Moving Forward

Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday, July 12, signed the bill that lays out the state of Wisconsin’s spending plan for the next two years. I know that over the last six months, members of the campus community, as well as our alumni and friends, have followed this process closely, and many are as disappointed with some of the outcomes as I am. But we also have some wins in this budget. Let me summarize some of the main points in the budget that will affect UW-Madison and talk about how we move forward.

Budget dollars

The budget cuts to the UW System totaled $250 million in our base funding (what the state calls general purpose revenue, or GPR), along with a few other specific cuts. The UW-Madison share of this is $59 million in base dollars from the state, and another $4 million in cuts to specific programs elsewhere in the budget. We are also cutting $23 million from our current spending plan as a result of the last state budget. We avoided this cut two years ago by spending down our reserves, as requested, but now must take these cuts on a permanent basis. This means we need to cut $86 million out of our budget in the coming year. Any necessary additional spending deepens this deficit further.

We are addressing this cut in three ways:

  • The Regents approved increases in tuition for out-of-state and professional school students. This coming year, that will bring an additional $17.5 million in revenue.
  • We have implemented $34 million in either direct budget cuts to units or budget redirection. This is a very large budget reduction effort on our part and it will be felt in almost all units in one way or another.
  • As I have suggested in the past, I plan to talk with the Regents at their September meeting about how we guarantee ongoing access for Wisconsin students while still allowing a somewhat higher level of out-of-state students on campus. Of course, this will not provide any funding this year, so we will have some deficit this year that we still have to cover with other funds. As always, our goal is to limit the impact of these cuts on students as much as possible, but these are deep enough that they will be felt.

Shared governance and tenure

I am sorry that we did not succeed in getting more of these provisions removed from the final budget bill, but I think there are clear ways forward which will leave this university as strong as ever. On shared governance, we operate here under the Faculty Policies and Procedures document, approved by the Board of Regents. I see nothing in the changes to shared governance that should affect those practices and expect that we will continue to operate as before. While the shared governance language is somewhat weakened, we still have more extensive language on shared governance –built into state statute – than many of our peer institutions.

On tenure, definitions and policies adopted by the Regents have replaced the former statutory language and put it in Regent policy. This puts us on a par with our peer schools, all of which have tenure provisions in governing board policy.

Many faculty are more concerned with the new statutory language that was adopted and authorizes the Regents to lay off tenured faculty under a broader set of circumstances than before, and which is nonstandard language relative to our peers. As I’ve said before, we can deal effectively with this issue. The new language is simply authorizing language; the standard approach for dealing with such language is for the Regents to approve policies that detail how and when (if at all) they utilize this authority. The president of the Board of Regents has said that they expect to approve policies that are consistent with language used by our peers and with the standards of the American Association of University Professors.

Here at UW-Madison, the University Committee has appointed a faculty committee to write such a policy, to be presented to the first Faculty Senate meeting in early October. Once the Senate has approved this language, which would be an addition to faculty policy documents, it must be approved by the Board of Regents and then will be standard and approved practice on campus. (The Regents will be working with other campuses to draft a System policy for other schools; our separate HR system gives us the ability to write our own policy on this.)

Our lawyers, the System lawyers, and the legislators who voted for this language are convinced that we can write policies that allow us to be as restrictive as we wish in our rules for faculty layoff.   In short, we are in the midst of a process which should lead us to have policies in place that give faculty the same protections they would receive at any of our peer schools. Until such policies are adopted, I have pledged to continue operating by existing practices.


Because most of the new state bonding this year went to the transportation budget, the original budget proposed by Gov. Walker funded no major new building projects on any System campus. Through the good work of our government relations staff and others, UW-Madison did get funding in the final budget to start work on our much-needed renovation and addition to the Chemistry Building. The budget provides funding for only 80 percent of our request, so we need to figure out how to finish funding this building, but we can begin phase I of the project as soon as possible. Our chemistry education program has been handicapped by a lack of adequate lab space.

Other issues

There are several other items in this budget that are important to us. First, the statutory language needed to support our new HR system was approved and we began implementing it July 1. Second, we received changes that will allow our Admissions office to consider moving UW-Madison onto the Common Application system used by a growing number of our peer schools. This should make it easier for many students to apply here. Other big public schools that have moved to the Common App have seen a significant increase in the number of applications, including applications from top-rated students.

On the other hand, our efforts to increase management flexibility around procurement and construction projects were not as successful as we had hoped. These flexibilities would have saved money. We plan to work with the Department of Administration, the Governor’s office and the legislature so that these flexibilities will be granted in the next budget, if not before.

The coming year

For the year ahead, I’m going to work with leadership across the university and the System to figure out how we avoid repeating this experience in two years when the next state budget process rolls around. We must engage in a thoughtful and productive discussion about how UW–Madison and UW System benefit the state of Wisconsin and how the state can ensure its university system remains world-class. We need to do as much as we can to better convey our institution’s value to citizens of the state, as well as legislators. We will continue to do our part to make Wisconsin a great place to live, work and play. I welcome your ideas on this front.

My biggest concern is not any one item in the budget, but the barrage of negative national publicity that we received over several months – particularly (and frequently inaccurately) on tenure. This has put a target on our back for faculty retention and may make recruitment harder. Provost Mangelsdorf, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Mailick, and I have said unambiguously to the deans that we are prepared to counter outside offers and aggressively fight raiding efforts.

We need everyone’s help on this. More than ever, this is a time to step back from all the heated rhetoric and think about what makes this place special. It’s the people, the commitment to the Wisconsin Idea, the wonderful students and the supportive alumni who remain lifelong Badgers. It’s our history of world-changing discovery, of major intellectual and artistic contributions, and of interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s this community, both on- and off-campus. It’s an evening at the terrace, watching the sun set.

Take a minute to remind yourself of the good things that happen here every day. And remind your colleagues as well. Particularly in this coming year, we all have to stay focused forward.

What are some of the good things to look forward to? You’ll be hearing more about these in upcoming blogs and elsewhere:

  • The public launch of our fundraising campaign. We have had wonderful early success in the quiet phase of this campaign. For instance, just about every school and college is going to be positively affected by the new chairs available through the Morgridge Match.
  • An incoming class of freshmen, new graduate and professional students that is as strong and as diverse as ever. We had record-breaking applications.
  • Groundbreaking for the new Music Performance Center at the corner of Lake and University, which will provide a wonderful new arts facility, right next to the world-class Chazen Museum.

And this doesn’t even begin to cover the ongoing stream of news about the discoveries and successes of our faculty as they push the boundaries of new knowledge. Did you know that we’re fifth in the nation in the number of faculty who received Fulbright awards this past year?

Suffice to say, there’s ample reason to believe our university is ready and able to meet the challenges ahead, whatever they may be.

On, Wisconsin!

(This post was updated on July 24)