Business and Finance Committee votes to eliminate so-called “back-up” positions

MADISON-The Business and Finance Committee of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents voted unanimously today (Nov. 10) to eliminate the future use of so-called administrative “back-up” positions. The committee also authorized UW System President Kevin P. Reilly to offer new limited appointees up to six months notice of termination, in lieu of providing a concurrent (“back-up”) appointment.

“Let’s be perfectly clear about what we have done,” said Regent Charles Pruitt of Milwaukee, who chairs the Business and Finance Committee. “We have recommended (to the full Board) the elimination of so-called ‘back-up’ positions.”

“The term ‘back-up’ does not appear in state statute,” added Regent President David G. Walsh of Madison. “It was a creation of our own language and it, too, should be eliminated.”

As he opened the discussion, Regent Pruitt explained that the Business and Finance Committee had worked very hard to maintain “a delicate balance” in reforming the university’s personnel procedures and practices.

“On the one hand, we want to ‘fix what’s broken’ and respond to the legitimate concerns that our stakeholders have in ensuring that no one will be paid for not working, and no one will be paid more than for the job they are doing,” Pruitt said. “But we also want to ensure that in fixing the problems, we do not handcuff our leadership in attracting the best and the brightest academic talent to Wisconsin.”

President Reilly highlighted the actions the Board has taken since September to reform employment policies within the university system.

“Taken collectively, these represent some of the most significant changes in employment policy and practice since the merger of the UW System, more than 30 years ago,” Reilly said.

Reilly summarized the proposed resolution, indicating that it would not eliminate tenure for faculty, but that it would substitute up to a six-month “notice period” for new limited appointees. He then suggested that there were potentially three options for new limited appointments: a) a six-month notice period; b) “at will” appointments, that included fixed-term contracts; and c) a hybrid that included some combination of a) and b).

Regent Brent Smith of La Crosse expressed his support for the six-month notice period, so long that it enabled the UW System to attract preferred candidates for key leadership positions. Regent Pruitt stated that he wanted to learn more about the efficacy of fixed-term contracts.

“There’s a reason to have at-will employees,” Walsh added. “It gives much-needed flexibility to leadership who may need to make changes. It’s common in the private sector, and if we’re going to act more like a business, it’s a tool we need to use better.”

The Business and Finance Committee’s action followed a two-month information-gathering phase with governance groups at all UW System campuses.

The full Board will consider the resolution on Friday (Nov. 11), and if approved, the elimination of “back-up” appointments would be effective immediately.

Regents said they hope to address competitive compensation for faculty, staff and academic leaders in the coming months.

Student Segregated Fees

Following a request from Regent Thomas Loftus of Sun Prairie for an audit of student segregated fees throughout the UW System, the committee also heard from several representatives of students about how fees are collected and distributed on campus. Loftus said he is requesting the audit to study whether student fees are being directed toward appropriate projects and programming. He noted a trend of increasing rates in student fees, especially for capital projects.

“The growth is alarming,” he said.

He also noted that bonds are issued for building projects based on the guaranteed stream of student fees, which may continue to be assessed for several years.

Taylour Johnson, shared governance director for the United Council of UW Students, said student fees are an “integral part of student free speech,” and allow for student-directed programming on campus. Nick Cluppert, president of the Student Senate at UW-River Falls, told the committee that it is essential for students to be involved in every step of the process in deciding how and when student fees are collected, and for what purpose.

David Glisch-Sanchez, United Council academic affairs director, said due to their brief time on campus, students have a lack of institutional memory about how such fees are, and are supposed to be, used. He said that the use of referenda related to student fees sometimes leads to inconsistent practices.

The committee noted that while both are student-directed, student segregated fees are not the same as differential tuition, which is assessed for specific academic programs, sometimes at student request.

In considering the scope of a potential audit, UW System Assistant Vice President for Budget and Planning Freda Harris urged the committee to hear from others who play a role in the institutional processes used to determine the use of student fees. General Counsel Pat Brady reminded the committee that the U.S. Supreme Court said referenda were not appropriate to determine the use of student fees for programming purposes, but that the use of referenda for student-fee-funded capital projects was not an issue in the case before the Court several years ago.

Regent Pruitt noted that while there will be “areas of agreement and disagreement,” the committee will review the concerns and suggest an audit scope for the committee to consider in December.

Budget Update

Regents also heard an update about ongoing budget cuts at UW institutions. The 2005-07 biennial budget required UW institutions to make more than $30 million in cuts from the state-supported part of the UW System’s budget, as well as cut 200 positions over two years.

While campuses were able to make cuts more easily in the 2004-05 biennium, overall, institutions are protecting student instruction from cuts to every extent possible, Harris said. She said the cuts are having the most impact on academic and student services, which mean less assistance for students on campus with services like financial aid or advising. She added that these cuts place greater burden on faculty, who have to cover more administrative duties, and have less time to spend with students or keep current in their fields of study.

“Some of this may not sound problematic, but it is,” Harris said.

Regent Loftus asked if any campuses had considered reducing student enrollments as part of cutting campus budgets. Harris said some considered the idea, but that many campuses did not have enough notice to intervene in the admissions process, given the timing of the state budget approval. Andy Soll, vice chancellor for business and student services at UW-Eau Claire, added that if student enrollments are reduced, so are tuition revenues the campus can collect, which might mean even more cuts to the campus budget.

Soll said UW-Eau Claire planned to make its share of the budget cuts, $2.2 million, through reorganizations, consolidations, by eliminating some services, and by finding alternative sources of funding. He said students would be affected by having fewer course sections, more students in each class, and fewer options for elective courses, which could affect time-to-graduation. He said the campus also eliminated several administrative positions, including a chief information officer, and a director of purchasing.

