UW budget proposals could be beneficial

Administrators concerned over deep cuts


Photo by Submitted

Story by Glen Olson, Chief Copy Editor

Gov. Scott Walker outlined budget proposals aimed at the UW System in an interview with the Associated Press Monday, including plans to ease state restrictions, paired with large cuts in the next two years.

Martin Hanifin, vice chancellor for administration and finance, said the proposal could help in the long run, but the $300 million system-wide cut over the next two years will lead to more of the same cuts in positions and programs that have been chopped recently.

“We were already an efficient administration so we don’t have many pieces of low-hanging fruit we can turn to and just say ‘we’ll just stop doing that,’” Hanifin said. “Of our expenses, nearly 90 percent are position-related, so we have to look at where we have human capital.”

Hanifin said that this will include looking at the entire administration, academic and administrative positions, to see where positions can be removed or not filled when they go vacant.

The aspects of Walker’s proposal that could benefit the UW System over time deal mostly with laws restricting the System’s ability to act without the Legislature’s approval.

As they are proposed, changes would include giving UW schools the ability to manage their own tuitions, employee salaries and other issues including tenure, sick leave, contract management and construction projects.

Those changes would come into effect in 2017 if approved as they are, which would mean two years of significant cuts in addition to the continued tuition freeze.

Ed Manydeeds, a member of the UW Board of Regents from Eau Claire, said he had expected something like this based on speculation about the proposal in weeks prior.

Since the budget has been continuously decreasing, giving the system more flexibility to fund itself and decide where money goes seems an obvious step, Manydeeds said.

“If you’re going to not fund us, at least let us have more possibilities,” he said.

The continued tuition freeze and additional cuts come at an inconvenient time, with enrollment dropping across UW schools.

Hanifin said dealing with that combination of factors will be the main challenge for the next two years, because they haven’t seen how the regulatory changes will affect schools, but the cuts have familiar effects.

“We are enrollment-driven and tuition-driven,” Hanifin said. “The state appropriation is usually significant, but tuition is our single largest source of resources to support the educational mission here.”

Hanifin said continued decline in state support will only continue the trend of putting more of the funding responsibility on students, which can lead to both limited resources and higher costs.

One of the other concerns heard from many UW school administrators is that the lack of funding could affect faculty retention.

Political science professor John Evans said he thought retention could be a concern, particularly in UW-Madison, where more sought-after faculty and researchers could be lured to higher paying jobs elsewhere.

Evans, who started teaching at Eau Claire in 2012, said he would have been concerned under different circumstances, but had moved back to Wisconsin after teaching on the west coast to be in his home state.

Evans said academic jobs are losing value across the country, so for the average professor, the prospects may not be better, even though the UW-System is taking its largest cuts so far.

“My morale may go down,” Evans said. “But financial incentives are second or third on my list.”

The new financial challenges will be part of an ongoing campus discussion, starting today with an open forum for faculty and staff from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in Centennial Hall, room 1415.

A second forum will be Tuesday, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.  in the Davies Center’s Woodland Theater.
Chancellor James C. Schmidt will address questions and concerns regarding the Governor’s proposal and the potential effects on the campus.