After Gov. Scott Walker officially released the state budget proposal on Feb. 3, administrators are working with students, faculty, staff and the community to prioritize in preparation for the state support loss.
Walker claims his plan will help deliver “the American dream” to those falling short the past few years. Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed concern over the proposed 13 percent cut to the University of Wisconsin System over the biennium, saying it is too large and would do damage to both the university and state economy.
“This is a historic cut,” said Katrina Shankland, the assembly district 71 representative. “We believe it is the largest to the UW System. There is just nothing left to cut that won’t severely compromise the quality of UW education.”
She said because UW-Stevens Point does not have differential tuition, it does not have the same competitive advantage of other four-year universities. 10 of the 13 four-years have it.
“What we don’t know is still much, much more than we do know,” said Greg Summers, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “There is a very lengthy legislative process that has yet to unfold. It’s important that we not treat the proposal as if it is written in stone.”
Summers said even though approved numbers will not be released for months, the focus of UWSP has to be on maintaining the quality, accessibly and affordability of education.
Through forums and committee meetings, the administration aims find out what programs and services need to be protected the most. A decision will be made in the coming weeks about the mathematical formula used to allocate the cuts.
“This will not be across the board,” said Chancellor Bernie Patterson on Jan. 30, during the first of several public forums. “While across the board sounds fair to everyone, it is not strategic. We have to think about what we can stop doing so we can keep doing things that we all agree have to continue.”
Greg Diemer, the vice chancellor for business affairs, said it is still unknown whether there are any specific colleges or departments that will be more susceptible to cuts.
Summers said administration is beginning to think about cuts to the operational budget of UWSP that will be permanent in nature and allow advancement without the extra revenue from the state.
“We have to start looking for one-time dollars that will stretch our timeline for meeting that base cut,” Summers said.
One immediate change made going forward is the issuing of one-year contracts as opposed to two or three-year contracts for faculty. Summers said this is meant to maintain flexibility.
Discretionary merit compensation and discretionary equity or retention adjustment, which had only applied to classified staff, has been suspended indefinitely by the Office of State Employment Relations. This was the mechanism by which staff received salary adjustments or one-time lump sums.
In addition, the UW System has recommended a freeze on out-of-state travel, promotions, salary adjustments and hiring positions not considered critical.
“We are reviewing all the open positions and those decisions about which ones will be filled will be made by the vice chancellors in consultation with me,” Patterson said.
Travel for recruitment purposes will not be curtailed, but the $250,000 spent per year on out-of-state travel has been a topic of conversation. Summers said administration does not see those in line for a promotion being halted.
Summers has begun a conversation with governance groups about the possible suspension of sabbaticals. He said they are an integral part of the teaching and learning mission of the campus, but the $150,000 spent per year is being taken into consideration. The Freshman Year Seminar courses, while showing notable success among students, are also a costly endeavor seen as a potential source for cuts.
Because planning for the new science building is 35 percent complete, Summers said it is unlikely to be cut. There is no official word on whether the proposed Health and Wellness Center will go through.
Students at the Feb. 4, open forum expressed concern that many of their peers are still unaware of the depth of the cuts proposed, and said that might be the reason for the “lack of action.”
Student Government Association President Chris Slattery said the organization is regularly updating its Facebook page and sending student-wide emails containing accurate, neutral information so students can form their own opinions.
Dawn Henke, a senior sociology and social work major, already graduated with one degree from UWSP and is returning for a second. She spoke up at Wednesday’s forum, saying students need to band together in support of the UW System.
“We need to be advocates for social justice,” Henke said. “On Feb. 14, at noon, at UW-Madison at Library Mall, we are getting together and rallying. We are going to have our voices heard. It’s Valentine’s Day – what’s a better way to spend it with your significant other? If you’re single, give me a better way to meet somebody.”
As students, she said it is important to think about younger siblings and the quality of educators and materials that will be provided to them. She also emphasized recognition of how much time and work faculty put into their professions.
On Feb. 4, Patterson was in Madison with Rob Manzke, the chief of staff, and Ryan Kernosky, the SGA director of legislative affairs, speaking with key legislators about the proposed cuts. This weekend, Slattery will be in La Crosse for UW Student Reps, a gathering of student government leaders within the System. He will be discussing differential tuition and the effect the cuts could have on the System and UWSP in particular. SGA will be lobbying in Madison throughout February.
To stay up to date as more details are released, there are three upcoming open forums:
- Monday, February 9, 9 to 10 a.m., Alumni Room, DUC
- February 11, 6 p.m., DUC 374
- February 23, 6 p.m., DUC Theater
Attendance is also encouraged at SGA Senate meetings. During the open forum portion, individuals can provide senators with opinions and suggestions. Meetings are Thursdays at 6:15 p.m. in the DUC Legacy Room.
News and Environment Editor