MADISON – State funding for the University of Wisconsin System could be dramatically reduced under a proposed “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” members of the UW Board of Regents learned Thursday.
But the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly assured the Regents’ Business and Finance Committee the UW System would be treated fairly under the measure to ease Wisconsin’s tax burden through a constitutional amendment that would limit state spending.
UW System President Katharine C. Lyall told committee members that her budget staff analyzed a similar “Taxpayers Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, already in effect in Colorado. Based on a 10-year projection of funding for the UW System starting in 1992, the analysis shows the university would have reached a point of no state funding by 1997.
“It appears that if a Colorado-style TABOR was in effect for a decade here, the UW System would have been effectively privatized by the middle of the decade,” Lyall said.
Lyall and committee members expressed concern about how tuition, gifts and grants, financial aid and bonding authority would also be treated under proposed Wisconsin TABOR legislation.
“The devil really is in the details from the standpoint of the university,” Lyall said. “We recognize this is a work in progress.”
Gard, R-Peshtigo, said the proposed constitutional amendment is needed to reduce Wisconsin’s enormous tax burden. He called Colorado’s approach to rein in state spending a “worst-case scenario” for Wisconsin.
“I am very concerned about the UW and going forward, and we will try to do this as responsibly as possible,” Gard said.
Gard predicted the proposed legislation would pass both houses of the Legislature later this spring, possibly during a special session in May. He told the committee that university gifts and grants and bonding authority likely would not be significant parts of the legislation. He was unsure how tuition would be treated under the proposal.
Currently, the Legislature and the governor set the limits under which tuition can be raised for UW resident undergraduates by the Board of Regents. The regents control tuition for non-resident and graduate students.
Lyall told the committee that a tuition cap could limit the number of students the university could educate. Gard said he thought the legislation should not have to limit enrollment.
Gard’s visit to the committee followed a discussion regent members had in February with Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Green Bay, sponsor of the Assembly TABOR legislation. The regents and Lyall and Gard all pledged to continue their discussions as the legislation progresses.
Regent Guy Gottschalk of Wisconsin Rapids reminded the speaker that the UW System is a major engine of economic development in the state. Further limiting state funding for the university system could “cripple” state growth, Gottschalk said.
He and other regents asked Gard to limit TABOR to the state-funded portion of the university’s budget, which amounts to only 27 percent of the UW System’s total budget.
“I strongly urge you and your colleagues to limit the impact on the UW to (state tax funds),” Gottschalk said. “It doesn’t seem fair to exercise tight-fisted control with elements of our budget that are not funded by taxpayers.”
Gard thanked Gottschalk for his comments and agreed that the university is a strong source of economic development for the state.
“We will try to make this as friendly to the UW as possible without compromising what we are trying to do,” Gard said.
Technology key to student success, UW’s future
The success of the UW System and its students is inextricably linked to staying on the cutting edge of information technology, according to top IT officials in the university system who briefed the Board of Regents Thursday.
During a presentation to the full board, UW System Associate Vice President for Learning & Information Technology Ed Meachen explained that technology is transforming higher education and the university system.
A video presentation highlighted the numerous ways that technology is being used to enhance teaching and learning and outreach, including through distance education courses, online degree programs and digital library materials. Other benefits include an online collaborative nursing program and agricultural resources for state farmers.
“We are providing Wisconsin with previously unimaginable resources,” Meachen said.
Kathy Pletcher, head of information services at UW-Green Bay, told the regents that the number of online-related courses and enrollment in the UW System has grown tremendously. In 1999, there were about 1,200 online-related classes and 16,000 students. In 2003, those numbers grew to approximately 6,800 courses and 159,000 students. Last year alone, the number of online courses and students taking them jumped 33 percent.
“Faculty find the technology very reliable, and the students love it,” Pletcher said. “It is very popular.”
Meachen outlined several challenges to information technology in the future: state budget cuts; continued support of faculty using technology; campus collaboration during a time of declining resources; and the university remaining free of state restrictions on computer network issues.
UW System President Katharine C. Lyall stressed that the UW System, K-12 schools, technical colleges and state private colleges are collaborating through technology to strengthen PK-16 education across Wisconsin.
“We have come a long way, and we need to make sure we keep moving forward,” she said.
Education committee revisits importance of general education
The skills required for college graduates to become productive workers and citizens have developed over time, and the general education requirements on UW campuses that build those skills have undergone a similar evolution, the Regents’ Education Committee was told Thursday.
The requirement that students study outside their majors is distinctive to U.S. higher education, said Cora Marrett, UW System senior vice president for academic affairs. When higher education first developed in the United States, students emphasized Classical studies; in modern times, the focus has been on both a depth of understanding in one field, as well as a breadth of understanding across disciplines, she said.
