Changes in academic programs are often precipitated by budget crises. But when faced with a 16 percent reduction in state appropriations in 2015, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire took a different approach.
With a goal of keeping degree programs intact, officials eliminated administrative positions, reduced support staff and trimmed back the number of full-time lecturers.
Centralization of services, such as advising and student support, was also part of the plan.
The strategies came out of the work of four groups dubbed Rapid Action Task Forces, says Chancellor James C. Schmidt.
LINK TO MAIN ARTICLE: 5 keys to navigating change in higher ed programs
Following open forums to discuss the budget reductions, more than 140 faculty members, staff and students volunteered to serve on the task forces.
They were charged with identifying ways to consolidate services and reduce costs while preserving and enhancing service to students. Some 75 participants were selected and given just four weeks to come up with recommendations.
“We looked for individuals who could think creatively, understood our mission and commitment to students, and who would help to champion our change ideas,” Schmidt says.
The resulting proposals were reviewed through shared governance and by executive administration, then paired with divisional budget recommendations.
Within a four-month period, the final strategies were put in place, and by the next fiscal year, the university was in the black.
“We found that giving the task forces a very specific timeline and a clear charge helped members stay focused,” Schmidt says. “People knew that while the work would be intense, it would be concentrated, and they were not obligated for months or years of service, as can happen with some committees.”
The effectiveness of the Rapid Action Task Force model prompted its use again during the past year when the state system restructured and asked the university to take on a new branch campus.
“It again worked well, bringing together diverse teams to find real solutions within a tight timeline,” Schmidt says.
Mark Rowh, a frequent contributor to UB, is a Virginia-based writer.