MADISON, Wis. – Building on major new flexibilities provided in the state’s 2011-13 biennial budget, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly is proposing significant organizational changes to the system’s central office and its relationship to the UW institutions.

Reilly’s plan, which will be discussed at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, calls for UW System’s 14 chancellors to assume new leadership roles and more control over budgeting, financial management, and other operational decisions. Reilly wants to seize this opportunity to unleash the full potential of each UW institution by reforming the organizational culture.  He wants UW System Administration staff to take on a more consultative role, changing how institutions relate to the central administrative offices.

“Our public university system must be even more nimble, innovative, and entrepreneurial,” said Reilly. “The changes I’m proposing will help us take big steps down that path.”

Reilly identified several specific changes for the Regents to consider, including plans to expedite the process of approving new UW degree programs. The plan calls for UW System to retain responsibility for the statewide menu of degree options, while delegating to campuses the responsibility for ensuring academic rigor and quality.

“Faculty experts who design these programs are in the best position to evaluate the curriculum for academic quality,” said Reilly. “With oversight from their deans, provosts, chancellors, and accrediting agencies, we’ll preserve UW’s reputation for academic excellence. At the UW System level, we can look for duplication and gaps in our program array, ensuring that new programs are aligned with workforce needs.”

Another recommendation from Reilly would see UW System auditors focusing on policies and compliance, delegating to local institutions more responsibility for programmatic reviews. Reilly also wants to amplify UW’s role in economic development through new partnerships with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Reilly will also recommend a formal review of higher education board structures around the country, and how they might apply to Wisconsin.

The state’s 2011-13 biennial budget provided many long-sought operational flexibilities for UW institutions, while reducing state support for the UW System by $125 million per year. That included a mandatory $2.46-million reduction at UW System Administration offices in Madison. Before making those cuts, Reilly sought advice from a special advisory committee.

“Before making any near-term budget decisions, I wanted to seek advice about our effort to reshape UW System Administration – what we do, how we do it, and how it might be done differently in the future,” said Reilly. “This high-level analysis would inform how we could achieve our cuts in ways that address the priorities of our governing board, our member institutions, and the people of Wisconsin.”

Chaired by Regent Charles Pruitt, the advisory committee recommended a “shift toward the decentralized model compared with current practice.” The committee also reiterated that certain functions should remain with a centralized UW System, including accountability to the people of Wisconsin for the funds they invest in the UW for programs, buildings, and tuition.

“Our existing organizational model has worked very well over the years, but the current economic and social landscape presents new challenges, so our priorities must evolve,” said Pruitt. “Moving toward a more decentralized, more transparent statewide structure, we can empower local institutions in new ways while preserving the essential benefits of a unified system, including the capability to advocate for continued public investment in higher education.”

Reilly embraced all of the committee’s recommendations, saying, “The challenges of our time call upon us to be as transformative and forward-looking as were the founders of the UW System in their time.”

“These are important issues for our UW System and our Regents,” said Michael J. Spector, President of the Board of Regents. “We are looking forward to a rich discussion, about the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, President Reilly’s response, and all the important changes taking place in our great public university.”

As part of this discussion next week, the Regents will discuss Reilly’s plan for reducing UW System Administration’s annual budget by $2.46 million. Most savings ($2,354,797) will come from the elimination of 51 staff positions, including both salaries and related fringe benefit costs associated with those jobs. The balance ($105,303) will come from supplies and other expenses. Anticipating the need for cuts, in the interests of prudent management and fairness to employees, UW System leaders delayed filling vacancies over the past year or so, leaving 8 filled positions to be cut.