UW-Madison eliminated 420 positions and laid off 50 employees over the past year as it managed its share of a $250 million reduction in state higher education funding, Chancellor Rebecca Blank told faculty, lawmakers and employees Wednesday.
And with other states pouring money back into their university systems, Blank said during a forum on the budget, competing institutions have improved while UW-Madison has fallen behind.
As the University of Wisconsin System focuses its attention on the next state budget and UW’s request for $42.5 million in new funding, Blank and other officials sought to hammer home a message Wednesday that they hope will resonate with legislators, alumni and parents: “It’s time to reinvest in the University of Wisconsin.”
Wednesday’s forum, where Blank was joined by top campus officials and Regent President Regina Millner, included new details about how the cut to the UW System’s funding in the 2015-17 state budget has affected UW-Madison.
Blank and other campus chancellors planned to discuss those impacts at a meeting of the System’s Board of Regents in April, but UW System President Ray Cross scrapped the chancellors’ presentations days before the meeting, saying he was concerned about the impact they could have on UW’s next budget request.
Cross instead told chancellors to hold local forums, like the one Wednesday, to discuss with elected officials and residents how the cuts have affected their institutions.
In her presentation, Blank depicted a higher education landscape in which UW-Madison has fought to maintain its position, while other public universities have improved as their state funding grew.
“Our peers, our competitors, are investing in new programs, new research centers, new educational experiments and opportunities,” Blank said. “The result is, we’ve slipped in the past two years.”
UW-Madison faced an $86 million funding gap last year as a result of the state budget cuts, Blank said. Although the university made up about $36 million of that by increasing revenues, it still had to cut $50 million in spending, she said.
Most of the positions UW-Madison cut as a result were vacant, though Blank noted many campus offices eliminated hourly jobs for students that provide experience and an income for those workers.
Budget cuts have hurt students in other ways, Blank said, because schools and colleges were not able to hire badly needed advisers. Several departments in the College of Letters and Science have more than 500 students for each adviser, she said, which is well above the recommended ratio of 300 students per adviser.
And the university reduced its funding for building maintenance, which Blank warned carries its own costs.
“If we are not funding maintenance today, we’re going to pay more down the road,” she said.
Many of the cuts Blank outlined Wednesday mirror the money-saving measures that UW System campuses across the state have used over the past year.
Several UW institutions have had to be more aggressive than UW-Madison in slashing their budgets as shrinking state funding has been paired with declining enrollment, or because they lack the donor base and other sources of revenue that have helped cushion the impact of budget cuts at the flagship campus.
Blank continued UW-Madison’s push Wednesday to enlist supporters of the university in the effort to convince Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers who control the state Legislature to support UW’s request for new state funding. Several Democratic lawmakers attended Wednesday’s forum and expressed their support for the budget request.
“I need not just to stop the cuts,” Blank said. “I need to get ahead.”
In a message to UW-Madison alumni sent Wednesday morning, Blank encouraged them to ask candidates in the coming election “about their views on higher education and UW–Madison,” and to ask lawmakers “to reinvest in the UW and avoid any more cuts to higher education in this next budget.”