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    What are the challenges and opportunities facing UW-Madison in a time of national economic crisis?

    Capital Times: University of Wisconsin community prepares for funding cuts

    by University Communications

    The Capital Times has published a detailed story about the university community’s preparations for dealing with potential budget cuts, including several references to ideas that have come out of the chancellor’s December 2008 forums.

    Day three: idea roll call

    by University Communications

    After breaking into small groups to identify problems and brainstorm solutions, groups reported back with dozens of thoughtful ideas.  Among them:

    • If tuition increases, the definition of financial need should also be expanded to help low- and middle-income students afford the cost of obtaining a quality university education.
    • Raise taxes, specifically income taxes, to help the state with its deficit situation.
    • Provide research opportunities on a for-credit basis for undergraduate students.
    • Resist across-the-board cuts to ensure that state-funded programs are not cut at the same level as self-supporting programs.
    • Provide better support for junior faculty, as a way to show them they are valued and as a recruitment and retention tool.
    • Make better strategic investments in campus diversity efforts.
    • Provide more training for faculty and staff in working with diverse groups.
    • Make stronger efforts to obtain private funding for campus libraries.
    • Streamline the hiring process and evaluate and improve the sometimes cumbersome administrative practices involved in processing expenses, bidding and pre-authorizations for purchasing.
    • Stop using so much paper by encouraging instructors to post assignments on the Web.
    • Establish a textbook rental program that would provide students more affordable books and discourage textbook thefts.
    • Try to resolve climate and culture issues between school and colleges to encourage more collaboration.
    • Do a better job of community outreach.
    • Set up an information technology registry that would enable units across campus to emulate advances that have worked elsewhere.
    • Encourage students to take their first two years of instruction at other UW System campuses before transferring to UW-Madison to finish their degrees.
    • Build more and stronger bridges to Wisconsin’s technical schools.
    • Do more to encourage students to finish their degrees on time.
    • Re-evaluate the tenure system, as peer universities often have different classification systems for faculty.
    • Make it mandatory for students to take some service learning classes, including classes that are focused inward at improving the campus.
    • Create greener jobs on campus.
    • Appoint a task force to do a long-term study of efficiencies on campus.
    • Set up better ties between foreign language departments and English as a second language projects in the community.
    • Provide more interaction between the School of Education and teaching assistants to help ensure high quality teaching.

    Let us know what you think of these ideas or share one of your own.

    Stop the wrecking ball

    by University Communications

    It may be a mistake to tear down the oft-maligned Humanities Building, said Gail Simpson, a Department of Art faculty member.

    “Some of us in the art department feel that this building could be re-used rather than demolished,” Simpson said. “It seems expensive to tear it down and environmentally difficult.”

    The Campus Master Plan envisions razing the massive structure and replacing it with a pair of academic buildings devoted to the humanities as part of the transformation of the East Campus.

    Snow defying crowd

    by University Communications

    The week’s third brainstorming session drew a crowd of more than 70 people who trudged through the 12 inches of snow that fell just hours earlier.

    Chancellor Martin said the campus needs to find new ways of operating in the face of a souring economy.

    “We’re just looking for opportunities, in the face of such an economic crisis, to do things differently,” she said. “What opportunities do we have to do things differently in a way that’s effective and efficient?”

    Throughout the week, several individuals spoke to the importance of focus as the campus establishes its priorities and sets its goals under economic pressure.

    David Ruhde, an information technology leader at DoIT, summarized those feelings well.

    “We can do great things here, and this is an opportunity to show that,” he said. “We have a powerful organization, and we can do great things if we focus on what we can deliver.”

    The chancellor agreed, saying it was essential to maintain UW-Madison’s pre-eminence in research and academics.

    “We can’t do everything well,” she said in her closing remarks.  “We have to identify our strengths and protect them well.”

    Letter from the chancellor

    by University Communications

    Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin sent today (Dec. 18) an e-mail letter to all faculty, staff and students that provides more information and context on the budget situation.

    Some context on state support

    by University Communications

    An interesting discussion arose at Tuesday’s forum about the state’s percentage share of UW-Madison’s operating budget. It currently stands at just under 20 percent, and the fact that the percentage is declining — it was 29 percent, for example, in 1995-96 — is generally pointed to as a sign of diminished state responsibility for funding UW-Madison.

    While acknowledging that there have been some relative declines in state support, Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin emphasized that the shrinking state percentage has arisen more from big gains in other slices of the budget pie. For example, funding from federal sources and from private gifts and grants now comprise approximately half of UW-Madison’s total budget, a big leap from a decade ago.

    Martin made the point to underscore the fact that Wisconsin, a state of relatively modest wealth, does make a significant investment in higher education, a fact that “deserves our focus and gratitude.”

    “I don’t want to underestimate the significance of what the state provides,” she said.  “Coming from a university (Cornell) that relies heavily on endowments, we would need one of the largest endowments in the nation if we had to make up for what the state provides.”

