Last evening, Governor Doyle laid out his budget proposal for the state of Wisconsin for the 2003-05 biennium. It is a serious proposal to address a mounting state deficit that threatens our state’s health. Governor Doyle is proposing very deep cuts to state spending, including very deep cuts to our university system.

The Governor has proposed to cut $250 million in state GPR funding from the UW System over the next two years — $110 million in year one and $140 million in year two. Please keep in mind that our current base GPR budget is about one billion dollars. Under the Governor’s proposal, state support for every UW student would drop by about $1,000 in each of the next two years.

In the current year, we have already taken nearly $50 million in GPR cuts while enrollments rose by 2,400. With that as context, the Governor’s proposed UW cuts go far deeper, far faster than anything we have faced before in our history.

This cut is the equivalent of eliminating all state support for UW-Green Bay, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, and the 13 UW Colleges in year one of the biennium and erasing all state support for UW-Milwaukee in year two. These cuts will affect every student on every campus. And they will be felt in every campus community. . . by landlords, music stores, energy companies, banks, pizza parlors, movie theaters, real estate agents, restaurants, hotels, and many other businesses that serve UW related needs because of every state dollar, 99 cents is spent by our campuses and that is where cuts will be felt most.

Recognizing these local impacts and knowing that our average in-state undergraduate tuition ranks last among our peer institutions, the Governor has proposed to cushion some of the negative effects of his budget on student access by proposing to bring our tuition more in line with the average at other Midwest public universities. He has also been sensitive to our neediest students by proposing $23.6 million in increased financial aid to offset these hikes.

However, it is by no means certain that the Legislature will approve these tuition increases. Therefore, it is prudent that we plan for a “worst case” scenario. Over the next six weeks, the Regents and I will hold a series of public meetings throughout the state to assess the budget choices facing our universities and to solicit input from campus and community members on how best to balance enrollment pressures, quality, tuition, and state support to insure the long-term viability of the university system. We will be asking those Legislators who have campuses in their communities and whose districts and constituents will be most impacted by these cuts to work with us on these difficult issues.

As we face these cuts, we will consider several principles: first, cut administrative expenses most removed from serving students; second, eliminate or merge duplicate academic programs and majors with low enrollments; third, support tuition increases that would place UW close to midpoint of our peer institutions; and lastly review and adjust enrollment targets if necessary after these steps have been taken. However, our budget is 85% personnel and we cannot generate dollar savings of the proposed magnitude without affecting jobs and people.

We will urge the Legislature to support the Governor’s tuition and financial aid increases and to remove the state subsidy first from those students who can afford to pay a bit more for their college education, hoping that in better times ahead the state might restore some support for students. But even with the proposed tuition increases, we will be left with a significant, ongoing hole in our base budget.

We know that UW students and their families would prefer not to face steep tuition increases over the next few years, but there are others who will support these increases as a way to preserve their future access to the UW System. Without some offsetting tuition dollars, cuts of this magnitude cannot be met without reducing course offerings, student services, fields of studies, and access to the UW System. Without relief from these tuition dollars, our UW students may return next fall to very different educational experiences.

We appreciate the hard choices facing the Governor and Legislature and we are prepared to make hard choices, too. But I would remind us all that these cuts are not about some abstraction called the “UW System”; they are about the hopes and dreams of our young people. In their education rests not only the state’s future economic health but also the state’s future supply of teachers, nurses, doctors, business owners, mayors, and legislators. We must meet this budget crisis in ways that preserve the university’s capacity to serve the state’s workforce and its evolving economy.