The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee took action today on the University of Wisconsin System’s 2011-13 biennial budget, approving a $250-million reduction in state taxpayer support. At the same time, committee members preserved a unified UW System while providing all UW institutions with new leadership flexibilities in budgeting, financial management, personnel, and purchasing, as well as provisions related to tuition and construction.

“Preserving a unified UW System that includes UW-Madison is critical to helping Wisconsin face tomorrow’s challenges.  Legislators heard a clear message from citizens around our state who want UW institutions to remain part of one efficient, effective statewide system,” said UW System Board of Regents President Charles Pruitt.  “Over the next two years, our challenge will be to preserve broad access to a high-quality college experience, as we educate more students with fewer state dollars. This will be tough to do, but new flexibilities will help.”

“For decades, UW Chancellors, UW System Presidents, and Regents appointed by both Democratic and Republican Governors have asserted that our universities and colleges could operate more efficiently if relieved of cumbersome state rules.  New voices have amplified that call for change, and we’ve engaged in robust conversations about the best ways to give all UW institutions more control over their operations,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “These flexibilities will help us cope with near-term challenges, and will position the UW System to better serve the state’s evolving needs for decades to come.”

“All of our current UW chancellors have been strong advocates for change, joined by business leaders, local elected officials, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others,” said Pruitt. “Governor Walker is willing to consider bold changes, recognizing UW’s unique needs and challenges, and we appreciate the work of key legislators who worked to improve this budget in ways that would benefit all UW institutions and preserve the System. The leadership of Senator Harsdorf and Representative Strachota was especially instrumental.”

The Wisconsin Idea Partnership is UW System’s plan for specific statutory changes that would let all UW institutions operate more efficiently, while remaining part of a unified statewide system.

UW leaders will continue working with legislators and the Governor to ensure that new flexibilities are not diluted in any way during the remainder of the budget-making process. At the same time, they hope to address specific issues in the budget bill to achieve the best possible outcomes for all UW institutions.

“We’re looking at some of the most significant changes since the UW System was created 40 years ago. We will approach these changes in a thoughtful manner that preserves UW System’s reputation for excellence and our strong commitment to accountability,” said Reilly.