The UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has seen dramatic growth over the last decade.
Undergraduate student enrollment has increased by 60%, and the number of degrees awarded is up 100%, says the college’s dean, Kathryn VandenBosch.
She attributes the surge to increased interest in science, technology and mathematics and the promising careers that await graduates with degrees in those fields. These students go on to tackle what VandenBosch calls “great 21st century challenges”: improving health care, pioneering biomedical technologies and discovering new food production and ecosystem management methods.
“We love that fact,” VandenBosch says. “We know that our students can go on to great opportunities. But with declining faculty and a declining budget, we have to do more to limit the growth and limit the students we can let into these programs.”
Members of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee won’t decide until later this month whether or not they will reduce the $300 million cut to the UW System proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget. But with the UW System’s fiscal year set to begin on July 1, campuses have been forced to prepare for a worst-case scenario. So regardless of what the Legislature does, the cuts are already being enacted.
UW-Madison has identified $36 million in cuts over the next two years. This would include eliminating more than 400 positions — most of them vacant — and merging or getting rid of some academic programs.
“It begins to bridge, but does not fill, a structural deficit that may be as much as $96 million as a result of state budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in her blog.
Adding to the bleak financial picture for UW System officials, lawmakers have also said they will continue to freeze tuition for Wisconsin resident undergraduate students for the next two years. Further, tax revenue projections from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau show that there will be no additional money available to offset cuts.
At UW-Madison, most department heads have been asked to reduce their budgets by about 6%, says John Karl Scholz, dean of the College of Letters & Science.
For Letters & Science, this means an initial cut of $7.5 million from a budget of $140 million to $145 million over the next two years, Scholz says. A hiring freeze will eliminate 92 faculty and staff positions and reduce the number of seats in classes by about 9,000. These measures will reduce the breadth of course offerings and the amount of access available to students, likely increasing the time it takes to graduate.
“That’s what we’re up against,” he says.
The Division of Information Technology (DoIT) is set to reduce its spending by $1.6 million over the next two years, a budgetary decrease of about 6.5%.
DoIT will close its popular Digital Media Center and discontinue its successful Student Online Course Support training program as well as reduce its campus computer lab support and its help desk hours.
The cuts not only reduce DoIT’s ability to maintain services — which extend through numerous departments across all 26 UW System campuses — but it impedes its ability to make strategic investments for future technology and infrastructure needs.
“This hurts,” says John Krogman, DoIT’s chief operating officer. “This is not an efficiency, this is not doing things more effectively. This is directly cutting into services that directly support students and teachers.”
The university’s general library system will take a 6.5% cut by June 2017, most of which will come through attrition and reductions to supplies and expenditures, says spokeswoman Natasha Veeser.
The School of Business will eliminate nine positions through attrition and cancel 13 elective classes, but it will not know the full extent of the cuts until budgetary discussions are complete, spokesman Peter Kerwin says in a statement, noting that the result will be reduced learning opportunities and curriculum flexibilities for students.
From the moment Walker’s budget was released, the message from UW System supporters has been clear: The cuts are too large. But Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick in an email to Isthmus emphasized that the budget adjustment represents 2.5% of the UW System’s $6.1 billion annual budget.
Walker’s budget also included a proposal to convert the UW System into a public authority — a move championed by UW System President Ray Cross that would give the System the freedom to set tuition rates, increase its control over construction projects, give it more flexibility to manage procurement and purchasing contracts and enable it to negotiate reciprocity tuition agreements with Minnesota.
Walker’s proposed budget cut was supposed to reflect the savings the UW System would have seen if the authority had been approved, Patrick said in her statement.
Key Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee confirmed earlier this month that the public authority proposal had lost support this biennium, but supporters are hopeful that the final budget will include some additional flexibilities for the UW System that a public authority would have provided.
Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) have said they hope to reduce the proposed $300 million cut. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said restoring funding to K-12 education and transportation should take priority, and that some legislators still have a “bitter taste” in their mouths after the UW System reported a $648 million surplus in 2013.
Less clear is what will happen to tenure and shared governance: Both were removed from state statute under Walker’s proposal with the idea that the Board of Regents would rewrite them into Board of Regent policy.
In an email to Isthmus, UW System spokesman Alex Hummel acknowledged that “difficult budget decisions are ahead for state legislators” and noted that there has been “growing support” voiced over the past several months for reducing the proposed cuts.
“We are committed to continue working with our partners in the Legislature to reduce the cut, approve new flexibilities, and create a dedicated funding structure for the UW System while developing a responsible base budget for our future and for the good of the state,” he wrote.