Miller tells budget forum UWGB cuts could hit $4 million

Chancellor speaks to faculty and staff

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay will need to plug an unprecedented $4 million revenue hole for the fiscal year starting July 1 if UW System budget cuts proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s state spending plan are approved without amendment.

That’s the message UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary L. Miller shared in remarks to about 300 faculty, staff members and students in an informational “town hall” session late Monday afternoon (Feb. 9) in the Phoenix Room of the University Union.

The chancellor would not speculate on possible layoffs or program reductions — steps he said he would like to avoid if a quality university is to maintain and expand service to students and community — but acknowledged that “everything is on the table” as UW-Green Bay anticipates a proportional share of what would be the largest statewide budget reduction in UW System history.

“These cuts are too large, and they will damage this precious institution,” Miller said of the $150 million annual reduction proposed for the state’s public universities in 2015-17. “We will work to reduce them, but as a University we have to prepare in the event the deepest cuts become reality. We will need to be creative, innovative and collaborative.

“We will plan for a $4 million cut at UWGB. This is a huge cut. On July 1, (if the budget passes, as is), we’ll have to work with $4 million less.”

Miller spoke for about 30 minutes in his opening remarks. He touched upon the UW System autonomy proposal (which he favors, from personal experience in other states) but focused on the budget. Over the course of the nearly two-hour forum, he fielded more than 40 questions from employees and students.

In opening the session, Miller described developments since the governor’s budget was released last week, the process by which UW-Green Bay will develop its plan, and a daunting two-month timetable for influencing the legislative process while simultaneously preparing to address the impact of the cuts as proposed.

He called for thoughtful, “evidence-based” discussion of the budget challenge. He said he hoped faculty and staff would pull together during uncertain times, and he expressed confidence they would.

“This is a fantastic University, with a unique product, an incredible spirit… There will be a UWGB for another 50 years, and more… We need to get through this current challenge in a way that positions us for a bright future.”

He also reminded employees to keep students first – “they’re why we’re here… as well as creating knowledge and serving the community.”

Planning timetable

Phase I, Miller said, began last week with announcement of the governor’s budget and discussion at the UW System Board of Regents meeting in Madison. UW-Green Bay faces a quick turnaround in having to submit preliminary budget-reduction plans to the Regents and UW System Administration in time for the next monthly meeting, on March 4.

Already, the Chancellor noted, he has announced immediate cost-containment measures including a freeze on most out-of-state travel and the filling of open positions. (About 25 permanent positions are currently left open.) Over the next week, Miller expects reports from budget officers and senior administrators on mid-year fund balances and possible savings across campus —although, “after six years of budget reductions,” he acknowledged, “there’s not a lot of flexibility.”

He said he is also beginning the process of soliciting innovative ideas from across campus to respond to the budget challenge.

Phase II will be the period between that early March meeting of the Regents and their next scheduled meeting, April 9, as the UW System and its campuses fine-tune their strategies and incorporate any new information into their planning.

Phase III, Miller said, will be the period from the April Board meeting through the end of June. Legislative action on the 2015-17 budget is expected during that time.

Process

Miller said he will have the final say on UW-Green Bay’s plan, but he described a transparent process that will invite involvement across campus.

“Ultimately, the decision on what to cut rests with the chancellor,” he said. “I am obligated to make decisions, but what we’re trying to do is make the best informed decisions we can make.”

To that end, he pledged regular briefings and consultation sessions with the University’s four statutory governance groups, representing faculty, academic staff, university staff and students.

Miller said UPIC — the new University Planning and Innovation Council, with cross-campus representation — will play a prominent role in identifying and assessing possible courses of action. Additionally, the University Committee and its chairman, Associate Prof. Steve Meyer, have agreed to the temporary addition of ad hoc members to function in a special advising and information-sharing capacity.Encouraging the widest possible involvement, Miller asked the several hundred employees in attendance to stay apprised of continuing developments by way of:

  • following the budget blog and postings at the Chancellor’s web page, http://www.uwgb.edu/chancellor
  • future town hall meetings
  • inviting the chancellor and other University officers, as available, to attend divisional and department meetings to talk about the budget

Legislative approval

The version of the 2015-17 biennial budget released Feb. 3 by Gov. Walker is currently undergoing technical and financial review by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Once cleared by the LFB, the document proceeds to hearings and deliberations conducted by the Legislature’s 16-member budget-writing and review panel, the Joint Finance Committee. Public hearings on the budget are expected in late March and April. The bill then proceeds for approval by both Senate and Assembly, and signing by the governor, typically in June.

Miller observed that lawmakers of both parties have questioned the size of the proposed UW System reductions. Alumni, citizens, business and civic leaders are also weighing in, and UW campuses will encourage that participation.

“(As a university) we have an obligation to prepare for a $4 million reduction,” the chancellor told the town hall meeting, “but there’s going to be a major effort to reduce that cut.”

