Professor Richard Grusin (Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies) spoke during the “persons wishing to be heard” segment at the start of the meeting about the importance of the statutory authority of UW-System and how it worked as a recruitment device, as it did when he was hired. He asked the following questions: 1) Are we on the verge of shifting them from statutory to contractual basis?; 2) What has been the study regarding these proposals?; 3) Where has been the open discussion? He pointed out that the budget cuts seem to be taken as a fait accompli by the System President, yet these monumental decisions will deeply affect employees and the very nature of the university. There are no alternatives to the proposal, no rebuttals or variations. He ended by asking the UC to urge the Chancellor “to not to turn his back on UWM,” and to urge President Cross to “not to turn his back on the University System.” It was pointed out that if the proposal stands, budget cuts take us back to 1998 levels of support, yet it is very difficult to assess the advantages of our alleged new autonomies. It was also pointed out that cutting $20 million by July 1 is almost impossible. What do such cuts look like, and where is that much unencumbered money at UWM?
The Chancellor joined us at 1:15pm and mentioned that he will be sending out another update to campus later this afternoon. He reviewed the categories inherent in the proposal, which are: 1) moving the System to a public authority; 2) creation of a dedicated funding stream; 3) clarifying accountability issues; 4) and a budget cut of $150 million x 2 (due to biennium allocations). State property would potentially be leased to us and then revert to us after being paid for. We would not be state employees, we would be public employees. We would have tuition setting authority and pay-plan authority. President Cross and Regent Falbo have both said they support leaving Chapter 36 intact, though it would be changed from state law to Regent policy. There is a Board of Regents meeting next week where the impact of budget cuts will be discussed. We will know the Governor’s full proposal on February 3rd, but it then goes through legislative deliberation that will take a few months.
Committee members further outlined their deep concern about the unprecedented budget cuts and the effect they will have on the UWM community. The need to quantify the consequences such as jobs lost, programs eliminated, or students turned away was discussed. Concern was raised about the longer term trend of shifting the costs of higher education to students; it was noted that a hallmark of the University of Wisconsin System is that a high quality education is affordable to all of the State’s students–continued cuts at the level proposed threaten this. Overall, we then expressed our intense unease about the situation: the theoretical benefits are far into the future, but the costs are immediate and devastating. The Chancellor will be addressing all these issues at the plenary tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28.