Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Tag: University of Wisconsin System

Republicans Push Prioritization at UW


MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers voted to cut the University of Wisconsin System’s budget by $32 million on Thursday despite a projected record-high $7 billion state budget surplus, leaving the university nearly half a billion dollars short of what it requested.


The cut comes in reaction to Republican anger over diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs on the system’s 13 universities. Republican leaders have said the $32 million is what they estimated would be spent on those programs over the next two years.


“They need to refocus their priorities on being partners on developing our workforce and the future of the state, and we’re hopeful that they’re going to be ready to do that as we move forward,” Republican state Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, said at a news conference.


The university system could get the $32 million back at a later date if it shows how it would be spent on workforce development efforts, and not diversity, equity and inclusion programs, lawmakers said. The GOP plan also aims to cut more than 180 diversity, equity and inclusion jobs on UW campuses.

The UW System has been bleeding students and money for years, and yet, they have steadfastly refused to make any significant structural reforms to adapt to that reality. Meanwhile, they continue to increase spending in areas that don’t have anything to do with education. Until they prioritize students and education, the UW System should not be given more taxpayer money to waste.

UW Increases Size of Slush Fund During Pandemic

Just remember these tidbits when they jack up your kid’s tuition and whine about being poor.

After a year of spending cuts driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, fund balances at University of Wisconsin System campuses have grown significantly. Tuition reserves, in particular, have increased by more than 46 percent following years of sustained decreases that put some campuses in financial jeopardy.


Tuition fund balances are revenues left over after expenses are paid in a prior campus budget year and used to safeguard against unexpected costs or revenue losses.


According to a new UW System report on a variety of balances, unrestricted tuition fund balances in fiscal year 2021 increased to $333.2 million, which works out to an increase of more than 46 percent compared to the $227.3 million held at the end of the 2020 fiscal year. That’s the highest tuition balances have been since 2015. The increase follows years of consistent tuition fund balance declines driven by anger from Republican lawmakers over the size of balances held by system campuses nearly a decade ago.




In addition, the UW System got around $575 million in federal stimulus funds during the pandemic. Half of that is slated for student emergency aid. The UW System reports spending about $265 million in federal stimulus funds.

UW Applications Rise

Interesting, but I’m not sure it’s very useful information.

MADISON, Wis.—New fall freshman applications for University of Wisconsin System universities are up by about 30 percent over each of the last two years. Moreover, applications by Wisconsin residents, first-generation students, and underrepresented minorities are also up.

The increases are the result of several actions the UW System took over the last 15 months to simplify the application process, including waiving application fees, creating a new EApp (electronic application), allowing students to use a single application for multiple universities, and suspending
the requirement that students take the ACT.

The increase in applications does not necessarily reflect an increase in demand. With free, online applications, I expect that they are getting a lot of applicants who have little interest in actually attending. That seems to be what Tommy Thompson is indicating here:

Thompson cautioned that not all students who apply and are admitted will enroll. However, he said the increase in applications is a positive signal about first-year enrollments.

Here is the real number to watch – enrollment.

Largely due to the pandemic, enrollment was down at UW System universities in fall 2020 by 1.7 percent, according to final figures. That’s less than the national decline of 4 percent for public institutions, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

UW Regents Swing to Left

Elections have consequences. But as the legislature looks to unleash their tuition authority, this decision may have an immediate impact on thousands of Wisconsin students.

Attention this week turns to the UW Board of Regents, which finds itself at an interesting inflection point in the political power struggle over control of the University of Wisconsin System with the board holding its first contested election in nearly a decade.

Appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker led the 18-member board for the past six years, but the political balance tipped this month when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced his newest regent picks. The board now includes nine Evers appointees, seven Walker appointees, the state superintendent and the Wisconsin Technical College System board president.

After the story has quote after quote of liberals bemoaning the influence of politics in the Regents, we get this little reminder:

There’s always been an element of political influence looming over the Regents by the very nature of their appointment and confirmation process.

In one of the most brazen examples, the Democratic-controlled Senate in the early 2000’s bottled up then-Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s regent nominations for so long that, after he left to become secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, the picks remained held up for the entirety of his successor’s two-year tenure. When Doyle was elected, he withdrew the Republican appointees and then replaced them with his own.


Legislature Moves to Ends UW Tuition Freeze

Interesting… so the Democrats all voted to keep tuition frozen at UW.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s Republican-led budget committee voted Thursday to end a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze that has been in place for eight years and has long been a GOP priority that had bipartisan support.


Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed, and the university supported, extending the tuition freeze for another two years, along with spending $192 million more on the UW System.


But the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee went in a different direction Thursday, voting to end the tuition freeze and adding just $8.25 million in state funding for UW, $9.5 million for technical colleges and $5 million for a nurse education program for students at both private and public colleges and universities in the state.

All 11 Republicans voted to end the freeze, while all four Democrats voted to keep it.

I’m dubious, but I see what they are doing. The legislature is increasing taxpayer funding to UW, but slowly enough that it is continuing the trend of reducing the percentage of taxpayer support in the UW budget. At the same time, they are lifting the tuition freeze to allow them to get more funding that way. The market will regulate increases, in theory, but the higher education market is warped by easy borrowed money from the government.

Still, if I am to choose between the taxpayers or the tuition payers supporting UW spending, I’d rather it be the tuition payers.

UW System Sees Budget Hole


While UW is experiencing a budget hole of $170 million, Thompson said the losses related to the pandemic were more than $600 million dollars before federal and state Covid-19 relief funds helped fill some of that gap.


“We implemented employee furloughs. We also restricted traveling. We also didn’t fill some vacancies and we’ve also had to institute layoffs,” Thompson said.

How much of that is because of the policy choices made by UW officials? More to the point, how much of that budget hole are they responsible for? Many UW campuses chose to stay closed or only very limited opening well after it was clear that young people were not in a high risk category. Many campuses remained mostly closed. Even for next year…

As Action 2 News previously reported, UW schools are planning to have at least 75 percent of all classes in-person this fall.

Part of the traditional university experience is the on-campus learning and social environment. UW stripped that experience away and many students chose to take a break or go somewhere else. How much should the taxpayers be on the hook for a budget hole that was partially created by policy decisions? Thompson lists out some measures that UW officials took to mitigate the issue, but did they do enough? Should taxpayers expect more aggressive actions before providing additional funds? I truly don’t know the answers to those questions. They are not meant to be provocative, but I do think they are questions that need to be answered prior to throwing more taxpayer money into the system.

UW Encourages More Student Debt

Follow the money.

“There really is a crisis and a need for action and a need for change,” said Venable. He noted that state support has fallen from 42 percent of the UW’s budget a few decades ago to only 14 percent today. That decline has been exacerbated by the pandemic economy. “We would be having this conversation without COVID,” he said, “though it’s a catalyst.”

Lyall noted that the state legislature’s decision to freeze tuition over the last 10 years has made it impossible for UW System universities to set a market rate for the price of their services. “I don’t know of any of any other university that has had its tuition frozen for the past decade,” she said. “I don’t know of any business that could survive having its prices frozen for a decade.”

Let’s break down the two major complaints. First, state funding of UW has dropped from 42% to 14% over a “few decades.” TRUE! Why?

I’ll save myself the homework again and just post the same thing I posted a few months ago:

The balance between funding sources is a policy decision. What has happened here is that the UW System has driven up spending despite declining enrollment. State and local lawmakers resisted maintaining the taxpayers’ commitment to the spending and the percentage share declined. For some numbers:


In the 2010-11 operating budget, the UW System spent $5.591 billion to educate 178,909 students. That’s $31,251 per student.


In the 2018-19 operating budget, the UW System spent $6.349 billion to educate 164,494 students. That’s $38,597 per student.