Miller specifically mentioned UW-Green Bay’s influential Council of Trustees/Foundation Board. That group’s advocacy committee has expressed a willingness to lobby on the University’s behalf, and members will receive a briefing on the budget later this week. The Alumni Association Board of Directors has also agreed to join the effort.

Miller acknowledged the high level of interest among UW-Green Bay students and employees, some of whom are already talking about the proposed cuts to neighbors, community leaders and elected officials. “You need to participate in the budget-decision process through any avenues that are available to you,” he said.

He reminded faculty and staff about the strict prohibition against political activity on state time using public resources, and promised to re-circulate the appropriate guidelines.

 

Q&A: a sampling

Q. Why the apparent disconnect regarding state taxpayer support? Is message not getting out?
A.  We will be talking about UW-Green Bay in a way that communicates 60% of our students are working, 60% are first-generation… our alumni are very successful… our impact on the community and region is impressive. Faculty and staff workload? Chancellor: “I’ve been in higher ed more than 30 years, and the reasons I stayed are the (great challenges and rewards), and the fact people in higher ed are the hardest-working and most dedicated people you’ll meet.”

Q. Is outsourcing of some services, as UW-Superior has done, in our future?
A.  Everything is on the table, but we have not been actively pursuing that course of action. Chancellor: “Rarely does that work out to the extent that people think it might.”

Q.  How soon can I begin using my office Visa card to purchase needed supplies?
A.  We don’t know. Not now, anyway.

Q.  Are furloughs a possibility?
A.  Have not heard that possibility raised even once.

Q. Tuition revenue from cost-recovery programs has been frozen, and will be pooled. Is this permanent?
A.  The University doesn’t have a clear policy for incentivizing programs that generate revenue and determining how much stays with the specific program and how much goes to the larger institution. This is a larger question.

Q.  How do you determine a “non-essential” employee from an essential one?
A.  UWGB refuses to use those terms, and hasn’t. We’re relatively lean. We will seek to avoid any reductions and, in the event that’s not possible in the short term, try to re-staff as soon as we are able. “Everybody we have here is essential,” Miller said. “Every one of you is essential.”

Q. Is the chancellor’s recent public essay on our unique interdisciplinary structure an indicator of restructuring that might take place because of budget cuts?
A.  No, the timing is coincidental… but the University will, at some point, enter a thorough analysis of its organizational structure. In truth, we don’t know enough about the costs (or savings) of maintaining an interdisciplinary administrative structure vs. a disciplinary one. Chancellor: “Let’s be clear. Our interdisciplinary focus is not going away… it’s obviously working… we need to preserve that.”

Q.  What will be the breakdown, if staffing cuts are necessary, between administration and faculty positions?
A.  If we cut every single administrator, from the chancellor on down, it would only amount to about $1.5 million and we’d still owe $2.5 million to the state. Chancellor: “This is a very ‘under-administrated’ university, by national standards. At the same time, our primary mission involves teaching and research.”

Q. What can we (students) do to push back against the cut?
A.  Avail yourself of your opportunities as both students and citizens. The Student Government Association is likely to get involved. Supporters of the University will “push back” at every level. Those efforts will be most effective if they are methodical, consistent, persistent and evidence-based.

Q. Is enrollment growth a possible answer?
A.  Yes. UW System institutions retain tuition dollars. Additional tuition revenue is a direct benefit, provided the University can adequately serve the larger enrollment.

Q.  If approved, when would “public authority” status take effect?
A.  July 1, 2016, allowing for a one-year transition.

Q.  Under an Authority, would faculty and staff still be state employees, and with similar health care, retirement and other benefits?
A.  No to the first part, yes to the second. As written, university employees would not be “state employees” in the traditional sense, but the law as written would keep them in the current health and benefit plans. The chancellor said there are reasons to believe policy-makers would favor continuing that arrangement.

Q.  Any assurances on tenure and shared governance, under a Public Authority system?
A.  While Wisconsin is the only state with these issues addressed in state statutes, “49 other states do it without statutory mandates.” Regent VP Regina Miller, other Regents, UW System officials and campus leaders have been adamant that tenure and shared governance shall remain.

Q.  Quality and capacity of the institution have been eroded by budget cuts over many years… have we finally reached the point where we should scale back or reconfigure our academic program array?
A.  We don’t have an over-abundance of programs, right now, to begin with, but… there would have to be a clear consensus. That doesn’t mean everyone would have to agree. But everyone would have to agree that the choices are being presented in fair and accurate fashion. Chancellor: “I’m (generally) not a supporter of across-the-board cuts that leave institutions ‘mediocre everywhere.’”

Q.  How do we focus on our work? I’ve never seen morale so low.
A.  Concern is understandable, but…. We can get through this cut. There’s a lot of innovation and creativity in this room. Chancellor: “It’s more than a cut to me… it’s what we look like when we come out the other side.”