After extensive discussion involving UW System students, faculty, staff and administrators, the Board of Regents Tuesday (Aug. 7) approved the university’s 2007-08 operating budget with a 14 to 3 vote.
Despite uncertainties about the level of state funding that will be available to the UW System when the state’s 2007-09 biennial budget is decided, UW System President Kevin P. Reilly was able to craft a budget that would increase tuition at the university’s four-year campuses by only 5.5 percent in 2007-08 – the lowest percentage increase in seven years, and the lowest dollar increase in five years. In addition, the approved budget would freeze tuition at the freshman-sophomore UW Colleges for the coming academic year.
President Reilly, Regent President Mark J. Bradley and several other Regents all emphasized the increasing need for college-educated students if Wisconsin is to move forward and strengthen its economy. They noted that the university’s Growth Agenda for Wisconsin would accomplish these goals by providing access to affordable higher education for Wisconsin students and increase the valuable research that occurs on UW System campuses.
“Businesses in the state of Wisconsin, mayors in the state of Wisconsin, county board chairs have overwhelmingly endorsed the conclusions we drew in the data on what we’re going to need to do to increase prosperity,” Regent President Bradley said, referring to the strong support across the state for the Growth Agenda.
“Excitement generated throughout the state for the Growth Agenda is contagious and appreciated,” added Regent Danae Davis.
One key part of the Regents’ decision was ensuring that the university would have some funding available for routine pay plan increases for faculty and staff. Regents learned more about the widening gap that exists between salaries of UW System faculty and staff and those of their colleagues at peer institutions, and how the university would have to provide salary increases of at least 4 percent each of the next four years to narrow it.
Wes Chapin, a political science professor at UW-River Falls, laid out challenges related to recruiting and retaining faculty and staff when they are being offered higher salaries elsewhere. He emphasized how minimal salary increases coupled with increased faculty and staff responsibility for their insurance and pension funding has left many UW System personnel with net pay reductions in recent years and has driven some away from Wisconsin.
“When we lose those quality people, we’ve lost the ability to serve our students well,” he said.
“Students and parents expect that when they pay more they will get more,” said Lynn Freeman, director of UW-Oshkosh’s Undergraduate Advising Resource Center, arguing for a faculty and staff pay-plan increase. “In reality, with the lack of public support, quality has not gone up.”
Regents also heard from Jeff Allen, a student at UW-La Crosse and the president of the United Council of UW Students. Allen shared with the Board his personal struggles to finance his education, and expressed concern that further tuition increases would hinder the ability of UW students to finish their college degrees.
“My dreams and the dreams of other students like me are being threatened … because we are finding it harder and harder to afford a quality education,” he said, saying Regents must continue to demand a reinvestment in the UW System by the state Legislature.
Though the UW System was able to craft an operating budget that keeps tuition increases at their lowest levels in years, President Reilly said the university needs increased support from the state in order to sustain its quality of education while remaining affordable to Wisconsin students, warning that this will not be the case without an investment from the Legislature.
“If the Legislature backs off from the reinvestments in the UW already approved by this Board, by the Governor, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Finance and the Senate, higher tuition is the chief alternative to preserve the level of quality and service demanded by Wisconsinites, and no one wants to go down that road,” he said.
Regent Tom Loftus said he hoped the university would forge a stronger partnership with the Legislature, and that the UW System has already fulfilled the state’s requests for a more efficient, competent, leaner university that graduates more students.
“We are presenting to them, the leaders [in state government], our best judgment as to what this university needs right now and for the future,” he said.
In a separate motion, the Board voted to encourage the Legislature to provide the UW System with the funding recommended by Gov. Doyle for veterans’ tuition.
Regents also denied an appeal of Associated Students of Madison that would have overruled UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley’s decision to disallow allocable student segregated fees to be used for rent on off-campus property for student groups. Regents will also convene a special committee to review segregated fee practices within the UW System.
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007, in Van Hise Hall, Room 1820