University of Wisconsin System officials and state lawmakers charged with its oversight are reacting to Governor Scott Walker’s plans for the system’s future. Walker will include the plan as part of the 2015-’17 state budget proposal which he’ll formally announce next week.
Walker announced his plan to allow the UW System greater flexibility over its own resources by comparing it to Act 10, the signature achievement of his first term in office. “We gave local governments the tools that they needed, not just to respond to our budgetary changes, but to make decisions that not only made for a better fiscal situation but put them in a better position to perform well,” Walker said. “The same thing is true with the university.”
Walker’s plan includes a UW System Authority to administer an annual block grant, while giving the UW greater control over things like procurement, human resources and even some building projects. “I think it will make them more effective, more efficient, and ultimately more accountable to the taxpayers of this state.”
The plan comes with a price tag, in the form of some $300 million worth of cuts in state funding over the next two years, equal to about 13% percent of what the state provides to the UW System. “We were going to face these cuts no matter what, whether we got the flexibilities or authority or we didn’t,” said UW System President Ray Cross. “It allows us to look at this in a more positive light, with a lens towards the future.”
Walker would also keep the current tuition freeze in place for an additional two years. “We aren’t going to be raising tuition for the next two years, and after that, it will need to be justified in a thoughtful, rational way,” said Cross.
“We have a responsibility to maintain affordability and access for our students, to higher education in the state,” said UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “I do not think that you’re going to see precipitous rises in tuition, simply because it would not be the responsible thing to do.”
“Making the UW a public authority has the potential to be a win-win situation,” said state Representative David Murphy, (R-Greenville) who chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. Murphy said keeping a lid on tuition once the freeze expires will be concern he’ll want addressed. “It’s not unprecedented for the system to have double-digit tuition increases. I certainly don’t want to see that happen. Then I think any of the good things that come out of this could be negated pretty quickly.”
UW Green Bay Chancellor Gary Miller said the 13% cut contained in the governor’s proposal is substantial. “It will require us to look at everything, and we will be a very institution when it’s over,” Miller said. “Our goal is to position ourselves for a bright future, so we’ll be as creative as we can.”
“It think this is going to be a challenge, a serious challenge, there’s no question about that,” said Cross. “But I also think the people of this university, the people I’ve come to know, love and respect, are committed to making this an even better institution. Trying to find a way to do it, to get through these challenges, it what’s in front of us right now.”