With the state’s 2007-09 biennial budget still chock-full of uncertainties, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will wait until August to decide on an annual operating budget and set tuition for the 2007-08 school year. The Board heard a budget update Friday from Freda Harris, UW System associate vice president for budget and planning, who said the university has never experienced as large a disparity between the proposed university budgets from the state’s Joint Committee on Finance and Assembly than it has encountered this biennium.
Harris pointed to a $120-million difference in base funding for the university in budgets from the two legislative bodies as a main reason the UW System is not prepared to set tuition at rates that are fair to the university’s students and their families. As a result of this drastic difference, Harris said, the UW System faces a multitude of budget options.
UW System President Kevin P. Reilly reviewed for the Regents the university’s budget request process, as well as the legislative steps through which the budget has already gone, noting that the Joint Committee on Finance’s budget included many of the items in the UW System’s request.
“While we hope that the legislature supports the key budget proposals submitted by this board, advanced by Gov. Doyle and approved by the Legislature’s bipartisan Joint Committee on Finance, we know that the final output from this legislative process could look very different,” he said.
President Reilly said, due to these budget uncertainties, the university currently lacks the ability to accurately predict how much money the state will provide for the UW System’s fixed costs, staffing initiatives and Growth Agenda for Wisconsin. In addition, the university is awaiting word from the state’s Office of Employee Relations to assess how much the state may be willing to provide for state-supported pay increases for the university’s faculty and staff.
“I want to acknowledge that this scenario is unusual, and uncomfortable,” Reilly said. “While we have approved operating budgets in the past when legislators were still hammering out differences in the state budget, it’s hard to remember a time in recent history when we came to this Board with an operating budget without any real information about the State’s plans for the pay plan, and with the two houses so far apart.”
Regent Jesus Salas urged the Regents to take the lead on the tuition issue, even though the Board and university cannot determine the available levels of state support for the UW System.
“We have to provide some guidance for the campuses so they may start preparing and opening doors for students to show up,” he said.
Harris reiterated the need for the university to have more information before taking such action.
“The issue is what happens if we set tuition wrong,” she said. “If we set it too high, [students] are paying more than they need to. If we set it too low, it’s either a budget cut or a very large increase to students in the second semester.”
President Reilly echoed the suggestions of several Regents to communicate the university’s predicament with the public, so the citizens of Wisconsin can contact their elected officials on this issue. A legislative conference committee should take up the state budget within weeks, and the Board of Regents will reconvene Aug. 7 to approve the UW System annual operating budget, including tuition rates.
UW System leaders continue review of security policies
For the first time since the formation of the President’s 2007 Commission on University Security, the Board of Regents heard the commission’s recommendations and received a report summarizing their work.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting incident in April, UW System President Kevin Reilly convened this commission, chaired by UW-Madison Police Chief Sue Riseling, in an effort to increase the UW System’s capacity to prevent, intervene and respond to threats of or actual violence on its campuses. The commission reviewed current university security operations and offered detailed recommendations on how to update them.
Chief Riseling highlighted several sections of the report, focusing especially on the fact that some UW System campuses do not have armed police officers available for dispatch 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in case of a campus emergency.
“The commission felt that it defies today’s realities not to have armed university police on all four-year campuses,” she said.
Riseling did acknowledge the resource limitations faced by the university and its campuses, but urged the Regents to keep campus security a priority and reminded them that police are an administrative expense.
“A cut to the administration is a cut to the police,” she said.
Regent Jeffrey Bartell, who was a member of the commission, lauded the wide range of input that went into its report.
“This was a remarkable commission in that every comprehensive campus was represented, every college and UW-Extension was represented,” he said. “This report had input from all over the System.”
Regents also heard from UW-Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard, who co-chairs Gov. Jim Doyle’s own campus security task force, comprised of leaders from several educational sectors in Wisconsin. He said that group can help to identify statutory or legislative issues pertaining to campus security that could be changed, and serve as a medium through which leaders can share best practices.
“Campus safety is not the responsibility of this office or that office,” Shepard said. “It’s really the responsibility of the community to ensure a safe campus.”
UW-Whitewater Interim Chancellor Richard Telfer shared with the Board that campus’s own safety initiatives, crafted before the President’s Commission began. He said UW-Whitewater had been formulating safety plans since well before the Virginia Tech incident, and that officials continue to examine ways to ensure the campus is secure given any number of circumstances.
“I think the report will be very helpful in trying to do the things we want to do,” he said, later adding, “We are not nowhere. We have a number of different efforts underway and we will continue those efforts.”
President Reilly ended the discussion by emphasizing that the UW System campuses have not been waiting for this report to begin to revise their safety policies, but acted immediately to respond to the Virginia Tech tragedy.
“Our campuses are already actively working on this issue to make the environments as safe as possible for the students and faculty and staff who study on our campuses,” he said.
In other business, the full board:
- approved an exclusive soft drink pouring rights and vending rights contract at UW-La Crosse;
- approved updates to the WiSys Technology Foundation, Inc. contract and approved the UWM Research Foundation contract, which would create a separate technology transfer foundation at UW-Milwaukee, who was formerly a member of WiSys;
- approved a resolution to allow UW-Milwaukee to conduct a campus master planning process to include potential new sites for university facilities;
- approved a UW-Whitewater design report and gave the campus authority to adjust the project budget and construct the Moraine Hall Remodeling Project; and
- gave the UW System authority to construct all agency maintenance and repair projects.
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007, in Van Hise Hall, Room 1820.
Related: Read July 12 (day 1) news summary