“If we’re talking about skills students must possess, that is not going to be the same over time,” Marrett said.
The UW System adheres to a board policy that states the importance of general education outcomesthat is, the skills that develop from studies in the humanities, arts and social sciencesrather than an emphasis on specific coursework, Marrett said.
Regent Fred Mohs of Madison suggested that the board might use the same reasoning as a framework for its final report on its long-range study, titled “Charting a New Course for the UW System.”
UW-Parkside Chancellor Jack Keating told the committee that the campus was recently reaccredited with specific commendations from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Keating said the campus’ recent focus on improving general education not only impressed the accreditation team, but is important to local businesses.
“Businesses have told us that the university’s best service was providing educated graduates who can think and exercise judgment,” Keating said. “The reaccreditation is a great sign for the campus that we’re doing the right thing.”
UW-Parkside Provost Rebecca Martin said preparing for the reaccreditation was an opportunity for the campus to confirm and clarify its mission and priorities. Now, the campus is re-evaluating how it assesses the outcomes of general education and looking to implement a more holistic approach that includes thinking, communication and citizenship skills.
“It really had to do with us looking inward,” she said.
Martin said the reaccreditation team noted that the campus truly embodied its mission to be engaged with the community, had stabilized and grown its enrollment, had taken campus-wide responsibility for teacher education, and gave excellent attention to reflecting the diversity of the region in its students and faculty. The team also congratulated the campus in coping with budget realities, and commended Keating for his leadership, she said.
Regent Danae Davis of Milwaukee noted she has seen similar results on her visits to the campus. “Engagement with the community really came through,” Davis said. “Everyone was able to articulate and give examples.”
Regent Elizabeth Burmaster agreed with Davis’ observation that the campus takes a positive approach to diversity, saying she had observed UW-Parkside as a “truly inclusive campus.”
Regent Chuck Pruitt of Shorewood noted that UW-Parkside professor Carole Vopat was a winner of a Regents Teaching Excellence award last year, and that her skills and approaches to teaching were very much in line with the directions Martin outlined.
Marrett noted that the UW Colleges and UW-Superior were also recently successful in receiving a 10-year reaccreditation.
The committee also passed a resolution approving a $5 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation for a teacher education initiative at UW-Milwaukee.
The initiative, “Teachers for a New Era,” may help address the reasons for low participation rates and untapped talent among Milwaukee Public School students, Marrett said. “One way to address this is to pay attention to the preparation of people for the educational world,” she said.
UW-Milwaukee Provost John Wanat said the project seeks to improve teacher quality by focusing on the interconnection between knowledge of content and the skills needed to convey that content to students. In addition, teacher preparation is a critical issue for Milwaukee, and the campus is taking seriously its obligation to the city’s public schools, Wanat said.
Mohs asked if the project would help teachers learn to teach in classrooms in which it may be unusually difficult to capture student attention, due to a variety of social factors.
“Teachers make a difference,” Wanat responded. “Part of this program is creating teachers who can function in that environment.”
Burmaster noted that the successful grant application, which requires matching funds, is an example of the progress PK-16 leaders can make by working with educational partners. Regent Roger Axtell of Janesville noted that UW-Milwaukee is joining “big-time company” by entering the project. Other sites selected include Boston College, Stanford University, California State University, Michigan State University and the University of Virginia.
The committee also approved a resolution authorizing UW-Madison to conduct a national search for a new dean of the College of Letters and Science. UW-Madison Provost Peter Spear told the committee that the college is by far the largest on the UW System’s flagship campus, housing as many as 90 percent of freshman credit hours.
Spear said deans have historically been appointed from internal ranks, but the national search follows the same process that resulted in the hire of the school’s last two deans.
Business and Finance Committee reviews differential tuition guidelines
The history and use of differential tuition was reviewed by the Regents’ Business and Finance Committee Thursday, with a presentation from a UW official and representatives from the United Council of UW Student Governments.
UW System Assistant Vice President for Budget and Planning Andrew Richards explained to committee members that the board in 1996 first approved flexibilities for tuition setting. In 1999 the board approved a policy outlining student involvement in differential tuition initiatives.
Richards noted that differential tuition has now become much more widespread and complex across the UW System. He emphasized that the guidelines are not a change to Board policy, but an attempt to clarify how the Board’s policies will be administered so that students and institutions have a clearer picture of the various types of differential tuitions and the expectations for student involvement.
Stephanie Hilton, academic affairs director for United Council, noted that students need to be consulted on differential tuition plans, and that these guidelines document the steps that had previously been more informally taken between students and the UW System.
