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Rebecca Blank: Scott Walker's budget would mean $91 million budget hole at UW-Madison

Rebecca Blank: Scott Walker's budget would mean $91 million budget hole at UW-Madison


“These cuts are too large. They’re too large for our university, and they’re too large for the state.”

With those words, UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank closed a fiery 47-minute speech Thursday to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, arguing now was the wrong time for Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed $300 million in cuts to the System in the next two years. The packed room of UW chancellors, staffers and Regents erupted in a sustained standing ovation.

Meanwhile, a new budget analysis released Thursday detailed how much money each campus would lose for the fiscal year that starts July 1. UW-Whitewater would take the biggest percentage hit, at 19 percent, while UW-Madison faces the largest dollar cut, at $57.7 million.

As Blank outlined the impact of Walker’s proposed budget, which she said would plunge the state’s flagship campus into a $91 million budget hole, the university sent an email to its vast alumni network pleading that they advocate against the cuts. Blank will lead hour-long forums for employees next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to discuss the cuts and their possible impact.

Blank’s stark, impassioned speech was followed by shorter but equally pointed remarks by various members of the 18-person Board of Regents.

One by one, they vowed to push back against the proposed cuts, correct what many described as misconceptions about how schools in the 26-campus system function and are funded and work with lawmakers.

President Michael Falbo said the System and its schools aren’t going anywhere and said the Regents will commit themselves to preserving shared governance and faculty tenure, two hallmarks of Wisconsin universities that will be taken out of state law when control of the system transfers to a public authority model, expected in July 2016.

Regent Drew Petersen of Middleton called the coming six months the most important in the board’s history, urging his colleagues to do their “level best” to use facts and data showing the universities’ central role in developing an educated workforce and stimulating the economy with research and product development.

Walker on Thursday said he expects the Legislature to put additional money toward the UW System, trimming the $300 million cut he proposed, as well as trimming his proposed cuts to K-12 education. Walker’s budget proposal also calls for the System to be separated from state government into its own governing authority, which would give it more autonomy and flexibility in such matters as purchasing, building projections, tuition rates and pay raises.

Blank said word of the cuts already cost the university a top researcher, who this week withdrew from consideration at the university’s medical school amid fears of budget cuts and lean years ahead.

“That will be the first of many casualties,” she said of Walker’s proposed cuts.

Blank said that the funding cuts come as the university is poised for growth, with admissions for next year’s class hitting an all-time high, up 8 percent from last year’s record numbers.

She cited a national survey at Illinois State University finding that 41 out of 50 states now fund higher education at a higher level than in the depths of the recession. Wisconsin is one of nine that doesn’t, and the coming budget cuts and ongoing tuition freeze for undergraduate students will only widen the gap between it and its peers, she said.

She predicted that other schools will raid top researchers and professors given the uncertainty in Wisconsin. She will dedicate $5 million in the next year to match offers and fend off suitors. Losing too many high-value faculty would cheapen the value of the school, she said.

Blank urged regents to approve measures to fill some of the gap, including raising the cap on out-of-state students at UW-Madison from 27.5 percent to 30 percent and hiking tuition for out-of-state students and those in some professional schools that charge far below market rates.

Blank reiterated her concerns about the low tuition charged for the medicine, pharmacy and veterinary schools. She noted that the veterinary school costs less for Illinois students paying out-of-state tuition than it does for Illinois residents paying in-state tuition at their own vet school in Champaign.

The coming tuition cuts will likely drop Wisconsin to near the bottom of the Big Ten Conference in what it charges in-state students. Noting recent growth in admissions and continued top-tier status in federal research dollars, she said the cost is out of whack.

“It shouldn’t be the cheapest school in the Big Ten,” she said.

UW-Whitewater would take the biggest percentage funding hit among all schools in the University of Wisconsin System, according to a new analysis of the cut.

Whitewater’s state funding would drop nearly 19 percent from this fiscal year’s budget to next year’s, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Chancellor Richard Telfer said it’s because Whitewater’s balance of revenue is tilted more toward tuition than most campuses, making a cut in state funding look more dramatic.

“We’ll rely even more on tuition than we have before,” he said.

Every four-year campus and the statewide UW Colleges would see a double-digit cut, the fiscal bureau found. UW-Superior would come in the lowest at 10 percent. UW-Extension would be next lowest at 10.3 percent, with the flagship UW-Madison next among the lower end impacts at 11.6 percent.

— State Journal reporter Mary Spicuzza contributed to this report.

In a memo to state lawmakers, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the potential impact of Gov. Scott Walker's cuts on the 2015-16 budgets of the individual schools in the UW System.

Schools are sorted by the percent change to their budgets.

Source: Legislative Fiscal Bureau

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