“This afternoon, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance voted to cut the University’s budget by $40.3 million in 2005-07, from the level proposed by the Governor. This cut follows others of $50 million in 2001-03, $250 million in 2003-05, and cuts and reallocations of $65 million required in the Governor’s budget proposal for 2005-07.
“This cascading series of harsh cuts seriously diminishes the university’s capacity to deliver what we all know Wisconsin desperately needs—more baccalaureate and graduate degree holders; more high-paying jobs based on university expertise, research, and spin-offs; and the resulting higher per capita income.
“That’s why I’m troubled and puzzled by this set of reductions. I’m sure students and their families are also trying hard to understand the message the state has been sending. Do we want to increase access to higher education in Wisconsin, or limit it by shrinking enrollments? Do we want to continue to raise tuition to offset budget cuts, or hold down tuition increases? Do we want to stoke the university’s powerful research engine and strategically connect it to job creation and the discoveries of the future? And once the state decides how to address these and other issues, how do we get there?
“We should not continue to cut our academic programs and student services blindly without answers to these and other critical public policy questions. I heard Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Kaufert and Fitzgerald talk during the committee’s deliberations about wanting to make future reinvestments in the university, and the need for a stronger, more frequent, more collaborative dialogue and partnership with the legislature and the state to accomplish that. The Governor has made the same points.
“Under these circumstances, I am proposing that the Board of Regents and I work with the Governor and Legislature to appoint a bipartisan Commission on the Future of the UW System. This Commission should clarify what the state of Wisconsin wants from its public university, and what its citizens are willing to support. Without this clarification, I believe Wisconsin will slip into the backwaters of the 21st century knowledge economy. With this clarification and the targeted reinvestment it will drive, we can marshal the resources of the university to promote the economic security and quality of life of all our residents.
“We will continue to work with the legislature and the governor to try to make sure that the final 2005-07 UW budget is in the best interest of students and the state’s future. In the meantime, I ask the legislature and Governor Doyle to join us in supporting creation of a commission that will engage the state in a candid, meaningful discussion about the future of this great university that preceding generations of Wisconsinites struggled so hard to build. Those earlier generations, and our kids and grandkids, deserve no less.”