Brian Tanner, shared governance director for United Council, stated that students are opposed to differential tuition programs that are used to backfill state budget cuts and supplement state support. Students worked with System administrators to develop good-faith initiatives to ensure that students are involved in the process, he said.
In other business, the committee reviewed an annual national endowment study that, among other things, showed the UW is one of only a few public universities to consider socially responsible investing.
Regent Guy Gottschalk of Wisconsin Rapids pointed out that only 9 percent of public universities even consider social responsibility when investing their trust funds.
“With the UW’s policy of proxy voting and conducting an annual public forum, we are further ahead in this important arena,” he said.
The committee also heard a report from George Brooks, associate vice president for human resources, regarding the number of actual layoffs and non-renewal of employee contracts due to budget cuts.
Brooks outlined that 103 employees have lost their jobs due to either direct layoffs or the non-renewal of their annual employment contract. He noted that most other positions out of the 325 to be cut this year were vacancies not filled.
Brooks said the UW System will face a stiff challenge next year when it must cut an additional 325 positions as part of budget cuts from the state.
In her report to the committee, Vice President for Finance Debbie Durcan stated that the Wisconsin Department of Administration recently requested information from the UW System on the anticipated year-end cash balances in several program revenue funds. While the UW System shows no uncommitted balances, it is alarming that DOA is even asking the question, Durcan said.
In other business, the Business and Finance Committee unanimously approved the following resolutions:
- 2004-05 annual budget allocation decision rules;
- Amendments to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield gift agreement;
- Authorization to use Regents’ discretionary trust funds, if necessary, for expenses related to the search for a new UW System president;
- Voting of 2004 non-routine proxy proposals.
UW campus projects win state building awards
The Regents’ Physical Planning and Funding Committee heard on Thursday that UW System facilities received three awards from the State Building Commission in its annual ceremony honoring excellence in design construction for state projects. Gov. Jim Doyle presented the awards to the following recipients:
- Potter Lawson, Inc. of Madison for excellence in architectural design of the UW-Madison Biochemistry Building;
- Arnold & O’Sheridan, Inc. of Brookfield for excellence in engineering design of the utility phase of the Camp Randall Renovation project at UW-Madison; and
- Market and Johnson of Eau Claire for excellence in construction of the Chancellor’s Hall project at UW-Eau Claire.
Nancy Ives, UW System assistant vice president for capital planning and budget, also reported to committee members Thursday that the State Building Commission approved $74 million for various UW projects at its February meeting. However, $11 million is being cut from the all-agency maintenance funds.
Ives said the Legislature hopes to take action next week on a bill to advance four campus building projects affecting UW-Madison (Business School addition and Ogg Hall replacement), UW-Oshkosh (Taylor Hall), and UW-River Falls (improvements to facilities used by the Kansas City Chiefs).
Ives updated the committee on the UW-Milwaukee Kenilworth project. At this time, DOA Secretary Marc Marotta is recommending that the RFP be redone for the project, but specifics on the process have not yet been provided, she said.
In other business, the committee approved the following actions for consideration by the full board Friday:
- Data wiring infrastructure upgrades for UW-Madison;
- Movable and special equipment for three UW Colleges campuses, in part to bring facilities into compliance with ADA requirements;
- Remodeling of UW-Madison’s Science Hall;
- Window replacement for Prucha Hall at UW-River Falls;
- Remodeling of the DeBot residential dining facility at UW-Stevens Point.
In addition, three of the four committee members approved a land exchange between CUNA and UW-Madison’s University Research Park, with Regent Nino Amato of Middleton abstaining.
A resolution to delegate program revenue-funded maintenance projects from the Board of Regents to UW System Administration was withdrawn due to the Regents’ feeling that the change was unnecessary and their desire to stay apprised of campus maintenance needs.
The 2005-07 criteria for ranking GPR major projects was approved, but will be discussed as a separate item at the board’s Friday meeting. Ives will give an overview of the slightly revised ranking system for the benefit of new regents unfamiliar with the existing ranking system.
Regent Gerard Randall of Milwaukee expressed concern that the smaller comprehensive universities in the UW System are at a disadvantage raising private dollars and may therefore not receive priority when it comes to funding future building projects.
United Council President Jeff Pertl addressed the committee and requested that it consider increased segregated fees resulting from Systemwide student-approved union renovation when discussing next year’s tuition rate. He described the renovation projects as much-needed, but wanted the total cost to the students to be reflected in tuition-setting considerations.
The Board of Regents will continue its March meeting on Friday (March 5) beginning at 9 a.m. in Room 1820 Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus.