Three members of the UW System Board of Regents assured members of the UW-Milwaukee Faculty Senate Thursday that they don’t forsee changes to the principles of shared governance and tenure if a Public Authority is formed.
However, Regents at the meeting also said that there should be a careful review of policies under a Public Authority and an open dialogue over any possible modifications to the rules under Chapter 36. One Regent questioned whether the flexibility provided by a Public Authority could net the UW anywhere close to the $300 million budget cut proposed by the governor. That Regent said the flexibility the UW System would gain relates more to salaries.
Margaret Farrow, Jose Vasquez and Charles Pruitt were the three members of the Board of Regents present during Thursday’s meeting. The Board of Regents is composed of 18 people, 16 of whom are appointed by the governor. A Public Authority would transfer more power to the Regents on a number of issues. Farrow is a former Republican lieutenant governor. Vasquez is the CEO of the social service agency, La Casa de Esperanza, in Waukesha. Pruitt is a partner in a Milwaukee marketing and data processing firm.
“I have never heard a serious argument that said that greater flexibility will actually save a lot of money,” said Pruitt.
According to Pruitt, the flexibilities are about being able to compensate employees more effectively.
Mark Schwartz, a distinguished professor and chair of the University Committee, asked the Regents whether or not protections such as tenure and shared governance would be maintained in the event that the current structure of the UW System is replaced with a Public Authority model as Gov. Scott Walker has proposed. The state Legislature is currently reviewing Walker’s budget.
Pruitt replied that it is his understanding that if a Public Authority is installed and Chapter 36 is removed from state law, that the items within Chapter 36 – like shared governance and tenure – would be shifted to Board of Regents policy.
“The intention is to encapsulate what is in Chapter 36 within Regent and Board policy, which would become the sort of replacement document for Chapter 36,” said Pruitt. “And to continue…the dialogue in terms of the issues related to shared governance.”
Pruitt, though, said he supports shared governance.
“I am a huge believer in and strong supporter of shared governance,” said Pruitt. “I think it is how we built this University of Wisconsin System into the finest public university system in America.”
Regent Vasquez agreed with Pruitt. However, he also called for a “thoughtful review and analysis” of Chapter 36 and an open discussion about any modifications that could be made.
Farrow agreed that changes to tenure and shared governance were not expected.
“Everything I have heard up to this point… It is clearly that the Public Authority would keep things going as they are,” said Farrow.
Farrow sternly iterated to those in attendance, that the Governor’s budget proposal is currently in “Act one.”
“There are four acts to the budget process,” said Farrow. “What you have and what we all have before us now is the governor’s take on the budget.”
The next act is when the 16-member Joint Finance Committee begins to review the proposal, according to Farrow.
Jasmine Alinder, an Associate Professor of History, asked the Regents to clarify when the language of the proposed Public Authority would be available. Alinder expressed her concern to the Regents that there has been a discussion about implementing a major structural change without much information about what that change may actually mean for the system.
“Government does things kind of reverse of the logic you just described,” said Farrow.
Farrow said that it will take a year to put the details in place for the Public Authority. These details will be decided by an open committee of some legislators and “regular people,” according to Farrow.
Farrow even encouraged Alinder to seek a spot within that committee.
“Be careful what you wish for,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez explained that once the details of the Public Authority have been written, that will most likely be what the Legislature wishes to proceed with. He called for discussion prior to a final submission of language, rather than just reacting to the details.
Regent Pruitt called the Public Authority idea an “interesting concept.”
“The devil is all in the details,” said Pruitt.
Lane Hall, a Professor of English and member of the University Committee, asked the Regents what efficiencies can be found within the Public Authority.
Regent Vasquez mentioned that some efficiency may be found in the building and purchasing policies of the Public Authority. However, things still have yet to be defined, according to Vasquez.
According to Pruitt, at UWM and campuses across the state, administrators are searching for “low-hanging fruit” and efficiencies within the shared governance process in order to free up “more dollars” for “places we want them to be.”
“The University of Wisconsin System is the second leanest administrative system in the country,” said Pruitt.
“Let’s also be clear about efficiency; we have a $300 million proposed cut for the University of Wisconsin,” said Pruitt. “And we are not going to fill that cut with efficiencies.”
“I think we need to be real,” said Pruitt, “The reason the state does the building process is because DOA (the state Department of Administration) gets 4 percent of all the buildings. They’re not gonna give up that money, willingly.”