Ray Cross, University of Wisconsin-System President, visited the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus on Nov. 15 to answer questions about his proposed merger of University of Wisconsin campuses.
Cross was scheduled for a meeting on the morning of Nov. 16 with business leaders and Chancellor Patterson, but proposed an earlier visit to meet with campus government.
Despite attempted jokes by Cross, the mood in the room remained tense throughout the course of the discussion.
Ray Cross first addressed concern that the merger came without consulting the universities.
“The reason we didn’t spend a lot of time publicly studying this, is the anxiety about change that that creates,” Cross said. “The colleges probably have two years, maybe thirty months in order to continue operating without essentially being bankrupt.”
Cross emphasized that the merger should help to streamline processes and departments like human resources and slim down the budget deficit.
Cross said that by July 1, 2018, the UW-System is aiming to change the reporting structure of the colleges. But larger changes that would completely merge the colleges will take place over the next four to five years.
“We’re human beings, and we often delay and delay and delay and think something else is going to fix the problem,” Cross said.
Beyond concerns about the merger itself, faculty expressed concerns that tuition differential will impact access to affordable quality education for students at two-year colleges.
Chancellor Bernie Patterson said that while he didn’t know how that accessibility would be maintained.
“We are committed to maintaining that access mission, we just have to figure out how to do it within the systems that are available to us,” Patterson said.
Al Thompson, vice chancellor for student affairs and senior diversity officer, said, “This merger will happen. We will handle it. We will work together.”
Thompson’s promise comes with the looming threat of lay-offs, as UWSP is looking to half its structural deficit of $5 million by July 2018.
Olivia De Valk