Chancellor: Avoiding layoffs and maintaining enrollment are priorities

UW-Green Bay’s top priorities in dealing with steep state budget cuts will be maintaining current enrollment and avoiding faculty and staff layoffs if at all possible.

That is the message Chancellor Thomas Harden conveyed Thursday (March 3) in a late-afternoon meeting in the University Union Phoenix Room attended by about 175 of the institution’s approximately 600 faculty and staff members.

He told the audience that, despite the severity of the challenge, he is hopeful UW-Green Bay will succeed in maintaining both current services to students and employee positions.

The University is facing a base-budget reduction of about 11 percent, or $2.5 million, in taxpayer funding of its annual operating costs under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 biennial budget. Budget plans also call for higher employee contributions on health insurance and pension benefits that will have the impact of reducing pay between 5.6 and 13.2 for most individuals.

The Chancellor opened his remarks by noting again he shares the campus community’s frustration over cuts to higher education and criticism of state employees.

“I have been a public employee for most of my career, and I’ve never been ashamed,” Harden told faculty and staff. “I’ve always earned my money and I know you have, too.

“All we do is give people a chance at an outstanding college education at an affordable price. We have 6,000 students who rely on each and every one of us.”

Harden was joined by Tom Maki, vice chancellor for business and finance, in explaining why UW-Green Bay is relatively well positioned to avoid layoffs, despite the 11 percent cut in state support.

As much as a year ago, they said, the University anticipated that a financial squeeze was likely. A portion of tuition revenue from a record fall 2009 was held in reserve, and ongoing cost cutting in travel, purchasing and review of open positions assumed added strategic importance.

An even bigger factor is the expectation UW-Green Bay will be the ability to use most of the next two years’ tuition increases — proposed to be 5.5 percent annually by the governor — to partially offset the cuts and maintain services.

“Right now, we don’t believe we will have to have layoffs,” Harden said.

He cautioned the audience, however, that the budget is far from settled, new information emerges daily, and the many policy and process changes make it more difficult to predict whether customary budget projections will be accurate.

Among other general points addressed during the hour-long meeting, which included questions and answers:

• Compensation remains the No. 1 problem for the University, with below-market salary and benefit packages a threat to recruitment and retention, especially with regard to faculty positions.

• The collective reduction taken by UW-Green Bay employees in salary shifted to pension and insurance contributions under the budget-repair bill will total approximately $2.5 million. About $2 million of that is from GPR (taxpayer-supported) salaries, and about one-half million from salaries supported by grants, fees or revenue-generating auxiliaries.

• The Chancellor repeated his concerns about the proposed spinoff of UW-Madison to semi-independent, “public authority” status. There would be greater benefit, he argued, if all UW System campuses including Green Bay had more immediate access to some of the management flexibilities touted in the New Badger Partnership plan.

• Despite chronic resource limitations, UW-Green Bay must strive to maintain current enrollment or achieve a very small gain. Harden said the new budget has the effect of placing more importance on generating tuition revenue.

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