If you want to claim inflation… nope. $31,251 in 2010 inflation-adjusts to $35,988 in 2018. UW is still spending $2,609 more per student for no rational reason at all.


The problem here is just that the UW System spends far too much. They can increase the percentage of public support by just lowering their overall spending. But they won’t… because it’s not about the share of public support. It’s simply about the fact that they want even more money to waste.

Meanwhile, they want to lift the tuition cap. What does that do? The kids will still come because borrowed money is still easy to come by. As long as kids can use debt to fund their college ambitions because they are brainwashed into believing that a college education is the only path to financial security, they will. What the UW big wigs are really advocating here is for more kids to shoulder even more student debt in order to fund their irresponsible spending. And where does that spending go? It goes into the pockets of themselves and staff to pay for their lifestyles.

Sure, some of the kids will get a valuable education in return. Some will not. But all will pay.

Renting Castles

Speaking of fat in university budgets… this blurb caught my attention while looking up stuff from a show I’m watching.

Dalkeith Palace has not been lived in by the Buccleuch family since 1914 and has been leased to the University of Wisconsin system for a study abroad program since 1985. Approximately 60-80 students a semester live in the palace, where they also take classes from U.S. and U.K. faculty members.


Declining University Funding


Wisconsin ranks 41st in the nation for total revenues going to higher education, according to a new report from the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Forum. It shows the state ranks last in the Midwest.

The study shows that between 2000 and 2019, adjusted state and local tax appropriations per college student dropped from $10,333 to $6,846, which was 16.5 percent below last year’s national average of $8,196.

Between 2011 and 2019, the report shows state and local revenues dropped at the sixth-highest rate in the nation.


For the UW System, full-time enrollments have dropped by an average of 8.4 percent since a peak of 142,907 in 2010. Enrollments at the state’s two-year colleges fell by more than 47 percent between 2011 and 2019. Last year, two-year UW campuses in Baraboo, Barron County, Manitowoc, Marinette, Marshfield, Richland Center and Sheboygan each enrolled fewer than 300 students.

The report also noted enrollment at the state’s technical colleges has fallen by 22.5 percent since peaking in 2011.

The balance between funding sources is a policy decision. What has happened here is that the UW System has driven up spending despite declining enrollment. State and local lawmakers resisted maintaining the taxpayers’ commitment to the spending and the percentage share declined. For some numbers:

In the 2010-11 operating budget, the UW System spent $5.591 billion to educate 178,909 students. That’s $31,251 per student.

In the 2018-19 operating budget, the UW System spent $6.349 billion to educate 164,494 students. That’s $38,597 per student.

If you want to claim inflation… nope. $31,251 in 2010 inflation-adjusts to $35,988 in 2018. UW is still spending $2,609 more per student for no rational reason at all.

The problem here is just that the UW System spends far too much. They can increase the percentage of public support by just lowering their overall spending. But they won’t… because it’s not about the share of public support. It’s simply about the fact that they want even more money to waste.


UW Schools See Declining Tuition Balances with Declining Enrollment

This is just going to continue. The demographic shift is being accelerated by traditional colleges that undermine their own value proposition by shifting to virtual learning. Better to get control of the spending now. Small adjustments early are preferable to massive adjustments late.

Balances in tuition reserve funds across the University of Wisconsin System are at their lowest levels since 2008. Without a significant cushion, some campuses are cutting spending and staff to address financial problems caused by declining enrollment, the coronavirus pandemic and eight years of frozen tuition.


Within the UW System, some of the tuition fund balance declines were significant. UW-Stout reported a negative balance of $133,181 at the end of June. The campus had more than $8 million in reserves three years before. UW-Whitewater saw its tuition balances drop from more than $15.5 million to under $3 million in that same period, a decline of more than 81 percent.

UW-Stout lost more than 1,200 students between 2016 and fall of last year, according to the UW-System’s Accountability Dashboard, which works out to a near 13 percent decline. This year, enrollment has fallen again by around 5 percent from fall of 2019, meaning the campus will take in nearly $2 million less in tuition revenue than expected.


