Gov. Walker’s recent budget proposal is an acknowledgment that the UW System plays a major role in spurring the state economy, and we are very thankful for the commitment he has made to reinvesting in higher education in Wisconsin. His investment in the UW System includes restoring $50 million that was lapsed back to the state in the last biennial budget and $42.5 million in much-needed new funding. This is a welcome change from the cuts in state support in 10 out of the last 12 years (under both political parties), which created serious challenges for the entire UW System.
We continue to analyze the entire proposal and as we have delved into details of the policy items it contains, there are several areas about which we have concerns. Here are a few of the items we are closely tracking.
Compensation plan: There is a general wage increase proposed for all state employees, but it appears the governor has tied funding of the increase for UW System employees to savings generated from the state moving to a self-insurance model for health insurance. This is not the case for raises for other state employees, and with some legislators questioning whether to move forward with a self-insurance model it could mean the increase for UW employees is not funded. I, along with System leadership, will encourage legislators to treat all state employees consistently for wage increases.
Performance metrics: We agree that accountability measures for System schools are important to ensure we align with state goals, including affordability and educating highly skilled graduates who will strengthen the state workforce. Those measures should be laid out by the Board of Regents, not in state statute, to ensure they function effectively and can be easily updated to meet changing state needs. In fact, the UW System already tracks performance. The reports can be at the UW System Accountability Dashboard. If there are additional factors the state would like tracked, we would be happy to work with them and the Board of Regents to make any needed changes.
Faculty workload reporting: UW-Madison faculty provide service to Wisconsin in three critical areas — teaching, research, and outreach. Each of these services is important so any method of tracking faculty workload, as proposed in the budget, should include all three areas, not merely time spent in the classroom. We are an educational institution and teaching students will always be a priority. However, we are also a research institution and our efforts at innovation help fuel outreach to Wisconsin businesses and communities, provide important benefits and economic returns to the state, jobs for Wisconsin residents and job training for our students.
Allocable segregated fees: We share the governor’s goal of keeping college affordable, but the proposal to let students opt out of allocable segregated fees may have unintended consequences and reduce the availability of needed services and programs including our on-campus bus services, VETS (Veterans, Educators, and Traditional Students), the Rape Crisis Center, GUTS (Greater University Tutoring Service), and support for programming among our registered student organizations.
Academic Freedom Policy: The governor has recommended codifying in state statute a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression. The Board of Regents passed a similar resolution in 2015 that is now part of Regent policy. It will be important to have a conversation with the legislature on the impact of any differences between the proposed language and the existing policy.
Capital Budget: One area of substantial interest is the capital budget, which allocates dollars for facilities maintenance as well as support for renovation and building projects. The governor’s recommendations on the capital budget were just released and I’m pleased to see that there is substantial funding targeted to maintenance projects. This is especially important because in the last budget the state provided no funding for these projects, and we have been forced to use some educational funds to address critical maintenance issues. Unfortunately, the budget for renovation and construction projects is more limited and none of the requested UW-Madison projects are on the proposed list for funding.
These budget proposals will now be extensively reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee and a revised budget will be voted on by the Senate and the Assembly before going back to the governor for his signature, probably sometime in June. We will keep you updated on these and other issues as budget discussions progress. Visit budget.wisc.edu for the latest news and information.