MILWAUKEE — Dozens of educators, students and their supporters held a protest on Marquette University's campus on Wednesday, criticizing the university over its decision to cut jobs and classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Three professors outlined their stance in a statement leading up to the protest. Their issues with the university began when 39 employees were terminated from their positions this year. Then on Feb. 15, the university announced 240 fewer classes will be offered in the fall semester, a decision protesters say has resulted "in layoffs of substantial numbers of Non-Tenure Track faculty."
Marquette University in a statement instead described it as resulting in fewer non-tenure-track faculty annual contracts being renewed.
"While the university has played semantic games to avoid calling these layoffs what they are, they will have severe consequences for students and the university at large," professors Sonia Barnes, Stephen Beall and Elaine Spiller write.
The protesters allege the university decided to make the cuts while having a $12 million budget surplus and $9.7 million in taxpayer-funded stimulus aid.
During their picket line outside Zilber Hall on campus Wednesday, the protesters demanded the university reinstate the 39 employees who had been terminated and halt efforts to lay off non-tenure-track faculty.
Marquette University meanwhile explained its position in a statement Wednesday. The university says institutions of higher education were forced to cut 650,000 jobs last year because of the pandemic.
"Guided by our Catholic, Jesuit mission, Marquette faculty and staff worked together this past fall to mitigate our own financial challenges — we were able to limit workforce reductions without impacting tenured and tenure-track faculty," according to the statement.
Marquette continues that there is a direct relationship between the number of enrolled students, course sections and the annual non-tenure-track contract process.
The university cites a 16 percent smaller incoming class last fall compared to the previous year, the smallest class in two decades.
That in turn means the number of classes available the next academic year will decrease, the university says, resulting in fewer non-tenure-track faculty annual contracts being renewed.
"Marquette is committed to keeping class sizes small to create a supportive learning environment for students. We will continue to be responsible financial stewards, which includes ensuring the university’s ability to persevere during national emergencies and keeping a Marquette education accessible to all students," according to the statement.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse's fall 2020 report, undergraduate enrollment is down 4.4 percent in 2020 compared to the year before, while graduate enrollment is up 2.9 percent during the same period.
Overall postsecondary enrollment is down 3 percent compared to the same time last year, the report found.