UW-Stout is the third regional campus to submit a savings plan to the UW System’s central finance office in the past year, following UW-Stevens Point and UW-Oshkosh.

In December 2019, UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt announced the university had to reduce its budget by 7.5 percent through 2021 or it would “simply spend more money than we will bring in,” without enough reserves to cover the difference. Leavitt said at the time that the university would use retirement buyouts to cut an estimated 70 staff positions.

As of June, UW-Oshkosh had nearly $11 million in tuition balances, which a campus spokesperson said works out to 4 percent of its overall budget and represents half a month of operating expenses.

After three years of significant enrollment declines, UW-Stevens Point made national news in 2018 when Chancellor Bernie Patterson announced up to 13 degree programs would be cut to save money. Ultimately, the plan was dropped.

That same year, the campus developed a financial recovery plan with the UW System, which runs through 2022 and included $8 million in cuts. A campus spokesperson told WPR the university has reduced its staff by 58 employees over the last two years through early retirement buyouts, leaving vacant positions unfilled and laying off a small number of people.


UW System Still Has $1.33 Billion in Reserves

Methinks they can sustain a bit more “austerity.” 

By Ola Lisowski

The University of Wisconsin System holds $1.33 billion in reserve balances, according to a new audit report. Of the fund, $866.6 million is made up of unrestricted balances, and $468 million is restricted balances.

The audit, released by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau on July 30, shows total program revenue balances have increased by 0.8 percent since the previous year, when the system held $1.32 billion total. While restricted balances increased from $417 million to $468 million this year, unrestricted balances fell from $906.9 million to $866.6 million.

Tommy Thompson to lead UW system

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The University of Wisconsin System has been struggling to find a new system president to replace the retiring Ray Cross. After an exhaustive and expensive search that yielded a single final candidate, that candidate withdrew his application saying that, “it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.” Indeed, they do.

Last week, the University Of Wisconsin Board Of Regents paused their search for a permanent president and appointed former Gov. Tommy Thompson as an interim president for at least the next year. It is an inspired choice. The UW System is desperately in need of a fundamental transformation and Thompson is one of the few people who might be able to build enough unity to pull it off.

As Wisconsin’s only four term governor, Thompson is known as a pragmatic, consensus- building leader. He is also a cheerleader par excellence for everything Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s political landscape, however, is very different than when Thompson held power in Madison. Time will tell if Thompson can still build political bridges in this climate.


TOMMY! Named Interim UW-President

Good choice.

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin System regents’ leader has picked Republican darling Tommy Thompson as the system’s interim president, delivering another twist in what has become a messy search to replace outgoing President Ray Cross during the coronavirus pandemic.

Regents President Andrew Petersen asked Thompson, the state’s only four-term governor, to jump into the position, according to a system statement. Petersen has the power to unilaterally appoint interim presidents. He announced his choice to the full board of regents Thursday; the statement said Petersen received “uniform” support from the board.

“The University of Wisconsin System is the state’s most valuable asset, and I will be its biggest advocate and its toughest evaluator,” Thompson said in the statement. “No other institution in the state can do more to improve lives, communities, and Wisconsin’s economy.”

He’s a fantastic cheerleader who might be able to help unify some of the factions. He’s also a big government spender, so it will probably take someone else to shepherd the necessary budget contraction.

Only UW System President Finalist Withdraws

Back to square one.

“After deep reflection as to where I am called to lead a university system through these challenging times, it is clear to me and my family that it is in Alaska,” Johnsen said in a statement. “I appreciate the strong support from the search committee at Wisconsin, and for all those who supported my candidacy, but it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.”

UW System President Candidate Has History of Measured Cuts

Perhaps there is hope. UW needs someone who has experience with something like this given the oncoming budget crisis.

Last week, the UW System Administration office announced Johnsen as the only finalist to replace outgoing UW System President Ray Cross. The decision was met with some skepticism by faculty and staff members who felt they weren’t included in the selection process.