UW-Oshkosh has taken 15 percent of its $3.6 million in required cuts in administrative areas, which account for just 5 percent of the university’s total budget, said Tom Sonnleitner, vice chancellor for administration at UW-Oshkosh. The campus has also canceled several searches to fill key positions on campus, reduced 22 other positions, and had to layoff three employees. The campus also had to zero-out a small fund it had planned to use for reinvestment in future years, he said.

Harris said campuses would have more details about the required budget cuts in February, and again in May.

Trust Funds Forum

Eight members of the Board of Regents listened Thursday to the concerns of UW students and members of the community during the annual forum on trust fund holdings.

“Your concerns and interest about social responsibility are very important,” Regent Pruitt said.

Speakers from the crowd of about 65 asked the Board to be more active in following the guidelines on social responsibility in investing UW trust funds. Most speakers said they hoped the Board would take a more active role in divestiture in the future, especially in firms such as Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin or Boeing. In particular, several speakers urged the Board to consider divesting of companies that have ventures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other speakers addressed concerns about companies that use “sweatshop” labor, or in other ways exploit labor, and the Board also heard concern about investment in any and all weapons-makers.

The UW System has approximately $350 million in trust-fund assets, mostly from gifts and bequests donated to the university for specific purposes. Pruitt noted that the Board does not make investments, but rather, directs outside managers as to how to invest on the university’s behalf. The trust funds do not include any state dollars or student monies, such as tuition or fees.

In other business, the committee:

  • Heard an update on a recent entrance conference held with the Legislative Audit Bureau, which hopes to move quickly with a review of the felony status of university employees;
  • Heard the required Annual Sick Leave Report;
  • Received the Annual Gifts-in-Kind Report;
  • Received the Annual Broadcast Report;
  • Received the Quarterly Gifts, Grants and Contracts Report.

AODA study shows Wisconsin faces challenges in combating student alcohol abuse

The Education Committee on Thursday received a report from the UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Committee, detailing challenges facing campuses attempting to curb high-risk, or binge, drinking.

“This is a topic of great importance to students across the UW System, but also the nation,” said UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Linda Bunnell, who chaired the committee. “It should be a concern not only to us, but also to parents of students who are paying the bills for their education.”

Bunnell and Larry Rubin, UW System assistant vice president for academic and student services, presented the findings of a systemwide survey, which showed that 59 percent of UW students had reported binge-drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks in a sitting) within two weeks of the survey period in Spring 2005.

National studies have estimated that, overall, 44 percent of college students report similar behaviors.

Students in the survey reported varying degrees of direct consequences, such as missing a class, having contact with police or campus authorities, or engaging in unprotected sex.

In addition, students also reported that they had experienced indirect consequences of drinking, including having their studies interrupted, experiencing damage to personal property, or feeling that their safety had been threatened.

Twenty percent of student respondents said they had abstained from drinking alcohol in the past month.

Rubin said campuses around the UW System are doing their best to deal with a difficult, and frequently entrenched, problem. The survey findings will help AODA coordinators and campus leaders better understand student behaviors, and to determine how the universities can improve prevention efforts.

“It’s important to share this data and have a uniform system of understanding the usage, consequences and indirect, secondhand consequences of student drinking,” Rubin said. “We’ll use this to establish baseline estimates, and gauge the overall effectiveness of our AODA prevention efforts.”

Among the promising techniques highlighted during the discussion is the “environmental policy” approach employed by UW-Madison’s Policy, Alternatives, Community, Education (PACE) Project.

Environmental approaches use policy interventions to create an environment that supports healthier behavior. Some examples of interventions include media advocacy and public policy or practice changes that promote long-term sustainable change.

After nearly 10 years of PACE, UW-Madison still faces significant challenges with the issue, and reports a binge rate of 66 percent, in addition to continuing problems with large-scale, alcohol-fueled events on or near campus.

Crowley said that state culture of alcohol use and abuse plays an important role in shaping the problem in Madison. Additional tools, such as a statewide coalition to address the issue and legislative measures around keg registration and drink specials, would be useful in the future, she added.

Amy Margulies, an AODA coordinator at UW-Whitewater, outlined the campus’s alcohol-abuse reduction programs, which include establishing groups like the Alcohol and Other Drug Use Prevention Coalition and developing a media campaign to warn students about the risks of alcohol and drug abuse.

She also discussed the difficulty, a sense shared by many AODA counselors at the comprehensive universities, involved in juggling roles as a mental-health counselor, drug-and-alcohol-abuse counselor, and prevention-education specialist, all in addition to her role supporting UW-Whitewater employees.

“It’s a challenge to our campus to have one person pulling all of that together,” she said.

Regents said they recognized the hard work of the AODA staffs around the system and will continue to be engaged on the issue in the future.

Student Regent Chris Semenas, a senior at UW-Parkside, said he was surprised to learn that student binge-drinking tended to intensify as students headed into their junior and senior years.

Regent Danae Davis of Milwaukee asked about the breakout of beer versus wine and spirits. Crowley said that students are drinking all three. Although beer remains the drink of choice, consumption of hard liquor has spiked in recent years, she added.

Regent Milton McPike of Mazomanie wanted to know what time of year drinking problems were most intense. Bunnell responded that survey information indicates that it is most intense in the early part of the fall semester, when many students are new to campus and not yet aware of their own limits.

“I want to encourage the Regents to acknowledge this as a serious issue, which you have, and continue to show interest in the progress of our interventions, and support our efforts to retain and increase the professional staff working with students on this issue,” Bunnell said.

Please check back for more information about the Education Committee meeting and the meeting of the Physical Planning and Funding Committee.


The Board of Regents will resume its November meeting at 9 a.m., Nov. 11, in Room 1820 of Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Related: Read Nov 11 (day 2) news summary