The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Makes Major Cuts Heading into 2024

By Briaunna KonzLindsey Kaat & Tania Antonio

The University of Wisconsin Green Bay recently announced they have surpassed over 10,000 students enrolled across their four campus locations. The enrollment rate has increased by seven percent, making them the fastest-growing university in the UW System. This is a huge reason for the university and staff to celebrate. However, with the increase in tuition and fees, universities and colleges all around Wisconsin are making some changes.

Majors and minors will be put on the pedestal due to the enrollment and market demand trends, staffing, workload, and other various reasons. Looking at the statistics, UWGB is still facing an annual deficit of over $2 million, which means an increase in tuition of 4.5 percent. To control costs, UWGB laid off nine staff members back in October. On top of that, UWGB is considering cutting majors in economics, environmental policy, theater, and dance, along with discontinuing minors in international environmental studies, geography, and physics.

Looking directly at the Theater major offered at the university, there are four areas of emphasis these students have enrolled in for years. These include Design/Technical Theatre, Musical Theatre, Performance, and Theatre Studies. Their mission statement below demonstrates how the students learn critical skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives, not just music. “The UW-Green Bay Theatre and Dance program is a community of professional artists, educators and students that provides professional training in the related performing arts of Theatre, Dance and Design in the context of a broad, liberal arts education. Our program offers high impact learning practices that cultivate creativity, critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration within and outside the program and delivers a rigorous academic and problem focused environment that seeks to produce work that challenges the mind, engages the heart and delights the senses.” This major has impacted many people’s lives in many ways.

Unfortunately, this has been a touchy subject to discuss with faculty and students in these specific departments. Therefore, we were unable to connect with many people who are involved directly in the program and who will be affected by these changes. The information that has been circulating has become rumors, with no one fully getting answers to all their critical questions.

Comments were made on a recent post made by the University of Wisconsin Green Bay on their LinkedIn page celebrating the increase in enrollment. Many of these comments were positive alumni reminiscing on their time at the university and how much it has grown, but many were expressing their opinions on this topic. One comment stated, “A theater major is not about being a working actor. Theater majors have gotten jobs in all kinds of industries: nonprofits, healthcare, sales, marketing, and the list goes on. It is not about being on stage. It is about the skills gained… Skills like communication, teamwork, adaptability, personal responsibility…many of these skills are lacking in our society due to such a focus on technology… Also, UWGB is one of the few, if not only, schools in the area that has an open acceptance policy…”. The person goes on to discuss how the acceptance policy means students do not have to audition to get into the program like most schools. Taking away this program would take away many opportunities for students who may not be able to audition or get into other programs at different schools. Being in the theatre program, students will learn a lot of useful tools for their future and being on stage. Cutting the theatre program will close the door to opportunities and lessen the acceptance rate of students. Another comment expressed their sadness by stating, “Not everyone goes into theater expecting to be on stage. It is about the skills, knowledge, and confidence gained. My theater arts/management combo set me up for success and I am sad to know future students will not have the same opportunity.”

Again, with this being such a sensitive topic and an overwhelming process for many staff and students at UWGB, numerous professors have refused to comment on this matter and prefer to refrain from it, as it may cause unemployment within the university. Students and staff could get a better glimpse, specifically at what is going on, what many professors are feeling, what is on their minds, what they have been told, and are being refrained from commenting. Rebecca Stone Thornberry, a professor at Form & Dance, said, “Unfortunately, I do not wish to comment on this matter as it relates to my employment with the University.” Leaving students enrolled in the Theater major and the Environmental Policy major with little to ultimately zero answers.

Benjamin Olejniczak, a music lecturer, stated, “Thank you for reaching out about the changes! I unfortunately cannot answer many of your questions at this time, but I can refer you to Tom Campbell (Theatre dept head) for comment. Apologies.” This has led to numerous emails being sent out to professors and students. Even so, after trying to contact the department head of the theatre, no one has gotten a single word from him.

UWGB’s Community Engagement and Outreach Coordinator, Paulina Chavira, said, “I would love to help, but in this situation, I prefer to refrain from commenting on this topic. I appreciate your understanding.” Many professors are refraining from commenting on the elimination of this subject. It may be due because of employment contracts that may include a provision protecting staff from firing them for making “untruthful” comments to outsiders.

Jay Rothman, the president of UW System, said, “Our mission is to serve the state of Wisconsin; we have been directing our resources for several years into high-demand fields, including engineering, nursing and health care, business areas, data and computer science, and so forth. The university has already delivered 15,000 graduates on an annual basis in Mathematics and Engineering as well as the healthcare space. Close to 40% in those stem areas.” As a result of this, this reflects a 30% increase in those areas over the last ten years. To better assist in those demands and budgeting, UWGB is “submitting a plan” for the use of workforce development in an effort to recoup $32 million that the state indeed cut from its budget this year. The reasoning behind it is to set aside for the workforce evolution master plan, regaining what was lost. “

Brian Wagenaar, a former alumnus at UWGB, states his concerns about the controversial issue. “I was upset about the prospect of UWGB cutting Economics, Theater & Dance, and Environmental Policy and Planning because I believe that as a public, midsize regional university, UWGB’s mission is to provide a wide array of options for students, whether they come from inside Brown County, northeast Wisconsin, or farther afield. Additionally, I think that universities should explore all possible options before cutting majors. This news is also tough because UWGB is touting its increased enrollment, which makes me question why these cuts are necessary and if there are other financial options that could be exercised.” Wagenaar states his valid thoughts on this issue and questions if the university should move forward with these changes.

Brian Wagenaar

Wagenaar was asked if this situation would impact him and or how it could impact other students. He stated, “As an alumni, it won’t have a huge material impact on me, but cutting my old major — Environmental Policy and Planning — wouldn’t be the greatest for my personal résumé worry that doing so could discourage environmentally minded students from attending UWGB, which could hurt environmental initiatives and progress on campus, including the Public and Environmental Affairs Committee (PEAC) and the local nonprofit Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, which has historically hired environmental students at UWGB as interns. “The issue will not impact Wagenaar personally. However, UWGB could risk losing students who want to pursue environmental studies.

Wagenaar also added, “Environmental Policy and Planning students have historically been leaders on campus, handling programs like plastic film recycling, campaigning for divestment, and hosting fun educational events and movie nights. It would be a shame if that was impacted by these proposed cuts. Finally, I worry that cutting economics, Theater, and dance will hurt students’ career readiness, weaken arts programs and activities on campus, and possibly pave the way for future program cuts. “

Lastly, Wagenaar was asked if he could provide any proposed solutions about UWGB diminishing their selected majors. He states, “I don’t have any hyper-specific solutions, but I think that UWGB needs to be really intentional in how it approaches this decision and ensure that it’s making the best decision for the current and future Phoenix students. “Although he did not provide a solution, he is looking out for the future Phoenix students who plan on attending UWGB.

Theater students performing at the Weidner Center

Based on these circumstances and hearing from faculty and former alumni, UWGB has a major decision to make. Cutting these majors will put a lot at stake. Moving forward, students who are currently enrolled in these programs will not be affected and can continue to finish their degrees. All new students will not be able to take the majors and minors being cut. However, even though a major or minor will not be offered in the future, it does not mean there will not be classes offered under that topic. Amongst all the anticipation from students and faculty, the final decision will be held in February regarding majors and minors being eliminated at UWGB.

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