UW–Madison Budget FAQs

Chancellor Rebecca Blank and university administrators are gathering input and questions from the campus community related to the 2015-2017 biennial budget. Questions will be answered in this FAQ document. If you have a question you would like to see answered here, email budget@uc.wisc.edu.

Q: Can private donations be used to help fill the budget gap left by the state funding proposed cuts?

A: Donors typically designate private donations to the university for a targeted purpose, be it a facility, a particular school or college, or a specific chair or program. Those funds, while extremely important to our educational mission, can’t be used to plug budget holes in other areas.

The $100 million given this year by John and Tashia Morgridge, for example, will be used to create endowments to support the research of professors. It is intended to drive another $100 million from other donors who get to name the endowed chairs at half the usual cost. When all $200 million is secured, about $9 million will be available annually for the endowed chairs. This money is a tremendous benefit for the faculty, but it does not pay for instruction, facility costs, student support or other base budget expenses. Of the university’s $2.9 billion budget, roughly 12 percent comes from private donors.

Gifts to the university are vital to our funding structure and are used to leverage other revenue sources. But gift funds in no way lessen the importance of maintaining a strong financial base of support from the state, from tuition, and from research dollars.

Q: Can cuts to administrative staff cover the reduction in state funding?

A: Contrary to what some assume, being big doesn’t mean being inefficient. UW–Madison’s central administration costs are low compared to its peers in the American Association of Universities, an association of 62 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

According to 2013 data, UW–Madison ranks sixth lowest among the 32 largest public research universities for the amount spent on day-to-day administrative support as a percentage of total operating expenses. These support services include general administrative services, legal and fiscal operations, purchasing and printing, employee personnel and records, and information technology.

UW­–Madison is one of the largest employers in the state of Wisconsin, with roughly 21,000 full-time equivalent positions, plus another additional 13,000 undergraduate student part-time employees. While we believe the data show we run a tight ship, we continue to seek ways to reduce inefficiency and have instructed our deans and directors to take a very cautious approach to filling positions as we manage the current budget challenges.

Q: Is increasing the course load of faculty and staff a way to ease the burden of the proposed budget cuts?

A: Faculty members have two major responsibilities: teaching and research. In addition to this two-pronged mission, many have additional administrative duties and many regularly engage in outreach activities off-campus.

A study released in February 2014 regarding workload across 10 departments designed to represent the four major fields (biological science, physical science, social science and the humanities) showed that UW-Madison faculty work 63 hours a week on average. According to the survey, 96 percent of faculty work with undergraduates, spending an average of 18.4 hours a week teaching, advising and mentoring them. Ninety-seven percent of faculty work with graduate, professional and post-doctoral students, spending an average of 16 hours per week teaching, advising and mentoring them.

At UW–Madison, 100 percent of faculty conduct research, some of it alongside graduate and undergraduate students, spending an average of 21.3 hours per week on those activities. Ninety-nine percent of faculty do work that strengthens the university’s outreach mission, spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on service-related activities.

Like elementary and secondary school teachers, faculty have to prepare for classroom instruction, hold office hours, and provide feedback to students on their exams and assignments. They also supervise students in independent study, directed study, and research settings each semester and stay up to date with developments in their field.

Research is central to their jobs. According to university statistics, each faculty member is bringing in approximately $242,000 on average to support their research in a highly competitive national environment. Faculty and staff brought in more than $500 million in federal research awards in 2012-13, money that would not otherwise come to Wisconsin. Requiring them to teach more classes would reduce their time dedicated to the other critical functions of the university.

Furthermore, our ability to hire and retain faculty is determined by the jobs we offer at UW versus the jobs available elsewhere. UW faculty teaching loads are entirely consistent with teaching loads at comparable universities around the country. In a highly competitive environment for top researchers, UW has to offer jobs that are similar to those offered by our peers.

Q: Can the university use reserve funds to make up for the proposed cuts?

A: In 2013, the issue of how much funding UW System schools should keep in reserve became a contentious topic. In the 2013-15 budget, legislators required UW System administration and schools to spend tuition dollars held in reserve to cover the proposed state funding cuts.

By the end of last fiscal year, the discretionary reserves at UW–Madison, which are the only fund balances not already committed to payments, fell to $54 million. This is extremely low for a large and complex organization with an approximately $3 billion budget. Most private sector companies try to keep discretionary reserves at a level that would cover costs for 1.5 to 2 months. The level that exists at UW-Madison would cover less than a week. Drawing the reserves down any further would be fiscally reckless.

Q: State taxpayer funding accounts for about 17 percent of the UW-Madison budget. If that part of the budget is cut by 13 percent, isn’t the overall cut of about 2.5 percent manageable?

The idea has been suggested recently that the $300 million proposed UW System budget cut amounts to only a 2.5 percent cut in overall UW System funding. In reality, the governor’s budget includes a 25 percent cut in state funding for essential educational functions, such as instruction, student advising and programming. That funding is called General Purpose Revenue and UW-Madison would see a reduction from $279 million to about $220 million, in addition to other cuts to the university included in this budget.

Q: What are the guidelines for lobbying activities by UW–Madison employees?

The introduction of the governor’s biennial budget bill raises questions about what efforts are appropriate to influence legislative consideration of the budget bill. Written or oral communications with legislators, legislative staff, the governor, the governor’s staff, or other agency officials involved in the legislative process (“state officials”) made to influence legislation constitute “lobbying” that is regulated by state law. Lobbying does not extend to providing responses to requests for information from legislators or legislative staff.

What follows is a description of the types of lobbying that university employees could do and the corresponding reporting obligations under the state’s lobbying law.

On university time:

• University employees undertaking official duties and on behalf of the university (mainly limited to those in positions of leadership) may contact state officials on university time but this will trigger state lobbying reporting. Under state law the university is required to report the names of those employees whose duties include attempting to influence legislation on behalf of the university. As a result, any employee engaging in lobbying activity should contact University Relations to report the contacts made. In addition, we recommend that such communications utilize materials developed by University Relations to ensure coordination of message and related matters.

• University employees are free to contact persons other than state officials on university time and using university resources without triggering reporting of that activity by the state’s lobbying law, so long as such contacts are minimal and do not interfere with the performance of job duties. Here again, we recommend employees contact University Relations to ensure coordination of message and related matters.

Off university time:

• University employees are free to contact state officials or others on their own time without using university resources and such activity will not require any reporting of that activity under the state’s lobbying law.

Questions concerning these matters may be directed to either Charlie Hoslet or Matt Kussow in University Relations (890-4880) or Ray Taffora in the Office of Legal Affairs (263-7400).