Trustees approve UW reorganization, no layoffs

CASPER — A major restructuring of academic programs at the University of Wyoming earned approval from the school’s board of trustees this week, but without layoffs and the deep budget cuts that were originally anticipated. 

The reorganization involves the movement and consolidation of various academic programs. It will occur in two waves, with the first round coming in July and the second scheduled for July 1, 2023, pending further revisions. 

School leaders first proposed major changes to Wyoming’s lone, four-year public university in July. The reorganization was driven, in part, by the need to cut the university’s budget and put it on a sustainable path. 

At the time, the changes were expected to save the university $13.6 million to address a drop in state funding while paying for new initiatives. Up to 75 layoffs were a possibility. 

But over the past several months, the process became less focused on budget cuts and more about modernizing the university and positioning it for the future, said UW spokesman Chad Baldwin. In the end, the reorganization will save the school about $2 million and will not result in layoffs at this time, though Baldwin did say they might become necessary at some point.

Those savings on their own won’t be enough to address the school’s budget issues or fund new initiatives like the establishment of a School of Computing. So the Office of Academic Affairs worked with the school’s academic deans to come up with a $5.3 million savings plan, Baldwin said. 

The deans told the administration that they could save money without laying off employees or eliminating departments. The current plan includes the elimination of 25 vacant faculty positions and another five staff positions. 

“They realized there were other ways to achieve savings that did not involve eliminating currently filed positions,” Baldwin said. 

Other savings include reducing travel budgets, possibly raising parking fees and refinancing housing bonds. 

Under the plan, the first part of the reorganization will occur in July. It involves, among other things, consolidating the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and consolidating the agricultural communications degree program with the Department of Communication and Journalism. 

Bigger changes are planned to occur starting in July 2023. According to the university, they include:

Moving the Department of Physics and Astronomy from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and consolidating that department with the Department of Atmospheric Science;  

Moving other physical sciences departments, such as chemistry and geology, from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and

Moving the Department of Zoology and Physiology, the Department of Botany and the Life Sciences Program from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 

“We wanted to improve the student experience,” Baldwin said. “We wanted to become a bigger force in the state when it comes to economic growth and diversification.”