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January 30, 2015

Nass argues for changes to Walker’s UW System plan

A state lawmaker says Governor Scott Walker’s so-called “Act 10 for the UW System” isn’t quite there yet. Long time UW critic, state Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), wants Walker’s plan to include two things: reduce the term for members of the Board of Regents term from 7 years to 3, and tie any future tuition hikes to the Consumer Price Index.

“The Consumer Price Index is already in his plan for the block grant, and if we the legislators relinquish our control over the university system, I do believe tuition will just take off like a rocket,” Nass said.

Walker’s plan would create a public authority, and fund the UW through an annual block grant tied to the CPI. It also cuts state funding to UW by some $300 million over the next two-year budget cycle. Nass cited data from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to argue that without his proposed changes to the governor’s plan, the Board of Regents will dramatically increase tuition starting in 2017, attempting to recoup at least $75 million of the cuts in 2017-18. Nass said that would amount to an increase in tuition of 10 percent.

Nass, who co-chairs the Senate committee charged with higher education oversight, said his support for the governor’s overall 2015-’17 state budget could hinge on whether these changes are adopted. “It would make it very, very difficult, quite frankly.”

Governor Scott Walker suggests UW faculty teach more classes

Bascom Hall, UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Bascom Hall, UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker is suggesting that University of  Wisconsin System faculty could work harder. The Republican governor said Wednesday that may help to offset the impacts of a $300 million dollar cut in state aid to that will be included as part of his state budget proposal.

Walker’s has presented his plan, which includes greater autonomy for the UW System, as “being like Act 10 for the UW,” a reference to the signature legislative achievement of his first term in office. “It will make them do things that they traditionally have not done,” Walker said. “Maybe looking at the use of faculty and staff a bit more efficiently. They might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester.”

But a UW Madison faculty rep says most are already “burning the candle at both ends.” Jo Ellen Fair chairs the University Committee, the executive committee of the faculty senate on the Madison campus. “Most faculty that I know of are working 60-70 hours a week. They’re teaching, they’re getting ready for their classes, they’re advising undergraduates, they’re advising graduate students. They’re doing their research and making sure that they’re current on the research in their field.”

Walker said that asking UW faculty to take on additional work “could have a tremendous impact on making sure that we preserve affordable education for all our UW campuses, at the same time we maintain a high quality education.”

“In some ways we’ve been good soldiers for a very long time,” said Fair. “Any kind of cut that has come our way from the state, we’ve said ‘well okay, that’s going to be tough,’ and we do it. But now we’re at the point where we’re really at a breaking point.”

As for the governor’s assertion that expecting faculty to work more will help to maintain the quality of the UW System, Fair has concerns. She worries about loss the of quality faculty, with a resulting decline in the quality of the degrees students receive.

“When they go out into the market, are they going to be able to use that degree from Wisconsin and people will be impressed with it, saying ‘that’s a great degree?’ Or are people going to say ‘it used to be a great degree, maybe we’ll hire somebody from the University of Minnesota instead.'”

Walker’s recommendations for the UW System will be included in the 2015-2017 budget plan he’ll unveil next week. It includes a public authority – an organization that is part of state government but free of most rules and regulations that apply to traditional executive branch agencies – to administer an annual block grant. The governor said that would give UW System greater control over things like procurement, human resources and even some building projects.

Katie Couric will deliver UW Madison commencement speech (VIDEO)

Television personality and journalist Katie Couric will deliver the commencement speech to graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this spring. “It is an honor to welcome Katie Couric to celebrate commencement with us this May,” said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.”As the field of journalism has weathered dramatic changes, she has found innovative ways of engaging with citizens across the country.”

The spring 2015 at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, May 16, will continue a tradition begun last year of holding a single ceremony for undergraduates and most master’s degree candidates. “I am honored to be invited to speak at such a respected, internationally recognized university,” Couric said.

Couric graduated with honors from the University of Virginia. Commencement speakers are selected and recommended by senior class officers. The university covers the speaker’s travel expenses but does not pay a fee or other honorarium.

Wisconsin lawmakers argue over EPA carbon emission targets

epaPartisan positions held the day at a Capitol hearing on the Obama administration’s proposed carbon emission limits. It was an informational hearing – there’s no legislation being considered to counter new EPA new standards, although Governor Scott Walker’s Department of Justice is preparing a lawsuit.

Madison Democrat, Representative Melissa Sargent argues the new limits, aimed at reduction of greenhouse gasses, will address real concerns. “I’m hearing concern about the health of the people in our state, asthma in children and older people in astonishing numbers. I’m concerned about our environment and our climate,” Sargent said.

“Bascially what we have here is an unfunded mandate from the federal government, the Obama adminstration, saying that we need to do these things, which is going to cost anywhere between $3 billion to $13 billion here in the state of Wisconsin to achieve those goals,” said state Senator Rick Gudex, a Fond du Lac Republican. “One of the intended consequences of this unfunded mandate is that the ratepayers are going to pay more money. One of the unintended consequences is that we could in a way stifle our economy.”

The Environmental Protection Agency announced carbon dioxide emissions targets for all 50 states last year, and Wisconsin would be expected to reduce emissions by more than 30 percent in just 15 years. “The idea that we’re going to make transformative changes to our energy generation and distribution system in Wisconsin in such a short time frame, I think underscores how ill-suited the Clean Air Act is as a vehicle to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” said Scott Manley with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Walker announced in his state of the state address that he will work with Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel to prepare a lawsuit against the federal government over the EPA carbon emission reduction targets.

Warmer reception for Senate school accountability bill

The state Senate’s version of a school accountability bill received its first hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, receiving a much warmer reception that a competing proposal in the state Assembly when it faced public testimony. Members of the Senate’s education committee took hours of testimony on the legislation, which is aimed at identifying taxpayer-funded schools that are falling short of expectations.

School administrators and state education officials were generally positive about the bill, primarily because it does not include sanctions for failing schools – a major change from the Assembly’s version of school accountability legislation.

State Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee), the sponsor of the bill, says the goal is to make sure we “bring as many resources we can, and a lot of that is advice from successful schools on how to get better, and what they can do to make them a more effective school.”

The proposal is facing some criticism though. Democratic state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) said the focus needs to be on giving schools the resources they need to improve, and not just identifying those that are having trouble. “Adding to the incessant relentless focus on testing, without a concurrent focus on excellence in teaching, does not improve Wisconsin’s schools system,” Vinehout told committee members.

An official from the Department of Public Instruction said the bill reflects ongoing efforts to keep tweaking standards for schools. Jeff Pertl also urged lawmakers to stay away from assigning letter grades to schools, like the Assembly bill does. He warned that could create a negative view of schools that are meeting expectations by assigning them a “C” grade, which may have some people thinking “turn off the video games, and go crack a book.”

The future of the legislation remains uncertain, due to numerous differences with the Assembly bill. Republican leaders in both chambers are expected to work on a compromise version that can pass both chambers.