After months of public debate over a $300 million proposed budget cut to the UW System in the 2015-2017 biennium, the Joint Committee on Finance Friday reduced the cut by $50 million, but also adopted significant changes to shared governance and tenure protections.
The committee passed on a vote of 12-4 an omnibus motion that included 70 different items. The motion lowers the base budget reduction by $25 million annually, provides an additional $21 million in funding for projected increases in fringe benefit costs in the upcoming biennium, and provides new and additional flexibilities in the areas of human resources, procurement and building construction.
Significantly, the committee added to Gov. Walker’s budget proposal $86 million in state bonding for the much-needed renovation of UW-Madison’s Chemistry Building.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said that the additional funding provided by the committee was welcome news in a very tough budget year, but also expressed concerns about changes to governance and tenure provisions.
The motion maintained shared governance in state statutes but modified current law as it relates to the role of chancellors, faculty, academic staff and students.
It also modified current law to specify that the Board of Regents may, with appropriate notice and following a specified process, terminate any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.
Blank added that it will be important to see the statutory language of the final draft of the budget bill approved by JFC.
“Many across campus have raised significant and legitimate questions and concerns about the proposed changes to shared governance and tenure,” she said. “I share those questions and concerns and am eager to see the actual language so that we can understand the precise impact of the proposed changes.”
Shared governance provides representation to academic staff, classified staff, faculty and students, who all play an important role in the decision-making process concerning the operation of the university.
Tenure allows instructors and researchers the freedom of inquiry to teach and examine ideas and topics without fear of reprisal.
“An inclusive, transparent governance process brings the best ideas to the forefront, builds consensus, and helps improve decision making,” Blank said. “I strongly believe that universities run best when there is broad consultation, and fully expect that this will continue as has historically been the case at UW-Madison.
“Similarly, tenure protections are vital to our ability to attract and retain the best students, faculty and staff and have served the people of Wisconsin well over many decades.”
A statement from incoming Board of Regents President Regina Millner and System President Ray Cross noted that the UW System intends to maintain the tenets of tenure and shared governance. The Board of Regents has placed an item about tenure on its agenda for the meeting on Thursday and Friday in Milwaukee.
Blank said the level of planning and engagement by governance groups, the deans and campus leadership have helped manage a difficult budget period.
“We expected and have been planning for a difficult budget over the next two years, and have already implemented some measures to help ease the burden of the cuts,” she said.
“Our number one goal is to continue to give our students the highest quality education possible, and we remain committed to working with the governor and legislators to make the case for renewed investment in higher education in Wisconsin.”
In other notable provisions, the JFC motion:
- Deletes all items related to the governor’s proposal to convert the UW System to a public authority.
- Restores funding for various programs such as the physician and dentist and health care provider loan assistance programs, the rural physician residency assistance program, environmental program grants and scholarships, the Discovery Farm grants program and grants for forestry programs.
- Permits the use of base funds to provide salary adjustments to recognize merit.
- Modifies current law to specify that the Board of Regents may, with appropriate notice and following a specified process, terminate any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.
- Makes changes needed to ensure that UW-Madison can implement its own Human Resources/Personnel System beginning July 1, 2015.
- Allows the UW System to create its own purchasing and procurement policies separate from those that apply to other state agencies, subject to approval by the Joint Committee on Finance.
- Makes several changes related to the state building project approval process as it relates to the construction of UW buildings.
- Retains the State Lab of Hygiene and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab as part of UW–Madison.
- Requires the Board of Regents to create an Office of Educational Opportunity that would have the authority to authorize independent charter schools in the UW System.
In addition, Joint Finance previously approved $86.2 million in state bonding and $21.5 million in gifts, grants and other funds for the construction of a UW-Madison Chemistry Building Addition and Renovation for a total project budget of $107.7 million.