Others expressed worry over Johnsen’s recent role in cutting dozens of academic programs at the University of Alaska due to budget constraints, a fix that’s already been proposed by Cross as the UW System stares down financial challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, the University of Alaska Board of Regents approved eliminating about 40 programs, including theater and sociology at the University of Alaska Anchorage and chemistry and earth science at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

During Tuesday morning’s call with stakeholders, Kathleen Dolan, a UW-Milwaukee political science professor, asked Johnsen how faculty and students would say he supported liberal arts education at the University of Alaska System given the cuts.

Johnsen suggested the outcome could have been worse. Last July, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed cutting the budget of the university system by 41 percent before that number was negotiated down to 20 percent over three years, Johnsen said.

Each of the system’s seven campuses then completed their own program reviews led by chancellors and provosts with students and faculty included in the process. They examined things like quality, access, cost and market demand before proposing programs to be eliminated. Several rounds of reviews were completed before any decisions were made, Johnsen said.

UW System Asks for Approval to Take On Massive Debt

Yes to the start date. No to everything else.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross asked Gov. Tony Evers and legislative leaders Wednesday to call a special session of the Legislature to allow for UW to borrow money through a line of credit and possibly start classes earlier to help deal with “unprecedented financial and planning challenges” due to the coronavirus pandemic.


Cross noted that campuses have already furloughed and laid off employees and reduced costs. In order to have more flexibility, Cross asked for three general law changes:

— Grant a one-time exemption to allow for the school year to start earlier than Sept. 1, the earliest date allowed under state law. Cross noted that given the expectation of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the fall, many colleges want to start classes earlier and use an expedited scheduled to complete the fall semester by Thanksgiving.

— Give the university the ability to take out a line of credit to allow it to borrow money to get through the budget crisis posed by the pandemic. Cross noted that other universities are taking this step. Any debt created would be the responsibility of the university to pay back, not the state, Cross said.

— Relieve UW of many reporting requirements to free up resources, a move Cross said would “enhance the ability of our universities to be open in the broadest way possible this fall.”

Several universities are already doing an earlier start date. This allows them to complete the semester earlier and prevents an outbreak if everyone goes home for Thanksgiving and then returns to campus. This puts a burden on the businesses, including farms, who rely on summer labor, but is a sensible concession.

On the debt, Covid hit everyone hard and many people and businesses had to take huge hits to their incomes and value. By taking on debt, UW wants to avoid pain and shift it to the taxpayers or students in the form of guaranteed debt. There is so much fat in UW that they have a long way to go before the legislature should consider allowing them to outsource their pain to people who are already experiencing their own pain.

On the reporting, removing safeguards are a way to invite corruption and mismanagement. Perhaps they can streamline the reporting requirements, but they should not be abandoned for the sake of expediency.

UW Presidential Search Includes Non-Academics


The committee assigned to select System President Ray Cross’ successor held a conference call Friday to go over the job description. Committee members agreed on language that calls for at least 10 years of experience in a “significant senior executive position” and an understanding of public higher education.

University leaders traditionally have come from academia, though some politically appointed governing boards for universities have chosen businessmen or politicians. The strategy has seen mixed success with faculty and staff often arguing that those leading institutions should have experience working at them and others saying that the job has evolved to demand more government and business acumen.

“There are constituencies that feel strongly that it should be only one way, and I think it’s wise that we don’t add emphasis to that,” UW Board of Regents President Drew Petersen said on the call. “Trying to be too precise will perhaps agitate multiple constituencies.”

The president should have some knowledge of higher education, but running an organization like the UW System requires a lot of skills that aren’t exclusive to higher education. Relationships with lawmakers, running a bureaucracy, facilities management, personnel management, budgeting, analysis and reporting, etc… all of these things are ubiquitous to any large organization. Plus, having someone come in from outside higher education offers the chance for a fresh perspective and different view. They should choose the best candidate they can get, but I’m glad that they are casting a wide net.

