UW-Platteville faces budget shortfall

The UW-Platteville open budget forum Monday morning brought into sharp relief the magnitude of the crisis that is facing the university and the University of Wisconsin System at large.
The point of the forum was to begin a campus-wide discussion on a list of 86 budget-cutting recommendations developed by senior administration and the chair of the Faculty Senate. The ad hoc committee met for nearly 30 hours between semesters to discuss options and develop strategies to meet budget cuts that were announced in December.
The list of 86 budget reduction options was divided into three recommended action areas: green for yes, yellow for maybe and red for no.
“Nothing has been decided so far,” UW-Platteville Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Rob Cramer said.
The list is up for review by the classified, academic, faculty and student senates, as well as the University Academic Budget Committee and the Academic Planning Council. It has been posted online, along with other budget reduction planning documents.
The forum, attended by about 80 people – primarily faculty and staff – was opened by Chancellor Dennis Shields, who did not paint an encouraging picture.
“It’s important for the whole university community to understand the crisis that we face as things stand and what may be in store for us,” Shields said. “Everything is on the table.”
According to a Jan. 16 memo from Shields to the four university senates, projections in April 2013 indicated the university would have closed out the 2016-2017 fiscal year with a $3 million balance. However Shields noted, “since then a number of factors have changed, leading to the forecast of a structural imbalance.  The current multi-year forecast in the core financial model shows a structural imbalance between revenues and expenditures of about $5 million annually.”
The 86 recommendations, if all were put into place, would address a budget shortfall of $5.7 million, but of those 86, the recommended cuts would only address about half of that amount, leaving a long list of cuts that would be even more difficult to make. The shortfall, which had originally been projected to occur in fiscal year 2020, is the result of reduced state support and a tuition freeze that is projected to stay in place through the 2015-2017 budget biennium. In addition, the administration has pledged to increase faculty salaries, which currently are in the seventh percentile nationally and the lowest in the UW System.
Shields said he did not attend the budget reduction meetings or offer any proposals of his own.
“Nothing is absolutely protected,” Shields said. “Things I care deeply about are not moving forward.”
The proposed changes could affect 70 positions, with options to eliminate support staff positions and convert tenure lines to academic staff positions, all of which would reduce salary costs. Salaries are, by far, the biggest operating expense in higher education.
Shields was asked if state legislators understand the impact of the cuts and tuition freeze at the university level.
“They’re not worried about us,” Shields said. “It is clear to me that nobody in state government cares about us. They have manifested by their behavior over the last decade or so that they don’t care about us, they don’t care enough to understand us. That’s my view.”
The chancellor encouraged forum attendees to contact legislators; Provost Mittie Den Herder noted that such contact should not be done on university time or using university equipment or other resources.
Since the Monday forum, some details of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, scheduled for release on Feb. 3, have come to light. A 13 percent reduction in state support for the system over the next two years, in addition to the reductions already in place, is expected to be included in the proposal.
State Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Travis Tranel will be conducting a joint Listening Session 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 2, at the Platteville Public Library, 65 S. Elm St.
For more information or to offer feedback, visit http://www.uwplatt.edu/budget/budget-reduction-planning