UW-Oshkosh layoffs, furloughs announced to shrink $18M deficit

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Officials at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh plan to lay off scores of employees, offer early retirement deals and impose furloughs as they grapple with a projected $18 million deficit, Chancellor Andrew Leavitt announced Thursday.

Ten of the UW System's 13 four-year campuses are expected to face a combined $60 million deficit by next summer, system officials announced in May. UW leaders have blamed declining enrollment, a lack of state funding and a seven-year tuition freeze that drained their reserves for the shortfalls.

"We need a new, bold action to reduce expenses," Leavitt said during a Zoom news conference. "Our approach faces reality head-on."

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Leavitt's plan calls for shedding around 200 staff and administrators through a combination of layoffs and early retirement buyouts. It also calls for all employees to take furlough days starting this fall, with higher-paid employees taking longer furlough periods. Leavitt didn't offer additional details.

Campus officials don't plan to cut any faculty positions, Leavitt said. They want to shield students from the deficit's impact, he said.

UW System data indicates drastic enrollment drops by "non-underrepresented" students. They're defined as students who are white, international students, or those with family heritage in Asian countries well-represented in the student body—such as China, Korea, and Japan.

Enrollment by those students fell around 20%, from almost 160,000 in the fall of 2010 to just under 130,000 in the fall of 2022.

System officials decided in December to close UW-Richland Center, a two-year campus, after enrollment there dropped by 90%. Enrollment at UW-Oshkosh stood at about 15,000 students during the 2022-23 academic year, according to the university's website, but Leavitt said campus officials project that figure will drop by about 3% this fall.

Republican lawmakers in 2021 lifted a tuition freeze they imposed in 2013, giving regents the freedom to pull more money from students. The regents approved a systemwide 5% tuition increase in March, but UW-Oshkosh officials say it won’t be enough to close their deficit.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed a $305 million increase for the system in his 2023-25 budget. Rather than tapping the state's $7 billion surplus, Republican lawmakers cut the system by $32 million, the amount of money the GOP believes the system spends on efforts to increase diversity and equity on campus.

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UW System Jay Rothman said during Thursday's news conference that chancellors at those schools are working on their own plans to address their respective shortfalls. He did not elaborate.

Democratic legislators blamed Republicans for forcing UW-Oshkosh to take drastic actions.

"They (Republicans) got what they wanted: staff losing their jobs, and our public university once again suffering under GOP attacks," Sen. Kelda Roys of Madison said in a statement. "The UW System needs to be fully funded and should never have been put in this position."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, the Legislature's top Republicans, didn't respond to an email seeking comment.