Boots & Sabers

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0626, 28 Jan 15

Walker Proposed $400 Million Cut to UW System

In exchange for more autonomy for the university system.

As part of the UW plan, Walker would turn the system into a public authority. Walker will call in his budget for another two-year freeze on tuition for undergraduates who hail from Wisconsin. After that, the system will have the authority to increase tuition on its own.

UW President Ray Cross said the cuts are “substantial.” Still, he said the public authority status, similar to the relationship UW Hospital has with the state, would give the system the ability to manage on its own things like procurement and some building projects.

“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families.”

We have had this ongoing debate in Wisconsin about the relationship between the taxpayers and the university system. There is no question that the state university is a tremendous value for the state both in terms of educating the population and economic development. It is a critical piece of Wisconsin’s puzzle.

The taxpayers get frustrated when they see tuition rising sharply for their kids while they see the universities spending money on things seemingly unrelated to education. The taxpayers rightfully wonder why they are spending so much of the state’s resources on the universities if they are not using that money to fulfill a primary function of the system – to educate the kids of Wisconsin.

On the other side, the university wants more independence to make decisions without the oversight of the taxpayers. They argue that the university has many missions, including education, that they can better fulfill without state management.

Walker’s proposal seeks to meet some of both demands. It would give the university system more of the independence it wants while reducing the exposure of the taxpayers for those decisions.

One thing I don’t like about the plan is that it turns the funding for the university into a block grant that is indexed to inflation. This makes the funding more automatic to give certainty to the university officials, but it also makes the funding much more inaccessible to the legislature to change. One thing we don’t need in Wisconsin is another huge part of the state budget that is set aside to automatically increase without the active control of the legislature.

We will have to see more details of the plan as it unfolds. How much independence are we talking about? How will the cuts be spread out? We’ll have to see.




0626, 28 January 2015


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    UW system is where there is major bloat.

    $400 million is a small cut amount….it should be double that.

    You will get to $400 million just by cutting all the chancellors, provosts, and other unproductive administrators.

  2. Gee

    What sharply rising tuition? Stick with facts. The UW has been under a tuition freeze for years, and Walker will continue it for more years.

    And even more years of budget cuts, and now the most massive budget cuts in UW System history, will hit the campuses like UW-West Bend hard, as well as the campus to which many UWWB students transfer, UW-Milwaukee — the campus with the most Wisconsin students, more than at UW-Madison.

    And as the priority will have to be be on continuing to offer the most classes possible, the cuts cannot be spread out equally but will have to hit hardest at the 90-plus percent of UW workers who are not faculty (there are fewer than 1000 faculty at Milwaukee, for example, for more than 28,000 students) and many not even in the academic area but who also are crucial to student success.

    With fewer workers, expect slower approvals of admissions and transfers — and financial aid — and less assistance and fewer hours from librarians and computer technicians and student services staff and facilities. Expect layoffs of carpenters and plumbers and electricians and painters and custodians and clerical staff who maintain student records, so if students can get the classes to get to graduation, expect slower turnaround on transcripts (now done in a day) to get into grad school or to get onto the job market.

    But at least all of those unemployed former UW workers can get on the job market sooner to get those 250,000 new jobs. . . .

  3. Jerry

    If Walker is the fiscal genius he claims to be why did he run the state budget into a major deficit again after claiming his policies cleared the previous deficit. If he believes there is fat in the U. W. system that should be cut he should spell out exactly where; not say the savings “MIGHT” occur if everyone taught one more class. Borrowing money, $220 million, for professional athletes and cutting $300 million for the professional education of students perfectly highlights the importance he attaches to education. To see him destroy the crown jewel of higher education in Wisconsin with the stroke of a pen is just one more nail this fool is putting into the coffin of a once robust and proud state. Heaven help the people who want to see him lead the nation in this direction!

