Chancellor addresses employees on budget impasse
Chancellor Thomas Harden addressed a gathering of about 250 UW-Green Bay faculty and staff last week (Feb. 24) with an update on the state-budget controversy.
He opened the hour-long session by reminding employees to take pride in what they do — “I, too, am an employee of the state, and I’m proud of that” — and added that he was angered by those who disparage state workers.
“We (here at UW-Green Bay) aren’t the cause of the deficit,” Harden said. “Don’t apologize. We have been a force to help build Wisconsin’s economy up, not tear it down.”
He acknowledged that significant insurance and pension givebacks appear inevitable. For most UW-Green Bay employees, the budget-repair bill proposed by Gov. Walker will cost them between 6 and 13 percent of their current salaries.
While recognizing the argument of those who say concessions are necessary for the state to fill its $3.6 billion budget gap, Harden said the repair bill’s across-the-board compensation reductions would be particularly devastating here. June 2010 data from the Competitive University Workforce Commission, a respected bi-partisan group, already puts UW-Green Bay and similar UW System schools a solid 20 percent lower on faculty salaries than comparable Midwest universities. Academic staff pay is a little closer to the peer group average, but still low. Recruitment and retention of quality faculty and staff, already a challenge, would suffer further.
“Salaries here have been suppressed for such a long time,” Harden said. Both he and participants in the question-and-answer part of the program expressed the view there is public misconception that faculty and staff pay packages are much higher than they actually are.
The Chancellor repeated his assertion that, regardless of the level of spending cuts in the soon-to-be-announced 2011-13 state budget, UW-Green Bay must make a priority of avoiding layoffs to an already lean operation.
“We can’t continue to do what we’re doing here,” he told the audience, “with any one of you gone. Your work is too important. That’s good for you, personally, yes, but it’s also good for our students and this region.”
Moving forward, Harden said, it will be imperative for UW-Green Bay and its fellow UW System institutions to pursue any and all avenues to address the compensation shortfall. He said he remains hopeful that state elected officials will pair the budget cuts with increased management flexibility, allowing institutions more leeway to apply operational cost savings and new revenue streams to their highest priorities.