OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – For the first time, we’re hearing from UW Oshkosh professors after an announcement that mass layoffs and furloughs at the university are imminent.

“Our chancellor came in with happy talk that coming to a university should be a place of joy and that workplace joy was one of his bedrock commitments,” said David Siemers. “Well, he just brought a lot of workplace pain.”

Siemers teaches political science at the university and also is the president of the American Federation of Teachers for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. In this role, he represents and advocates for his co-workers at the university.

“We’re the conscious of the university we look out for educational quality when administrators have to think about the bottom line and budget cuts,” said Siemers.

On Thursday afternoon, university officials announced that to begin the process of shrinking an $18 million budget deficit they will shed over 200 non-faculty staff and administrators through layoffs and early retirement buyouts. The university will require all employees to take furlough days as well starting during the fall semester.

The university will determine the number of furlough days an employee has to take by their salary level.

University officials said reduced enrollment, inflation, and less state funding have cornered them into making these very difficult decisions. They said they hope to get rid of the budget deficit by 2026.

UW System officials approved a 5 percent tuition increase this year, but UW Oshkosh officials said it’s not enough to close the $18 million deficit.

Siemers said he and his co-workers are still trying to process the bad news.

“Moral is low, shock and sadness,” said Siemers.

“The people we have briefed prior to they were sobered by the news, but at the same time people understand what the situation is and understand that this is a difficult thing to do but it’s necessary,” said UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt.

Siemers said one of the more difficult parts of the whole situation is that right now they don’t know when the layoffs will happen or who will get cut.

He said he wishes that administrators would have let faculty and staff be more involved in the decision-making process. He also said it’d be nice if there was a better relationship between administrators and faculty and staff.

“The chancellor and others have been saying that bad news is coming, but we had no idea how bad it would be,” said Siemers.

“Our region is counting on us, they will see our commitment to realizing a viable and durable UWO for decades to come,” said Chancellor Leavitt.

In a statement, the American Federation of Teachers said in part:

“The layoffs, furloughs and higher teaching loads announced today by administration at UW – Oshkosh represent a shameful failure of our state to provide educational resources in line with what our students need and what our state needs. When we have billions of dollars in surplus and our university system receives a cut in funding to advance the ideological agenda of far-right Republicans in the legislature, that’s a political decision to strip away the resources working people across Wisconsin need to ensure they can meet their goals through higher education. We fear that other campuses will wrongly choose to solve this funding problem with further layoffs, and our members will organize to prevent that from happening.”

American Federation of Teachers