State budget will force faculty and staff cuts campuswide

Schmidt: university will need to eliminate at least 27 positions by July 1 to balance shrinking budget

Chancellor+Schmidt%2C+pictured%2C+said+miscommunications+and+misunderstandings+resulted+in+the+negative+experience+of+a+UW-Eau+Claire+student.+Much+of+Wednesday%27s+Roundtable+served+as+a+forum+for+campus+administrators+and+students+to+hold+a+discussion+regarding+campus+security+resources.+%28File+Photo%29

Chancellor Schmidt, pictured, said miscommunications and misunderstandings resulted in the negative experience of a UW-Eau Claire student. Much of Wednesday’s Roundtable served as a forum for campus administrators and students to hold a discussion regarding campus security resources. (File Photo)

Story by Nate Beck, News Editor

UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff are bracing for campuswide layoffs after Gov. Scott Walker announced state funding cuts to the UW System in the upcoming state budget Tuesday.

Gov. Walker’s 2015-17 biennial budget would freeze tuition across the UW System and slash $300 million in state funds from System schools over the next two years.

Chancellor James C. Schmidt, ahead of Walker’s speech Tuesday, told students, faculty and staff that the university will  need to shave about 27 faculty and staff positions to meet an existing $4.5 million budget deficit, and will need to eliminate more positions to comply with state budget cuts.

“There will be more than 27 people affected,” Schmidt said in his speech at Schofield Auditorium. “Behind every digit, there are people.”

The state budget plan could cut about $7.5 million from Eau Claire’s budget, or about 25 percent of the money Eau Claire gets from taxpayers, Schmidt said. Eau Claire doesn’t yet know what share of the total system cuts it will absorb.

The state cut compounds Eau Claire’s current $4.5 million budget deficit, Schmidt said, although Eau Claire this year has evened the existing deficit by about $2.8 million.

Schmidt will form four “rapid action task forces” aimed to address the drought in four areas: student services, administration, curriculum and faculty workload, he said.

Also, Schmidt will ask each department to draft a plan for 10, 15 and 20 percent cuts — although 20 percent cuts are unlikely, he said.

“I wish they would back off,” Schmidt said in a speech Jan. 28 to faculty and staff. “But that’s a world of unicorns and rainbows.”

The state budget plan would restructure the UW System as a “public authority,” in July 2016, and give System schools and the 18-member Board of Regents more oversight power.

According to the proposed budget, the plan allows schools and regents to:

– Set tuition “unilaterally”

– Manage more construction projects, except bidding

– Control and adjust employee compensation

– Manage all aspects of construction projects funded with gifts or grants

– Exercise more purchasing power

Wilson Taylor, Eau Claire biology department chair, said cuts will force his department to focus inward – on preserving classes for the 600-plus biology majors at Eau Claire. That means fewer and larger classes for biology courses open to students outside the department.

“Everybody is shell shocked about the magnitude of these cuts,” Taylor said.

The biology department cut one-and-a-half positions this fall and recently ceased a search for an open faculty slot to comply with Eau Claire’s existing deficit, Taylor said.

Upcoming state cuts will cause more firings; faculty and staff costs account for about 90 percent of the biology budget, he said.

Taylor said strained finances will also force the department to phase out “high-impact” study-abroad programs and internships. Biology at Eau Claire will more closely mirror programs at other UW System schools.

“We will sink back into the mass of our competitor schools,” Taylor said. “We’ll see larger class sizes. I don’t see any way around that.”

State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said he’s “totally against” the budget plan, but doesn’t expect the state legislature to undo the bulk of the UW System cut.

“If you look 65 miles west, there’s a state that’s being run much better than ours,” Wachs said.

State Rep. Thomas Larson, R-Colfax, and State Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, did not return requests for comment.

Schmidt will host a Chancellor’s Roundtable discussion on budget issues from noon to 1 p.m., Feb. 11 in the Dakota Ballroom in Davies Center.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated “The state budget plan will cut about $8 million from Eau Claire’s budget,” it has been updated to “The state budget could cut about $7.5 million from Eau Claire’s budget … Eau Claire doesn’t yet know what share of the total system cuts it will absorb.” Updated Feb. 5.

The original story said “…the university will need to shave about 27 full-time faculty positions to comply with budget cuts,” it has been updated to “…the university will need to shave about 27 faculty and staff positions to meet an existing $4.5 million budget deficit, and will need to eliminate more positions to comply with state budget cuts.” Updated Feb. 5.

The original story said “Manage all aspects of state-funded construction projects, except bidding,” it has been updated to “Manage more construction projects, except bidding.” Updated Feb. 7.

The original subhead of the story read, “Schmidt: university will need to eliminate about 27 positions to balance shrinking budget,” it has been updated to “Schmidt: university will need to eliminate at least 27 positions by July 1 to balance shrinking budget.” Updated Feb. 7.