If the budget proposal put forth by Gov. Scott Walker to cut $300 million from the UW System passes, three months from now, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee could face layoffs, building closures, a hiring freeze, or a slowdown on the admission of the new freshman class, according to the powerful UWM University Committee.
Committee members called the governor’s proposed cuts, unveiled Tuesday, the result of an “ideological deficit” and a “game changer,” said that they believed Walker’s presidential ambitions were the cause, and said the “fundamental” changes could cause UW-Milwaukee damage that would take decades to undo. The Walker budget would imperil the ability of families to afford to send their children to UWM and is unprecedented, they said. Layoffs could number as many as 40 faculty for one college alone, one member estimated.
Committee members also expressed deep reservations about a Walker proposal to turn the UW System into a more autonomous Public Authority – even though UW System officials have been more favorable to that part of Walker’s plan. The University Committee is the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate at the Milwaukee university; the Committee doesn’t have the authority to institute the changes, however, which would come from administration. Chancellor Mark Mone attended the meeting.
According to the committee, due to cuts in the last few budget cycles, UWM has lost the reserves it had saved in order to offset the damage that comes with a massive budget cut like the one they are currently facing – likely $20 million if the size of Walker’s cut holds in the first year alone. UW-Milwaukee’s budget is typically 13 percent of the System whole.
To put it into perspective: That amount in the UWM budget is also equal to the budgets of School of Public Health, the School of Freshwater Science, and half of Peck School of the Arts combined, they said.
“In a normal business this is where you have reserves,” said Mark Schwartz, committee chair. “And that was beaten out of us in the last budget cycle.”
Margo Anderson, a History professor and committee member, said the cuts could change the university’s mission.
“If this happens we are no longer a research university,” Anderson said.
According to Anderson, in a UWM college that owes $5 million, or 25 percent of the proposed $20 million cut, like the College of Letters and Science, it would require cutting 40 faculty and 200 TAs in order to fill the gap in the budget. The layoff figures were presented as hypothetical, and no university-wide number was provided.
The budgetary cut equivalency for UWM of $20 million is the Lubar School of Business, or the entire budget for the School of Engineering, according to the University Committee. The Committee doesn’t feel the university can feasibly cut funding to an institution as intrinsic to UWM as The Lubar School of Business. However, they believe that the fact that the operating budget for the Lubar School of Business is equivalent to the budget cuts that UWM faces paints a picture of the magnitude of the situation currently being faced by UWM in light of the proposed budget cuts.
According to the University Committee, $20 million is equivalent to the funding required for 75 percent of the freshman class. UWM is the most diverse UW System school with 28,000 students, according to the university. Faculty and staff numbering more than 3,800 run 188 academic programs.
Walker formally announced the cut on Tuesday; it would need legislative approval. His formal budget address is Feb. 3. The $300 million would be lost over the biennium, coming on the heels of previous cuts. Also on the table: Removing engrained traditions like tenure and shared governance from state law and making the UW System a Public Authority. The governor is continuing the tuition freeze for at least two years, meaning the cuts could not be offset by increasing tuition.
“These will clearly be difficult cuts,” said Mone.
The University Committee members’ comments at the meeting were more specific than an email that Mone sent to the campus community later Tuesday. In that email, Mone said, “because we have not seen all of the details, it is unclear exactly how the proposed budget cuts would affect UWM, but we do know that there has never been a budget cut of this magnitude in the UW System. We already are one of the leanest and most efficient research universities in the country.”
Mone’s email added that, “I am deeply concerned that if the proposed cuts materialize, there will be significant impact on our ability to serve our students and meet our mission as a public urban research university.” The Chancellor is giving a plenary address to the university community on Wednesday.
But at the committee meeting earlier in the day, attended by Mone, concerns were more specific – and pointed.
“The kind of cuts that we’re likely to have to do are going to do damage that will take decades, if ever, to undo,” said Schwartz, chair of the University Committee. “I don’t see any way around that, unless we can somehow persuade them that this kind of a cut needs to be reduced.”
The University Committee said the university will have three months to find $20 million within the UWM budget if the Governor’s budget proposal passes as it sits right now. Chancellor Mone clarified at the University Committee meeting that the proposed budget still has to make it through the Joint Finance Committee and the legislative bodies. Members of the committee appeared sure that the budget cuts, and structural changes, would pass without proactive action occurring on behalf of the universities.
“This kind of budget proposal we’re looking at is devastating to the programs,” said Schwartz.
Cost to people discussed
Johannes Britz, the provost and vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, says that the magnitude of these cuts is “unprecedented.” “This will affect people,” said Britz.
Britz said that he had to put a condition on all the Dean’s proposed hires that, pending on the outcome of the budget, these hires may not be approved.
“Every single hire now will be scrutinized against the budget,” said Britz.
“This is not a budget cut, this is a fundamental change in what I see as one of the best university systems in the country,” said Sandra McLellan, a professor at the School of Freshwater Sciences and a member of the University Committee.
“This is a game changer for 10 to 20 years,” said McLellan.
McLellan believes that anyone who has a child under the age of 18 should be “alarmed” about their access to a quality state education.
McLellan and other members of the University Committee are worried about UWM’s ability to retain or recruit the best faculty. They noted that members of UWM faculty are already speculating about the continuation of their positions at the University.
Lane Hall, a professor of English and a member of the University Committee, voiced his concern that the narrative in the media is not accurately depicting the gravity of the situation.
“What happens to people?” asked Hall. “It’s not the money, ya know, the money is abstract; what happens to people?”
Hall and other members of the Committee spoke about the need for proactive action to let the public know and understand what these cuts mean for the future of Wisconsin higher education.
Concern about a Public Authority
Another area of concern among the Committee members was the creation of the UW System as a Public Authority, and the repeal of Chapter 36 and its replacement with Chapter 37.
Chapter 36 is a state statute that ensures protections like shared governance and tenure for members of the UW System. If the UW System is transferred to a Public Authority, these protections would no longer be state law. They would become Board of Regents policy, which could effectively be “changed overnight.” Sixteen of the 18 Board of Regents are appointed by the governor.
When Professor Richard Grusin, the Director of 21st Century Studies, was recruited to UWM in 2010, he pointed out that the statutory authority of shared governance and tenure was presented to him as a point of pride.
The Committee voiced its lack of trust in the proposed Public Authority. The committee noted that if the theoretically positive aspects are to come to fruition, this will happen in the distant future. Schwartz pointed out that the greatest challenge is simply surviving the proposed budget cuts without succumbing to irrevocable damage. Schwartz also mentioned his concern with the impermanent status of a Public Authority.
“What one has to realize is that the Public Authority could be revoked at any time,” said Schwartz.
With the benefits of the Public Authority coming decades from now, and the Public Authority itself being subject to constant revision, the University Committee is worried that the UW System is not being stabilized in the manner that Gov. Walker purports it to be.
Members of the committee spoke about their concern, following the announcement of Walker’s formation of an exploratory committee looking into a possible bid for president, that the governor’s presidential aspirations were directly influencing his decision to propose massive cuts to the UW System.
Members of the committee also spoke up about their belief that tax cuts imposed by Walker were a direct causation to what they were calling a “man-made” and “ideological” deficit and that now the burden of that deficit was being unloaded on the back of the UW System and its students.
“I’m not happy,” said Mone. “I’m also concerned and worried.”