  4. Gee

    If everyone on faculty and other fulltime instructional staff taught one more class, the budget hit still would be almost the same, with little savings. If Walker ever actually had run a business or had been in the “real world,” he would know that those folks already are on set salaries. So, that would mean fewer part-time adjuncts, many of them from that “real world” of business, who add much to students’ education. (They do not do the other tasks of fulltimers and often do not hold office hours for advising students nor create new courses to update curriculum for students nor serve on committees to create new programs for the same purpose and more that also is part of the fulltime faculty’s job, but office and other hours would have to be reduced, to cover more classes. See: UW-Parkside and other campuses, where the previous years of budget cuts already have meant increased courseloads for fulltimers — with predictable impact on the other tasks that fulltimers used to be able to do.)

    Parttimers’ pay per course in most fields is only a few thousand dollars. Don’t rehire thousands of adjuncts, at a few thousand dollars per course, and the savings might mean a few million dollars — perhaps one percent of the historic $300 million-dollar hit to make Walker look good to Iowa.

    That’s why, if Wisconsin wants its students to still have the courses they want to get to graduation, the hit will have to be hardest on the UW workers who do not teach those students. And no matter the denials, this also is going to have to mean closing some campuses, starting with the smallest campuses that are close to the larger campuses. Yes, you can bet that they’re looking at you, West Bend — first for layoffs of lots of non-instructional staff, and then for closing your campus. But you can turn those buildings into big-box stores, give those unemployed former UW workers some jobs at a few bucks an hour, and call the site UW-Walmart.

  5. Nashotah Conservative

    I think forgotten in this whole mess is just how much universities now spend on non-instructional programs (student life) and “amenities”. When I went to college, I went to study/learn. Yes, we had the occasional weekend party ($5 a cup anyone?), but we paid tuition $$ to get a good education, develop skills, and be prepared for a career.

    Looking at the proliferation of deluxe living accomodations, student unions, etc, it is almost like universities are trying to attract kids to their campus based on a “coolness” factor.

    I think UW is bloated in places, but not for the reasons the Governor listed. If a wealthy alumni wants to build all of these “perks” on campus, great! If not, raising student fees by hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to pay for it is a losing proposition.

    I’m worried that too many of our young people now go to college “for the experience” than for an education.

  6. Steve Austin

    I like the idea for people to examine the UW system and what we actually accomplish there for all those dollars. And this isn’t just UW, but higher-ed in general.

    Whenever I hear one of the profs whine, I’d reply back with a question asking them why the rise of a college education has fast outpaced inflation for decades now. Ask them what they are providing today that they weren’t providing students with back in 1980 to justify all the additional money higher-ed charges (and receives).

    If one needs to see the 70 hour workweek put in by UW faculty, look no further than blogger Ann Althouse and her $170,000 a year state salary with cushy retirement benefits. She teaches law at UW but also has no problem blogging all day long. Half the time I visit her website, she and Meade are off on some vacation in Wyoming or somewhere else since school literally isn’t in session an aggregate of 5-months out of the year. She will tell you these jobs aren’t that hard.

    Reality hit the private sector years ago with global competition where we all have to work harder for the same dime. Time for higher-ed to join the party.

  7. Gee

    I agree, Nashotah, that the dorms today are like resort hotels, compared to what they used to be — but housing isn’t at all a factor in Walker’s plan. Housing costs are not part of tuition, so there has been and will not be a freeze on housing costs. And housing expenditures also are not part of Walker’s target, which is the operating budget for the campuses.

    Also, the majority of 150,000 UW students across the state do not live in dorms, campus housing. Many live at home — some are older and own their homes — and many pay rent in off-campus housing, entirely unconnected to the campuses. (That is, those landlords are “private sector” so are making profits, which dorms do not.)

    From recent experience of seeing the apartments where my children lived, they haven’t changed at all from the apartments that we had when in college. Indeed, I think that those landlords haven’t painted those places or updated the plumbing since we went to college, Nashotah.

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