechanical Engineering undergraduate and graduate student populations, I suspect we may have to start offering courses less frequently (e.g., fewer available sections) than in past years,” he says. “We are working hard and thinking creatively to find solutions. Of course, the quality and content of our courses remain unaffected.”
While faculty are taking up some additional courses to compensate, Parolin said there aren’t enough faculty in the department to cover all of the entry-level courses. So, the department is still relying on temporary adjuncts to teach courses, which brings several problems of its own.
“If I need a specialist in some area, they’re likely not hanging around at Coal Creek,” he said. “I can’t just go down and ask people for a job.”
Because of the budget problem and the time it took to get a solid plan in place, it wasn’t until August when Parolin received approval to hire additional teachers.
“People need to get up to speed, people have to move their families, people need to move,” he said. “I’m worried that, in some instances, we won’t be able to fill them.”
One instance that caused panic in the department was when a position originally authorized to be filled was frozen to find the needed savings. Because it was approved, eight classes were advertised, and scores of students were enrolled.
“In the end, I internally reallocated courses that weren’t having as many students signing up,” Parolin said. “I would cancel and shift someone over to these key writing courses associated with this position. It means, overall, we had to turn some students away from classes they wanted and the total classes we offered went down. But, in the end, I decided I couldn’t wait until Aug. 10 to start trying to hire a technical and professional writing expert who I would put into four critical, high-intensity, high-maintenance courses on Aug. 29.”
While it can be a struggle to find ways to make the department run smoothly, Parolin said he understands the importance of the cuts.
“I do feel our central administration is doing everything they can do to be fiscally responsible, starting immediately, to comply with the (UW Board of Trustees’) wishes, the Legislature’s wishes, to give this state the best value for their dollar they can,” he said. “But I’m here at a department head level and saying — trying to make these radical changes in hiring and course scheduling in a tiny framework of time makes all kinds of other problems we’ll deal with this fall.’”
Even with the hiring freezes, early separation and retirement incentives and standardized workload, Nichols has identified about $16-17 million of the intended $19 million for this fiscal year. Another $15 million needs to be permanently eliminated from the budget in FY 2018.
“The people at the University of Wyoming, from the top levels to the on-the-ground people teaching, are remarkable in their commitment to doing everything possible to shield students from the effects of these cuts,” Parolin said. “However, when you have cuts that are ($35 million), students will ultimately be affected.”