About 50 members of the UW-Green Bay community gathered in the University Union’s Christie Theatre Friday, May 3, eager to learn more about and have their say on the UW System’s 2013-15 biennial budget.
State Reps. John Klenke, R-Green Bay and Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, hosted the session in conjunction with the University. Chancellor Tom Harden offered opening comments before the floor was opened for attendee input, outlining UW-Green Bay’s revenue balance situation in light of recent media attention to the issue.
“At this University, we feel good about the balance that we have — we’re not embarrassed by it,” Harden said. “We think our balance has been very, very appropriate, and not too high.”
Harden has been supportive of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget since day one, he said, noting that the proposed $181 million System increase would be important for costs to continue and economic development across the state. With recent talks about System revenue balances perhaps putting that increase in jeopardy, Harden said, not receiving those funds would be significant for UW-Green Bay. A likely tuition freeze could likewise pose challenges.
Klenke addressed the reserve issue several times throughout the nearly hour-long session, noting that no one is saying the UW System shouldn’t have reserves — but the amount of the funds and the context in which they’re presented and discussed are important. Legislators must consider competing priorities, he said. Still, when it comes to UW-Green Bay’s reserves, “I would argue they’re adequate,” said Klenke, a former business executive with Schneider National, “maybe even under a bit.”
Several students, faculty and staff members had their say during the legislative session. Student Government Association president Heba Mohammad told the legislators and fellow attendees she’s concerned about a possible tuition freeze, as well as the impact of any changes in the proposed budget. Without a pay plan, something UW-Green Bay officials have been discussing for some time and were hoping to pursue, Mohammad fears the loss of quality faculty that make her University experience what it is. She doesn’t understand why some legislators are “up in arms” about the discussion on reserves, she said.
“It doesn’t seem that universities are being trusted to handle their own money,” Mohammad said. “Having reserves in case something comes up (is critical). This UW System is really important to a lot of students.”
Other members of the University community also focused their comments on the possibility for a pay plan, and concern that the budget situation might hamstring progress in that vein. The UW System is critical to economic development in the state, yet taxpayer support is dwindling, said director of International Education Brent Blahnik. In discussing the possibility for a pay plan, Harden reiterated that compensation “has clearly been our highest priority … that it is by far the biggest need that we have.”
On the faculty side, Associate Prof. Derek Jeffreys spoke about the lack of civility that has at times characterized the statewide budget discussion, including his perception of expressed anti-intellectualism on the part of some legislators. CIT Help Desk manager Kevin Boerschinger praised the innovation and efficiency of UW-Green Bay, viewed through the lens of his two decades in private industry. And he, too, made a plea for civilized discourse as budget talks continue.
“If we’re going to run like a business, we shouldn’t be affected by politics nearly as much as we are,” Boerschinger said. “I think we need to find ways to trust each other a little more.”