    Martin agreed with an audience member that cuts in state funding disproportionately hurt the parts of campus that receive less federal and private support, such as the liberal arts and humanities core. But it helps, she said, to view the state’s contributions in context with changes to the overall budget.

    Day two: idea roll call

    by University Communications

    A round of small-group brainstorming sessions produced a wide range of budget ideas, including many around the themes of shared technology investments, collaboration across programs and disciplines, and eliminating redundancies. Some ideas included:

    • Conduct an internal audit that would be designed not to be punitive, but to identify resources that might be shared across campus for greater efficiency.
    • Focus on the bigger picture of helping grow the Wisconsin economy, which in turns improves the state revenue picture.
    • Take a bigger-picture look at all of the costs facing students. For example, if tuition is increased, are there ways to reduce costs in other areas such as housing?
    • Communicate more effectively to Wisconsin residents that UW-Madison’s work matters to the overall well-being of the state.
    • With regard to faculty and staff retention, find other ways to help people stay here beyond salaries, such as providing domestic partner benefits.
    • Avoid “LTE abuse” — that is, don’t create more limited-term employees to reduce costs — and treat employees fairly through any budget cuts.
    • Review purchasing patterns to reduce overall expenditures in areas such as printing and copying, and make the transition from a paper-based to a Web-based community.
    • Create a fund to support faculty who are willing to create textbooks and learning materials that may be distributed in the public domain.
    • Look for more collaborative and centralized approaches to Web technology, software and distance learning that can save departments money.
    • Partner with the City of Madison to protect and promote the things that contribute to a great quality of life in the city, which is a big factor in faculty and staff retention.

    Let us know what you think of these ideas or share one of your own.

    Second forum draws energetic, overflow crowd

    by University Communications

    More than 150 students, faculty and staff filled every corner of the Red Gym’s On Wisconsin Room on Tuesday for a spirited lunch-hour discussion.

    “Many, many minds are better than one or two or three on this topic,” said Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin. She initiated the forums to gather creative input on how to work smarter and more efficiently during a period of serious economic hardship.

    A first suggestion came from UW-Madison senior Jared Forney, organizer of a Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) campaign to lower textbook costs for state students. “The rising costs of textbooks is something every student feels,” he said, and he encouraged university leaders to seek more open-source and online-access learning materials that can reduce the burden.

    “I agree that the textbook issue is really a critical one,” Martin said, noting that the UW System Board of Regents is asking campuses to pursue more cost-saving ideas on textbooks.

    Martin went on to emphasize that college affordability, in the broadest sense, is a top priority for the institution’s future. While the university cannot “economically or ethically” justify freezing tuition at current levels, Martin said UW-Madison must do more to attain greater financial aid support for students who need it most.

    Participants break into small groups to brainstorm the challenges and opportunities facing the unviersity.

    Participants break into small groups to brainstorm the challenges and opportunities facing the unviersity.

    Chancellor Martin listens as a participant shares the highlights from one of the brainstorming sessions.

    Chancellor Martin listens as a participant shares the highlights from one of the brainstorming sessions.

    Day one: idea roll call

    by University Communications

    Participants broke into groups and brainstormed ideas for finding opportunities, efficiencies and strategies for preserving campus excellence into the future.

    Some of the ideas:

    • Prioritize campus programs, enabling tough decisions to be made on eliminating initiatives that have minimal value.
    • Close little-used campus buildings during breaks.
    • Allow all but essential employees to work from home on Fridays to save energy in campus buildings.
    • Establish more cooperation with Wisconsin’s technical school system.
    • Consolidate information technology functions across campus.
    • Lobby for more administrative flexibility from the state, especially in the area of purchasing.
    • Encourage more split appointments for faculty and staff, to spur cross-disciplinary cooperation and save money.
    • Standardize the ordering of supplies.
    • Align the strategic plan to the resources that are likely to be available, to ensure the plan is realistic and achievable.
    • Conduct a comprehensive organizational overhaul.
    • Reduce layers of administration.
    • Ask: “How does what we do affect students?”
    • Assess the number and nature of the publications the university produces to save money on printing and postage.
    • Establish more professional development opportunities for employees who have not traditionally had access to them.
    • Use metrics to assess whether ideas for improvement are having the desired effects.

    Let us know what you think of these ideas or share one of your own.

    Campus diversity and a student voice

    by University Communications

    Andreall Moore, a senior in sociology and German, reported back from her group that the university should do a better job tracking the accountability and progress of pipeline programs designed to bolster student diversity.

    “We need a realistic assessment on what works,” said Moore, a member of the Multicultural Student Council.

    Moore’s group also called for the establishment of a chancellor’s cabinet for students that would give her a window into students’ concerns.

    “It would give us a direct link, one that could help her make decisions,” Moore said.