During a video town hall meeting held over the noon hour Friday, faculty, staff and students from the University of Wisconsin Colleges talked with UW System Chancellor Ray Cross about proposals to improve the financial state of the 13 two-year campuses.
Growing expenses, a tuition freeze and no increase in state support have contributed to a difficult financial picture for the Colleges as a whole. The campus communities gathered to discuss recommendations for cuts and changes across the institution to the tune of about $2.33 million in base budget reductions.
The $2.3 million figure is a formula-driven reflection of the institution’s percentage of funding from the System, said the Colleges’ Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Relations Jessica Tormey.
A chancellor-appointed faculty and staff task force and a consulting group conducted separate assessments in late 2013 to identify potential operational and administrative savings. Some suggestions outlined in their reports include financial aid reforms, centralizing and regionalizing certain positions and departments across the institution and re-evaluating selected programs and services.
The full impact to the campuses is not known at this time, officials said, but some of the departments targeted for potential change include library services, information technology and buildings and grounds.
UW-Baraboo/Sauk County Dean Tom Pleger said local campus finances have been good.
“We continue to operate in the black here,” he said.
The campuses function somewhat independently, but ultimately the institution as a whole is responsible for its share of the budget within the System, Pleger said.
“We all are going to have to figure out how to share in that,” he said. “ … The story here is that our campus is very strong, but we will experience some change as a result of the decisions made as a result of this institutional problem.”
Pleger said the campus community would like more time to examine institutional proposals and determine what the local impacts could be.
“We don’t want to make decisions quickly that could have long-term consequences for the quality of the student experience,” he said.
UW-Baraboo Assistant Campus Dean for Administration and Finance David Armstrong said a local total is not currently known, but if the $2.3 million in cuts is distributed by the same percentages as general-purpose revenue funding, the campus impact could range from about $110,000 to $175,000.
Faculty, staff and students from across the state asked questions and shared their opinions of the suggested solutions during Friday’s video conference. Some said they believe potential changes could have a negative effect on the educational process and campus culture.
UW-Baraboo Student Government Association President Justin Fuller asked the chancellor for more time to fully assess the impact proposed solutions might have on the student experience.
Ane Carriveau, the library director at UW-Fox Valley said she disagrees with an idea to centralize the library director role.
“I feel that the idea that the libraries need to further centralize to be efficient is a fallacy,” she said.
“Without knowing what the plan is, it’s hard for us to respond,” UW-Baraboo Library Director Marc Boucher said of proposed changes to library services.
He said he is concerned that it could be difficult for the library to meet student, faculty and community needs should staff roles change.
“I think that the programming we put on is critical,” said Boucher, who did not speak during the town hall.
UW-Baraboo Professor Emeritus Dave Cole said all of the campuses are different, and he thinks standardized solutions to budget problems won’t fit well with those differences. He suggested that each campus should have the ability to identify and implement its own savings solution.
Cross encouraged those with ideas and opinions to e-mail him to continue the dialogue.
“Feel free to speak up,” he said during the town hall. “It’s OK. That’s what this is for.”
Tormey said Friday’s event was just one part in a series of efforts to open the conversation to all campuses, and it resulted in “a lot of good information and consultation.”
“Some decisions will need to be made soon in order to make sure we have a healthy budget moving forward,” she said.
So far, in identifying potential areas for cuts, the Colleges’ central office has found about $575,000 in possible savings within its own budget, Tormey said.
She said the chancellor remains open to feedback, ideas and suggestions from the campus communities.
Cross, who will soon begin his new role as UW System President, said the recommendations are not a final plan, but rather a starting point to be refined and discussed, and he hopes to hear more opinions.
“We’re appreciative that the chancellor’s office is reaching out to all 13 campuses and all the employees to attempt to have a discussion about this,” Pleger said, adding that he, too, believes more dialogue is needed.