In response to the recent non-renewal letters that had been sent out to faculty members, many students at UWG have voiced their disagreement and strong disapproval towards the University’s methods.
The University of West Georgia is currently facing a budget crisis, which is due to a decline in enrollment of undergraduate first-year freshmen this year, according to university officials.
Indeed, according to a semester enrollment report for Fall 2019 by the University System of Georgia (USG), 13,238 students are currently enrolled at UWG, compared to 13,733 students in Fall 2018. The Percent Change in Enrollment is estimated at -3.6 percent.
The number of freshmen students enrolled for this current Fall 2019 amounts to 2,833, while UWG received 3,346 incoming freshmen in Fall 2018. There are exactly 513 fewer freshman students compared to last year.
During the open forum meeting held at the Campus Center Ballrooms on Nov. 11, concerning the university’s current budget crisis, the Executive Vice Chancellor for the fiscal year of 2020 Tracy Cook explained how UWG is funded by the state.
Cook presented the Funding Formula, in which the first part of an institution’s budget originates from the state, and the second part directly from Tuition.
The University System has been operating under this formula funding system for more than 30 years since it was developed in 1982 and implemented in the Fiscal 1984 budget request.
The total funding is based on instruction, research, community education, and public service expenditures.
Education represents 55% of the state’s budget. The University System of Georgia was provided with $ 26.6 billion to share among its 26 institutions, including UWG. As part of the allocation among the 26 institutions, UWG received about $ 67 million from the state to support teaching and infrastructure. The second-largest part of UWG’S budget comes from tuition totaling $64.3 million, according to Cook.
Due to the decline in student enrollment, there is a gap in the money coming from tuition, and a need to change the number of staffing and faculty to educate the lower number of students.
“Less Student less revenue,” said Cook.
Upon hearing about the non-renewal letters, UWG students were outraged.
Mass Communication Assistant Professor Kelly Williams was one of the faculty members who received non-renewal notices. She received a lot of support from her students after sharing her desolation via a Facebook post. Her statement was shared on the Facebook page called “UWG Students Stand in Solidarity with Professors,” created by students.
The students attended several Faculty Senate Meetings, including one on Nov. 8, 2019. They protested the non-renewal notices through several Signature campaigns at Starbucks and attended the budgetary discussion at the President’s Budget forum on Nov. 11, where they voiced their concerns and read the Collective Undergrad Statement.
As of right now, 331 undergraduate students signed the “Collective Undergrad Statement” that was shared on Google Document in support of the faculty members who received the letters.
“Protect Professors at the University of West Georgia” is an online petition started by UWG student Jordan Norbraten that has already gathered more than 341 signatures, with a goal to reach 500 signatures.
(The petition: https://assets.change.org/photos/9/st/ar/NesTarpTeIICVDu-800×450-noPad.jpg?1573540529)
During the meeting on the budget crisis, UWG Interim President Dr. Michael Crafton claimed that the non-renewal letters to an undisclosed number of professors were sent out to meet campus deadlines according to policy. Both UWG Interim President Dr. Michael Crafton and Interim Provost David Jenks issued apologies for the way the letters were distributed, for the “miscommunication,” and lack of clarity to the students and faculty members regarding the budget crisis. However, the UWG officials insisted that the non-renewal letters are not terminations, but simple precautions as a plan to prepare for budget cuts.
Students are mostly concerned that some classes will no longer be offered if faculty are cut, which would retard some graduation dates. Additionally, they are also reluctant to see their professors go.
Makeline Taylor is a Mass Communications Major with a concentration in public relations who shared her deep respect for her professors.
“I truly hope you reconsider your decision. I hope you come to a different alternative,” said Taylor. “How do you expect one professor to carry the weight of an entire concentration? … How do you plan to make sure the students are properly challenged in receiving the education they expect and deserve?”
“We are not ok with this,” said a senior Psychology Major student. “We are not ok with the remainder of our fine professors having to take up slacks, we are not ok with overcrowding classrooms, limited choices, and being thought by an overburdened staff.”
“We are dedicated to our professors just as much as they are dedicated to us,” said another undergraduate student at the forum.
“We need all of our professors,” said another undergraduate.
In response to students’ concerns, UWG officials pledged to hold future meetings regarding budget and faculty cuts and are considering alternative measures for the budget cuts, but the priority is on “limiting the impact on students, faculty, and staff,” according to Dr. Crafton.
“We are analyzing what has happened with our enrollment and putting new strategies through a collaborative response model,” said Dr. Jenks. “Leaders and departments across campus are taking joint ownership in this effort.”
To respect the students’ demand to be informed of every step of the decision-making process, a link to an anonymous UWG FY21 Budget Survey has been shared to all UWG emails and on course den, for students to ask questions, provide comments and further voice their concerns.
For the year 2020 and beyond, the goal now is to focus on enrollment strategies to recruit more students, and students will be provided with updates in a few weeks or so concerning this issue.
UWG Interim President Dr. Michael Crafton announced Wednesday his resignation from the president position, effective at the end of the fall semester on Dec. 16. He will return to his original department, English, for spring 2020, and retire officially in May. Retirements were asked at earlier meetings to help off-set the budget issues. This could mean his salary can be used to fill the budget gap.
To learn more about the student enrollment in the Fall 2019 and Fall 2018, visit: https://www.usg.edu/assets/research/documents/enrollment_reports/SER_Fall_18_Final_11072018.pdf and https://www.usg.edu/assets/research/documents/enrollment_reports/SER_Fall_19_Final.pdf
To learn more about the funding formula, visit: https://www.usg.edu/research/digest/1997/formula.html
Photo Credits: https://www.facebook.com/saveuwg/?modal=admin_todo_tour
Alma Beauvais is The WOLF's News Director and current junior of Mass Communications at the University of West Georgia.