At the Oct. 21 meeting of the chancellor’s committee on finding efficiency to deal with UW budget cuts, Co-Chair Kyle Swanson led an exercise by handing around post-it notes and small note cards with schools and departments written on them. “This is going to be like a combination of fantasy football and which body part can you live without,” Swanson said. A few chuckles surfaced and then were stifled as members realized they are talking about voting peers and colleagues off the academic island.
This meeting was one of many weekly meetings to come that serves as a forum for suggestions about how the university should close the $25-30 million structural deficit it faces. The group threw out ideas and played with numbers just to see possible outcomes.
Using suggestions from the group, CCOET Co-Chair, Paula Rhyner drew out a theoretical plan for how to handle the economic issues the university is facing. Technically, CCOET stands for “the Chancellor’s Campus Organization and Effectiveness Team.” When Chancellor Mark Mone announced its formation, he described its mandate as “making recommendations by mid-February 2016 on consolidating organizational units, shrinking or deleting functions, and proposing large-scale efficiencies.”
And so the brainstorming has begun.
The bigger possibilities floated at the meeting included controversial ideas like reducing graduate programs, reducing administration, increasing teachers’ workloads merging schools and departments, and reducing or removing student advising. Floated mergers included combining Lubar School of Business and the School of Information Studies and “arts and media and humanities.” Floated workload would be 3-2 (3 classes one semester; 2 the next). The committee discussed finding $8 million in savings from centers and institutes and offices on campus.
In addition to these large scale changes, the group also proposed lower-level money saving opportunities like chances to go paperless on campus, effectively using campus space (like condensing class sizes and shutting off power when building aren’t in use, etc.), and selling underutilized assets and properties. At one point, Swanson joked about logging Downer Woods. The group stressed an importance should be placed on finding small money saving opportunities to lessen possible lay offs and pay cuts.
The group is discussing a potential campus reconstruction. Swanson described it as stripping a house to its core and building it back up with the necessary rooms prioritized. It seemed that the merging opportunities were the most likely to be the first steps. For example, the members discussed combining schools like Architecture and Engineering. This merging would also cut down on advising costs in many schools and departments.
In no way are these propositions final; on the CCOET web page Mone further explained, “I am forming a group to develop recommendations and a coherent plan that will improve the organization and operational effectiveness of our campus, in light of the challenges we face. I would like this group to first make recommendations on a process for how the campus can be engaged in developing this plan. Once I have approved the process for developing the plan, the group (supplemented as needed by a group for research, liaison, and operational support) will be responsible for carrying out the planning process that will result in identifying and recommending options.”
Mone’s message said that, once the plan is approved, the campus will fulfill the recommendations, beginning during the 2015-16 academic year and continuing, “in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students.” In addition to that, these meetings are also completely open to all UWM Staff, faculty, and students.
Even with an issue this large, the meeting had a small turn out, however. About nine members of the support group attended the meeting, and there were six members of the audience. None of them was a student, (unless you count this student journalist.)
One audience member was Associate Professor of Anthropology Benjamin Campbell, who said he prefers attending these meetings because, “It seems to me this meeting is where the most transparency is. It gives me an idea of what to expect in relation to my department.”
After two hours of discussing these proposals and running over the numbers, the meeting came to a close. CCOET members collected their things and filed out of the room.
As he walked out of the room, Swanson sighed, “Another day, another dollar.”