Before I turn the floor over to President Lyall, I’d like to comment briefly on the current status of state budget deliberations pertaining to the UW. This has been a long and difficult process for all concerned, but we must persevere until the ink is dry on the final budget bill.
Our Chancellors were given a very difficult and thankless task in determining how each institution would handle its budget cuts within a set of four guiding principles – cut administration first; merge or eliminate majors or programs with small enrollments; support a move-to-the-midpoint policy for tuition; and, lastly, adjust enrollment targets to reflect decreased staffing, if necessary.
Each institution engaged its faculty, staff, students and community members in open forums to determine, from the ground up, how it would manage its cuts. This was as it should be, with decision-making by those in the trenches and closest to the front, as opposed to detailed top-down directives from the regents or System administration. Certainly, there are those who disagree with some of the specific results. This is inevitable, given the vastness and complexity of our system. But all voices were heard, and any concerns with on-going impacts can be reconsidered in our “Rethinking the UW System” exercise in the coming months.
The Joint Finance Committee of the Legislature took up our budget in mid-May and, with some modifications, approved the Governor’s original proposal. Of note is the fact that the Committee voted to allow us to spread the position cuts proposed over the two years of the biennium, rather than taking them all in the first year. This is especially beneficial for the UW Colleges, which could have been significantly harmed by the original proposal. I was also pleased to see that it was a bipartisan vote and that the committee decided that campus-based decisions are best and did not micromanage.
I won’t pretend to call a $250 million cut to our base funding a victory. But in light of the fact that it could have gotten much worse, I do believe that we can declare that Engage Wisconsin was successful. Again, the process used in determining specific cuts was the right one, and we were able to convey that convincingly to our lawmakers.
Some heart-felt thanks are due. For myself, and I believe I can speak for all of the regents, with a big Thank You! to the Chancellors, Provosts, faculty, staff and students for coming to grips with our budget problems. To all of these folks, as well as to members of alumni groups, foundations and other organizations, to local community leaders, editors, parents, Regents Emeritus and other friends of the university, another big Thank You! for the multitude of supporting visits, phone calls, letters and emails which made the difference with our lawmakers.
At the System level, I must single out Linda Weimer, who did a fine job in coordinating Engage Wisconsin with the individual institutions, and especially Linda’s colleagues in University Relations, Margaret Lewis and David Miller, who worked tirelessly, informing legislators and correcting misconceptions as they deliberated on specific budget issues – another big Thank You!
Lastly, I must thank my fellow regents who took the time to make the contacts and spread the good word about our great university. This budget process has been difficult, and your willingness to join in the fray has been invaluable.
In the words of the great philosopher, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” We must continue to see the process through, to implement its final outcomes, and to plan for the future.
With respect to the future, Vice President Marcovich, President Lyall and I have begun to give “Rethinking the UW System” some form and substance with a draft case statement and structural outlines for the study. We’ll be sharing these drafts with regents and chancellors in the days ahead and, with your input, should be in position to get down to work on this vital project at our retreat in July.