Questions Arise Regarding UW System Authority

Questions Arise Regarding UW System Authority

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed University of Wisconsin System Authority, which would give the Board of Regents more control over decision-making regarding payroll, tuition, building projects and other functions, has been met with both support and opposition.

In a campus-wide email sent on March 3, Chancellor Bernie Patterson said the authority would provide “a more predictable and stable budget.”

He said this development would allow for long-term planning beyond the two-year budget cycle and give students and families a better way to plan for costs.

“The proposed UW System Authority is a model similar to what has successfully been used by other states,” Patterson said. “Employees of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will continue to receive retirement and health insurance benefits through the State of Wisconsin’s Employee Trust Fund and the Wisconsin Retirement System. No changes in the sick leave conversion program are anticipated.”

Under the authority, the board would manage shared governance and tenure instead of the state legislature.

“The rules we would be operating under are unknown,” said Ed Miller, professor of political science. “It is unknown that they would adopt the rules that now exist.”

While the authority could offer more flexibility, it is unclear whether this change would save a substantial amount of money, he said.

“Many people are recommending a transitional period, whereby for example you would continue under the same statutes and rules, but the system would gradually increase their control over a variety of items such as purchasing and personnel systems and things like that,” Miller said. “That makes a little more sense.”

The question still hinges on whether the state legislature will support the authority.

“For example, you might end up getting the authority and the state legislature might still want control over tuition,” Miller said.

Alumna Dawn Henke said her concern lies with the lack of transparency in this plan.

“It is a massive shift, from legislative authority to a public corporate structure, and requires study,” Henke said. “What are the ‘efficiencies’? No one knows. What is being proposed for public authority? No one knows, because there is no plan. This is key: what will ‘carry over’ from Chapter 36 into the new plan? Will tenure? If so, what will it look like? Will shared governance? If not, what will be our governance structure? These are massive issues.”

She said the authority puts power into regents’ hands.

“While there are many university systems in the country governed under public authority structures, none have regents that are entirely selected by the legislature or governor,” Henke said. “Ours currently are, and that is not slated to change.”

She said students are on a four-year timescale, which does not lend itself to rapid structural shifts.

“A few efficiencies that might be found are in procurement, travel, buildings and administrative bloat, but the cuts will inevitably require layoffs, privatizing and furloughs as well as lack of living wages for grad assistants and adjunct lecturers,” Henke said.
She said morale is at an all-time low.
“People are leaving, research money is fleeing with them, students are not coming,” Henke said. “This once-great system is being rapidly dismantled, and we will be left with a huge mess that will take decades to fix.”

 

MyKayla Hilgart

News and Environment Editor

mhilg143@uwsp.edu

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