May 3, 2014

The UC puts forward the following statement regarding our transition in leadership and desperate need for funding at a level commensurate with our size and mission:

UW-Milwaukee:  Securing the Present Allows Reaching for the Future

It has been a turbulent year for UW-Milwaukee (UWM).  In April 2013 we were engulfed by the “cash balances” debacle, which negatively affected funding for our campus in the current biennium.  And then in March 2014, Chancellor Lovell announced his surprising decision to become President of Marquette University later this year.

We note with irony that Chancellor Lovell’s departure has resulted in a welcome and positive spotlight being shown on our campus.  An editorial by the Journal-Sentinel (J-S) on April 5, 2014 provided a candid summary of our contributions, problems, and potential.  UWM has energetic faculty and staff that deliver nationally recognized degree programs and engage in innovative research.  Further, as the J-S editorial noted, “UWM is a strong, engaged participant in public life in Milwaukee…creating powerful collaborations within the community…The community asked—and UWM delivered at a very reasonable price.”

However, despite these successes, UWM is a historically lean and underfunded research campus—an operation which stretches its resources to do the job.  This lack of resources now threatens the growth trajectory of research and puts in jeopardy the high quality education we provide Wisconsin students.  Mike Lovell and all of us on this campus have tried mightily to get that story out, as the J-S editorial notes, “UWM can’t continue to fulfill its larger mission on the cheap.”

So let’s go back to the situation just about a year ago.  During the deliberations on the 2013-2015 biennial budget, legislators “found” that the UW-System had “reserves” of close to $1 billion, implying that university administrators had squirreled away unspent money from the tuition paid by hard working families from across Wisconsin.  However, this perception is in direct contrast to the reality at UWM.  The money the legislators referred to was spread among all the campuses in the UW-System, and there was little discussion of the fact that a large portion was research “reserves” at UW-Madison, or how much was actual money and not bookkeeping methods (i.e., money that is already spent, but remains visible in accounts).

“Never mind!” said the legislature.  “There will be few new tax dollars and no tuition increases for any campuses in the UW-System in 2013-2015 and beyond until the System administration shows where all the money is and why it isn’t being spent.”

At UWM those funds were not actually “reserves”, as Chancellor Lovell noted at the time, but funds necessary for research expansion, and were dedicated to bring to fruition new programs and pay for the people and equipment necessary to open the new science building on campus (IRC), remodel the old Columbia Hospital buildings (NWQ), and open Innovation Park in Wauwatosa.  At the start of the current (2013-2014) fiscal year, UWM held $2.5 million as true reserves, or about 0.5% of our annual income, numbers most businesses would consider woefully insufficient and even risky.

We need to go back even further to better understand our overall funding situation.  In 2009-2010, the Regents and State government had authorized bonding authority to support major new facilities at UWM to the tune of about $240 million.  That bonding authority was linked to three planned biennial base budget increments of $10 million each, designed to put people and researchers to work in these new facilities.  The first $10 million installment came in 2007-09.  Then the world economy crashed, so the second installment was “delayed.”  “Wait until 2011-13,” we were told, “And we’ll get you those funds!”  But the second installment didn’t come in 2011-13 either, and the third installment has never been considered.  If we fast forward to the 2013-15 budget deliberations, we again find that no promised base funding increase has been forthcoming.  So without new operating funds (General Purpose Revenue, or GPR) to actually open the buildings being remodeled or under construction, the campus has had to budget internally to pay for the new facilities and bring them on line.  And it was those “reserves” that the legislature claimed were wasteful!

UWM relies primarily on two major sources to operate:  tuition and GPR from the State budget.   This year, UWM also found itself in a precarious position regarding enrollment.  Wisconsin is currently experiencing a drop in the number of high school graduates, so our historical recruitment pool is shrinking.  No new GPR has been added to UWM’s budget since 2009, despite growth in facilities.  UWM has a strong commitment and desire to give the citizens of Wisconsin (and beyond) the best possible education.  However, compared to our peer institutions in other states, we are not competitively funded by the State of Wisconsin (see the table in a March 29, 2014 J-S article). State funding has been continually eroding in the last few decades.  Not adjusting for inflation, GPR at UWM has shrunk from $138 million or 34 percent of operations in 2002-03 to $124 million or 18 percent in the 2012-13 budget.  It is this reduction in State funding that overwhelmingly drove tuition increases over that period at UWM and most other publicly funded universities across the country.  UWM faculty would like nothing better than for the legislature to “turn back the clock” and provide more State funding so that tuition could continue to be frozen or even reduced, but the State has not shown any inclination to realistically consider the needs of our institution.  Clearly it is our State’s next generation, the one that will drive Wisconsin’s future economy, which is ultimately being shorted by this policy.

So what are the impacts of UWM’s chronic underfunding and why should the public care?  What we are experiencing daily is an exodus of talented people, often taking their funding and resources with them, morale at an all-time low, key positions getting harder and harder to fill or stabilize (as witnessed by the Chancellor’s abrupt departure), new faculty recruitments becoming very difficult to negotiate, the student experience eroding, and lastly, the aforementioned expansion plans and their positive outcomes for Wisconsin’s economy being in danger of stagnating or remaining mostly unfulfilled.

In summary, UW-Milwaukee is achieving excellence in research and fulfilling our academic mission through heroic work with limited resources.  This situation is precarious and cannot be maintained much longer.  UW-Milwaukee needs a fair balance of resources if we are to secure our current ability to serve students and create new knowledge for the economy, as well as realize our proven potential to do even more for the State of Wisconsin in the future.