Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposes to cut the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million in his latest 2015-2017 state budget. University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross already is taking action in anticipation of funding cuts over the next two years. Cross sent a memo Wednesday issuing moratoriums for his administration on the hiring of nonessential positions, out-of-state travel, and any salary adjustments or promotions as provided for under state statute.
“These moratoria will be in effect until further notice and any exceptions must be approved by myself or David Miller, Senior Vice President for Administration and Fiscal Affairs,” Cross wrote in the memo.
Both the airwaves and the Internet are abuzz with debate.
On one side are UW System chancellors, faculty and staff worried about the narrative getting away from them. They’re eager to tell the story of what they believe unprecedented budget cuts would do to a public higher education system considered among the state’s crown jewels.
On the other side are Scott Walker and his supporters, who say the cuts combined with new flexibilities for the University of Wisconsin System would help it become more effective and efficient.
Walker started the day Wednesday doing interviews with Milwaukee conservative talk radio hosts. He later repeated the same themes to reporters after addressing the Chippewa Valley Rally at a Madison hotel.
“In the future, by not having the limitation of things like shared governance, they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester,” Walker told reporters at the Madison hotel. “Things like that could have tremendous impact on making sure we have an affordable education for all of our UW campuses at the same time we maintain a high-quality education.”
Chancellors have been reassuring their campuses that shared governance is a core value they will fight to keep.
Word of Walker’s remarks about faculty teaching loads needing to be heavier prompted UW-Madison to release a faculty workload survey from February 2014. The survey yielded 191 full responses from biological sciences, humanities, physical science and social studies departments, according to UW-Madison.
Of those who responded, 96% said they teach, supervise and mentor undergraduate students and spend an average of 14.2 hours per week instructing undergraduates and an average 4.2 hours per week advising and mentoring.
All reported research activities as part of their work, with an average of 8.4 hours per week spent on research/creative work with students. The total time spent with research, scholarship or creative work was an average 21.3 hours per week.
Walker said making the University of Wisconsin System a public authority, rather than a department of the state, would free it up “to have total control of their budget. It’s for purchasing, procurement, construction, compensation, governance — in many ways (it) will be like Act 10 for the UW.”
“It will make them do things that they traditionally have not done,” he said. “Like I said, things like maybe looking at the use of faculty and staff a bit more efficiently like others have done in government in the last four years at both the state and local level.”
Walker several times in recent days has dubbed his proposed budget cuts combined with new flexibilities for the UW System as “the Act 10 of higher education.” He credited Act 10 with everything from saving billions of dollars to raising test scores and improving graduation rates in K-12 school districts.
“At the time four years ago, there were people claiming layoffs, there were some people claiming harm,” Walker said Wednesday in Madison. “The reality is the districts — school districts and local governments — that fully used our reforms, just the opposite happened. Most were the same, many were better.
“And four years later we see, for example, schools that scores are up, ACT scores are second best in the country, graduation rates are up, third-grade reading scores are up. The districts that used our reforms and the local governments that used our reforms saved literally billions of dollars across our state over the last several years.”
Walker said he believes if the University of Wisconsin System becomes a public authority, “this just puts the responsibility firmly in the hands of the management, the regents and the leadership of the University of Wisconsin System.”
At UW-Milwaukee, faculty, staff and students gathered for Chancellor Mark Mone’s “state of the university” address Wednesday afternoon.
One faculty member noted the juxtaposition of headlines Tuesday when Walker announced a plan to raise $220 million for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena hours after he revealed that he wanted to cut $300 million from the UW System.
“The thing that we have to do is find common ground,” Lane Hall, a UWM English professor and member of the University Committee, said after Mone delivered his remarks and opened the floor for more than a half-hour to answer questions.
“The state is so divided, post-Act 10 Walker politics,” Hall said. “There are things that are really important — for citizens to remind each other we’re neighbors, parents. We do things beyond who we voted for, and one of those things is education.”
UWM, which could see $40 million in cuts over the next two years, should have a well-coordinated social media presence, Hall said during Mone’s question-and-answer period. Hall encouraged faculty, staff and students to add their voices to those of “trolls and operatives” who comment on stories on news websites.
“Be civil and never feed the trolls,” Hall said. He also suggested UWM supporters do a “friendly Facebook flood” by “liking” pages of state politicians and telling them what a $300 million cut to the UW System would mean to the campus and those who work there.
Hall even came up with the hashtag #saveouruniversity for University of Wisconsin System supporters to start a “Twitter storm” on Tuesday, the day Scott Walker is to officially release his budget.
The 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year campuses within the UW System have been abuzz about what would be the largest two-year budget cut in the history of the UW System if approved by the Legislature.
Mone aptly titled his state of the university address “Moving Forward During Uncertain Times.”
Mone promised open and transparent communication as more information on the impact of proposed cuts is known.
He said he also is forming a special budget planning task force with representatives of faculty, staff and student shared governance to help determine “how best to manage our campus budget.”