Because of his proposed $300 million budget cuts, Gov. Scott Walker said last week that the University of Wisconsin System faculty and staff should consider increasing their workload to lessen the impact.
His two-year budget proposal includes the budget cut and a two-year tuition freeze and will be presented to the Legislature this week. Because of this, the UW System would be converted into a public authority and would have more autonomy, apparently to save money, though it is unclear how much.
In the short term, officials say they may have to lay off employees and raise tuition in 2017. UW System President Ray Cross says the cuts, beginning immediately, will cause a hiring freeze on non-essential state-funded positions, a moratorium on out-of-state travel, and a halting of salary adjustments or promotions until further notice.
"They might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class per semester," Walker told reporters Wednesday in Madison. "Things like that could have a tremendous impact on making sure that we preserve an affordable education for all of our UW campuses, and at the same time we maintain a high-quality education."
Already, says Vice-Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney, UW-Madison faculty is spending 50 to 70 hours per week. Faculty members also bring in millions of dollars in grant funding which boosts Wisconsin's economy and many create their own companies, which provide state jobs, says Wisconsin State Journal's Matthew DeFour.
But Walker is unmoved. In fact, he made these similar changes four years ago to K-12 education in the state. He refers those who protest to the 2011 law that eliminated, for the most part, collective bargaining for most public employees, which Walker says has allowed districts the flexibility to control budgets much like private businesses. Walker did say that K-12 funding would remain intact. He also hinted that he was going to expand school choice.
In the realm of rural education issues, the governor shared that millions would be spent on sparsity aid (money to help smaller, rural districts provide services across sparsely populated – and often poor – communities) over the next two years; $5 million would be used for high-cost pupil transportation; an initiative would allow districts to enter into whole grade-sharing agreements and consolidating individual grades offered at multiple school sites into one educational program for the grade; $6 million for broadband expansion and more to expand broadband access to schools; and $3 million for certain new jobs in the next two years.
Bob Hague of the Wisconsin Radio Network says the suggestion from Republican Gov. Walker was not met with enthusiasm. A UW Madison faculty rep said that most faculty members are already "burning the candle at both ends." And, Jo Ellen Fair who chairs the University Committee, said:
"Most faculty that I know of are working 60-70 hours a week. They're teaching, they're getting ready for their classes, they're advising undergraduates, they're advising graduate students. They're doing their research and making sure that they're current on the research in their field."
"In some ways we've been good soldiers for a very long time," said Fair. "Any kind of cut that has come our way from the state, we've said âwell okay, that's going to be tough,' and we do it. But now we're at the point where we're really at a breaking point."
Instead of maintaining the quality of the UW System, Fair is concerned about losing quality faculty members, and the decline of the quality of the degrees students receive.