Part 1: Members of SIAS faculty voice grievances to chancellor over apparent cuts

Faculty and students are airing their grievances as several teaching positions and classes were cut within the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences for the fall and winter quarters. In all, seven teaching positions were cut or unfilled and multiple curriculums — including Religious Studies and the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences — were either left with no classes to continue their program, or are uncertain about their ability to continue.

As a result, SIAS faculty sent Chancellor Mark Pagano a letter of concern on Nov. 20 —  a letter that was backed by almost the entire faculty at a vote of 69 in favor of sending a letter, zero against and one abstention. Within the letter, the faculty outlined how they understood the circumstances of the events leading up to the sending of the letter. There were also seven actions listed which they wanted Pagano to immediately take:

  1. Restore all of the resources needed for SIAS’s curriculum, one which serves our majors, the campus, and advances the university’s mission;
  2. Develop and support a transparent and inclusive budget process that coordinates curricular planning with resource allocation decisions;
  3. Commit to and schedule an open discussion with SIAS faculty over the wide-range of ways our School has been damaged over the last year.
  4. Launch an immediate investigation into the reasons for the 2019 budget crisis in SIAS and share the results of the investigation with the faculty in a timely and transparent matter;
  5. Consult with SIAS faculty in developing a process to remedy the procedural shortcomings that led to this summer’s debacle, and share the remedy with us;
  6. Embrace stronger,consistent consultation with the faculty on decisions at all levels of institutional governance that impact UW Tacoma’s ability to serve students, support scholarship and ensure equity in all campus affairs;
  7. Do everything necessary to fully restore the faculty’s confidence that shared governance and administrative decisions are made consistent with the spirit and substance of the Faculty Code.

Professor of Economics Katie Baird provided insight as to why the SIAS came to a decision to send a letter of concern to the chancellor.

“One of the things that really promoted this letter is the difficulty of us of getting a coherent picture, understanding, story of what happened and why,” Baird said. “And the answers that we have gotten have not lined up with what we have experienced. So, what we as faculty know is what we have experienced. What we hear is that, ‘well, it’s not really a budget cut,’ or different explanations that just don’t jive with what we know.”

The letter was also sent to the Executive Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jill Purdy, Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration Tye Minckler and Dean of SIAS Anne Bartlett.

While no public response had yet been issued by the administration, Minckler stated in an interview with the Ledger that there were mischaracterizations and misunderstandings within the letter about the events and the budgeting process, also saying that that is normal for this type of process. 

“We didn’t make any cuts,” Minckler said. “There is nothing new about resources not being available. I mean, if they weren’t available now, then they haven’t been available ever. So, I don’t know what’s changed in that regard. I think that the dean [Barthlett] may have misunderstood that … she is characterizing these as budget cuts. I think that is a mischaracterization. We did not cut the budget for that school.”

Minckler clarified that each school requests more money than what they receive, and this partial funding of the budget is not unique. With the most recent SIAS Faculty Council meeting on Dec. 4, there was discussion between the SIAS faculty representatives that these were not “budget cuts,” but rather partial funding of the budget.

The problems for SIAS started back to decisions made over the summer. SIAS members were made aware of such decisions in early August that the requested fiscal year 2019–2020 budget for SIAS was not completely met, catching many in SIAS off guard that there were problems with funding. 

Every year around the late fall and early winter quarters, the following year’s course catalog is planned out. However, from the time it is planned out to the weeks up to the start of the quarter, professors and funding can change. Within SIAS’s Politics Philosophy and Public Affairs, for example, four faculty members who were on the course list for 2019–2020 have since left, and the problem became the inability to fund their temporary replacements. 

The ultimate decision on which classes to cut came from Bartlett after a series of discussions with councilors on how it would impact students. The total list of classes cut include courses that were already known to not be offered, such as if a professor was going on sabbatical or were working on a grant.

“I was told that, you know, there was no more money, I had to cancel some classes,” Bartlett said. “Most of the classes were cancelled for low enrollment in kind of the usual way, but there were some classes we weren’t able to staff because we didn’t have the money.”

Students who had signed up for now-cancelled courses were left with less than a month to figure out their schedule, unsure of what to take. Many classes were already filled up and on a waiting list. Students have taken to voicing their frustrations, with some speaking out during the Nov. 25 Student Town Hall, hosted jointly by Pagano and ASUWT. Other students have taken to social media to express their concerns and frustrations. Some students started a Facebook group called Students United Against Cuts to Classes at UWT.

Through all of this, Pagano has stated that he was unaware this was happening until the beginning of October. 

“It would not ever occur to me that somebody would think that their budget was cut and they needed to cut 50 classes, because [the budget] wasn’t,” Pagano said. “That’s why I didn’t know that the summer started going forward and that school that cut classes got worried about something in their budget again, and inside their allocation they determined they needed to cut these classes. We didn’t ask them to or whatever.”

Despite the confusion all parties have expressed about the situation, one commonality that each side is saying is that they are working on this problem with the best interest of students in mind.

Part two of this story will be continued in the first issue of winter quarter, Issue 12. Pagano’s meeting with the entire SIAS during their faculty meeting on Dec. 6 will be included in Issue 12.