OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh faculty, staff, and students marched across campus Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns about layoffs and furloughs at the university.

At the beginning of August, university officials announced that they are staring down an $18 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. To address this, they will cut around 200 non-faculty staff and administration positions through layoffs and early retirement buyouts. The university wrote on its website it plans to notify all employees who will get laid off by the end of October.

UWO employees will also be required to take furlough days. The number of furlough days will depend on their salary with higher earners required to take more days. The furloughs began this semester.

For more information on what the university is calling its ‘institutional realignment plan’ please click here.

University officials have also blamed reductions in state funding and declining student enrollment for their current budget situation.

“For a very long time this state has ignored higher education,” said UWO professor Merlaine Angwall.

Many people aren’t happy about this plan and that’s why dozens of students, faculty, and staff marched through campus on Tuesday waving signs and chanting.

The march began at the Culver Family Welcome Center, went out to Wisconsin Street then Algoma, and made a brief stop at Sage Hall before continuing past the administration building and ending near the university’s library. Organizers said their frustration with the administration has now boiled over into action.

“This approach (the furloughs and layoffs) is going to degrade educational quality for our students,” said UWO professor Stephanie Spehar. “We want a different approach one that is created in collaboration with faculty and staff. I really care about my students and their right to a quality liberal arts education.”

Employees said the furloughs mean that many instructors are forced to take on extra course loads. In some cases, they said instructors have to teach courses outside of their areas of expertise. There are also concerns that the furloughs will mean fewer course offerings and research opportunities for students.

“We agree that increased teaching loads should be used as a temporary measure to address our
financial situation,” wrote university officials in a response to a memo from the faculty group upset about the layoff and furlough plan.

University officials said that instructors should expect at least a 21-credit course load this academic year and a 24-credit course load for the 2024-2025 season. He said the goal is to get instructors back to their normal course loads by the spring 2025 semester.

Many students showed up to the rally and said they feel terrible about what the administration has put their professors through and are worried that this is compromising their education. They said they wanted to be here in solidarity with their professors.

“Faculty that I spoke to are really stressed out at the idea of increased workload and reduced staff because it puts more pressure on already busy and hardworking people,” said UWO grad student Shawna Jackson. “To find out they might also have to teach outside their area of expertise is also disappointing for students and staff because the quality of education will be impacted.”

“For everybody who works here this is a very difficult time,” said Spehar. “There are people who don’t know if they’ll have a job in a couple months.”

Many people who attended the rally also told Local Five News they believe that more administrators should be subject to layoffs than other staff because of potential cost savings associated with their higher salaries.

UWO’s faculty senate sent university officials a list of eight things that they want to see happen moving forward.

  • The Chancellor will prioritize cuts to administrative positions and salaries over instructional/student support positions and salaries.
  • The Chancellor and Provost will recognize that Instructional Academic Staff are indispensably necessary to realize a research-enhanced University.
  • The Chancellor will commit to more meaningful and more widely recognized shared governance norms. This includes, but is not limited to the Faculty Senate, the Senate of Academic Staff, the University Staff Senate, and the Oshkosh Student Association each having a representative position in the Chancellor’s Cabinet.
  • Increasing teaching loads should be recognized by the Chancellor and Provost as a harm to academic quality, and contrary to UW Oshkosh policy.
  • Clarity will be provided by the Chancellor and Provost about workload and working conditions for faculty who remain, to build trust and to inform people about their careers.
  • A viable part-time option should be available for faculty who wish to go to lower than full-time status to continue voluntary reductions of payroll.
  • Probationary and furloughed faculty will have the opportunity to request adjustments to tenure and renewal review periods.
  • The Administration will pledge to provide full and clear budgetary information to faculty and staff leaders from now on so that warnings can be sounded and steps taken well before we face another fiscal disaster.

These eight items also appear on a petition posted online by AFT-Wisconsin. University officials did respond to each of these bullet points.

UWO faculty and staff have also been critical of university administration for not meaningfully including them in major decision making.

“There is a lack of trust,” said Spehar. “I think it’s fixable I think if we’re invited in to have conversations. Real conversations about what this institution can and should look like and if this administration chooses to listen to us and integrate into these processes I think we can begin the process of rebuilding that trust. Listen to faculty staff and students we are the frontline workers at this university.”

“The Chancellor remains strongly committed to shared governance and led off his Convocation
remarks with a reaffirmation of that commitment,” wrote university administrators in response to the memo from the faculty senate. “This summer, we shifted the regular meeting of shared governance leadership to a weekly basis to ensure regular updates on our financial
situation and IRP to that group. We believe that these regular updates are the best, most
appropriate way to maintain the commitment to shared governance and recognize the
independence of Faculty Senate.”

“Including shared governance in the Chancellor’s Cabinet would blur these lines and erode the healthy tension necessary for proper checks and balances. Lastly, the Chancellor encourages faculty senate leadership to share their vision of the university with the UWO community but believes that should be communicated separately from the fall Convocation ceremonies.”

UWO officials wouldn’t make any administrators available for an in-person interview.