UW Spends Slush Fund

A good chunk of it anyway.

Six years after public and political outcry over how much the University of Wisconsin System had on hand in unspent tuition money, a report released this fall shows the System has spent down more than half of its tuition balances.

The balances refer to how much tuition and student fees campuses collect to spend on direct education expenses, such as faculty and academic supplies, remain at the end of each fiscal year after all expenses are paid.

To force campuses to spend down their extra funds, the Legislature froze tuition for in-state undergraduates in 2013 and also cut state funding in recent years. The System has responded by spending down 56% of its tuition balances since fiscal year 2013 to cover campuses’ operating expenses.

“We need to remember this represents not even thirty-five days of operating expenses for our campuses,” Regent Janice Mueller told the UW Board of Regents this fall about the tuition balances level, which was $245 million for the fiscal year ending June 30.

That figure is the lowest recorded since the System began producing reports five years ago in response to Republican demands for more transparency of the accounts.

It’s almost as if they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it.

UW Regents Exclude Faculty from Presidential Search Committee

I think I’m with the Regents on this one.

Faculty at all 13 University of Wisconsin System campuses have called on the UW Board of Regents to expand its presidential search committee and include representation from the faculty, staff and students whom the next president will oversee.

But Board of Regents president Drew Petersen said in a Monday statement that he will not expand the committee.

Faculty, graduate assistants and staff make up 96% of the System’s 40,000-member workforce, but none of them have a seat on the search committee tasked with selecting System President Ray Cross’ successor. In past searches, faculty and staff played a role in identifying the next leader.

“The people with the boots on the ground are not represented,” UW-Madison food science professor Mark Etzel told his colleagues at a Faculty Senate meeting Monday. “I find it to be a preposterous proposal. It’s just a shame what faculty governance has become at the University of Wisconsin.”

Think of this from a private sector perspective… do employees participate in the search and vetting of new executives? Nope. Should they? Maybe, but it’s certainly not required. Sometimes the executives that the employees like are the worst ones. Sometimes you need executives to be a change agent and employees are naturally resistant to change. Depending on what the Regents are looking for, it might be best to not let the employees have a say.

UW Regents Moving Ahead with Free Speech Rules

I’m skeptical.

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has approved the scope of proposed new rules aimed at punishing students who disrupt free speech on campus. But just after the vote was taken, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers said he continues to oppose the rules.

The governor’s opinion matters because any rule change proposed by the UW System cannot go into effect without his support.

The Friday vote was largely procedural in nature. It allows the UW System to work on what is called a “scope statement” that sets punishments for students caught repeatedly disrupting the free speech or freedom of expression of campus speakers or fellow students. Under the proposed language, a student disrupting free speech on two occasions would have to be suspended. If there was another disruption from the student, they would face mandatory expulsion.

The board and UW System have been working on the policy since 2017. The regent’s policy on “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression” was introduced shortly after state Republican lawmakers introduced legislation with similar provisions. Before the matter was put to a vote, Regents President Drew Petersen announced support for moving the process forward.

The issue is important. Too many college campuses have become outright hostile to speech that deviates from modern liberal orthodoxy. Anyone who offers contrary opinions are shouted down and denied access. But regulating free speech with set punishments is a tricky business. At the heart of any regulation is, “who decides?” Who decides what constitutes a disruption vs. expressing a different opinion? Some cases are obvious – shouting down a speaker, for example – but what about a noticeable harrumph? What about being quiet but holding up a sign? Does it depend on what the sign says? Do the lefty administrators who are allowing conservatives to be shouted off campus now get to decide these things? Would this new policy just be used as a bludgeon against certain kinds of speakers? We have a cultural drift to intolerance and this rule might just weaponize one side.

I don’t envy the Regents. This is a tricky business. These issues are pregnant with nuances and context. It is very difficult to write a rule that encompasses the grey areas.



Pin It on Pinterest