Blank’s Slate

Update on budget reductions

Back in October, I told you about a process that would allow us to plan for and implement anticipated state budget cuts. I asked our deans and directors to plan for these reductions in ways that maintain our teaching, research and outreach excellence and shield, as much as possible, the impact on our students.

Even while we continue to advocate for a smaller cut, we must now put our initial plans into action for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which begins on July 1. Our $36 million plan includes $21 million in budget cuts and redirects an additional $15 million from other campus units to our overall educational mission. This plan includes the elimination of approximately 400 positions.

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. The nonresident undergraduate tuition increases approved by the Board of Regents on April 10 will provide another $17.5 million in new revenue. There will remain, however, a significant deficit.

The reductions have been planned and will be carried out by our deans and directors, who know best which programs can be cut while minimizing the impact on the student experience and our core educational mission. Starting today, campus leaders are sharing information about their plans for budget cuts in their units.

Our programs and services are all useful and worthy of support, but we have attempted to prioritize those most essential. I recognize that this process will impact good people and limit our ability to serve students and the state. I particularly regret the impact these cuts will have on our employees and their families.

While the real impact of the staff reductions and budget cut will take some time to implement and measure, we do know that all parts of campus will feel the effects of these cuts. Among the areas affected:

  • Program closures and mergers: Several programs across campus will be ended or restructured, including in the areas of information technology, agriculture, and the arts.
  • Academic offerings and services: The job eliminations will likely lead to larger classes and fewer course options. Reductions in advising services may hurt time to degree and retention.
  • Support services: Services that support students, faculty and staff, such as information technology, will be reduced. We will invest less in maintaining our buildings and facilities.

As mentioned, we are directing our schools, colleges and units, including our Athletic Department, to make greater financial contributions back to our central campus. The tuition increases I mentioned earlier will allow us to support the freeze on in-state student tuition and maintain the quality of our programs. We will continue to pursue ways to operate even more efficiently.

While our true uncommitted reserves equal only $54 million today, we are in the process of estimating our fund balance as we close this fiscal year. We intend to delay some number of projects and utilize a portion of those fund balances to help bridge the gap with the expected budget shortfall.

I want to emphasize that these changes, as difficult as they are, cannot and will not stop with this year’s budget. We will continue a thorough review of university operations, guided by our new strategic framework, to invest in our strengths and reduce or eliminate underperforming programs.

I recognize that these are stressful times, particularly for the members of our workforce. We have a number of resources designed to help those directly impacted, and anyone else who needs support. We want to remind all staff that confidential counseling and consultation is available through the Employee Assistance Office (EAO). For more information: eao@mailplus.wisc.edu or call 608-263-2987.

The university has weathered many challenges over the past two centuries. The strength of our mission, and the quality of our students, faculty and staff, set us apart and will carry us through.

I will continue to update you as I have additional information.

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