UWGB Chancellor Town Hall on Our Budget Hell

Sad-IronThis post will really only be of interest to those in the UW, specifically at UWGB. Our Chancellor, Gary Miller, held a much-welcome town hall meeting today on our dire budget circumstances. He gave a very short intro and then answered questions, by himself, for nearly 2 hours. Here were the major points:

  • If the budget cut number does not decrease, we need to cut nearly 4 million from the UWGB budget by July 1st. 4 million.
  • The Chancellor expressed that these cuts were too much, and he hopes that messaging and pushback from various constituents will reduce the number.

  • Chancellor Miller also expressed that his intent, right now, was to avoid layoffs at all costs, but he also wasn’t sure how that intent would stack up against the 4 million, which is, admittedly, huge. There was mention of 25 current vacant positions, and the majority of them will likely go unfilled as a result. (One of these is in my unit, which will likely result in the death of that program since that person was essentially the program, but I could be wrong.)
  • Chancellor Miller expressed approval of the public authority; however, was unwilling to answer many questions about it, since we don’t know what it would look like exactly. Still, it was clear that this move would result in a tuition increase, as evidenced by his point that the authority would allow us to present a tuition plan that people could plan for. You don’t plan for decreasing tuition.
  • Chancellor Miller’s explanation for travel freezes, etc. We have to pool the money we have now in the hopes we can carry it into the next budget and use it to alleviate coming cuts. There was disagreement in the gallery about whether or not we could do this (harumph!), including the point that this sounds like a “cash reserve” that the legislature didn’t want us to have in the first place. (Gee, wonder why.) After consulting with our Dean Mattison-Furlong brain trust, it seems we can indeed carry it over. Still, there is a sense of “shit man, let’s just spend it before it’s gone forever.” A student also made a great point to the Chancellor: “When you take money from faculty to do their work, you take money from us.” Now that’s Word.
  • The question was raised about increased teaching load to our already significant four-pillared required workload (teaching, research/professional development, institutional service, and community outreach/service). The response: the regents are aware of how hard we work but… who knows at this point.
  • Question: under the public authority would we still be state employees? Answer: no, we’d be public employees. Uh oh, pension and health? Pension plan would likely stay, but the public authority could change health. Also, questions about labor and Act 10: would they still apply? Basically, yes.
  • Another asked, Will admin cuts come before faculty cuts? Answer: if we cut all admin, in entirety, our number only drops to 2.5 million. (Takeaway: hey, they’ve been running numbers!)
  • Q: Will Chuck Rybak be named interim campus king? A: No.
  • The Provost did not speak. Any questions can be sent to his hotmail address or uwgb address.
  • There was support for our belief in interdisciplinarity, though an expressed need to change the structure around that philosophy. This is not new.
  • A lot of talk about messaging, mobilizing, contacting people of influence, etc.
  • There was also the expected expression that we are awesome, but these are tough times. Chancellor Miller said he considered an open bar–this did not seem flip at all; it felt like real concern and a response to how low faculty morale is right now. One faculty member said as much–she’s never felt worse and more demoralized in her entire career as she does now. No one in the room disagreed (hundreds of people were present). I agree. I’m feeling like a frozen turd by a tree stump right now in terms of validation from my boss, who is the Governor.

My added editorializing:

  •  I worry about the public authority. First, it can be rescinded. Second, it leads to higher tuition. Third, schools play looser with tuition dollars and debt coverage for facility building (See this). Fourth, tenure comes off state statute. Fifth, did I mention in can be rescinded by people who want to play politics while screaming “taxpayers!”
  • Ray Cross is the boss. He seems quiet and tepid. Why? I think he desires the public authority enough that he wants a budget cut. He wont get the authority without a massive cut. Put another way: let’s say our entire budget proposal would be restored, but no public authority… I don’t think Cross wants that. What do you do when your own President might, just might, want this cut? Do Chancellors lobby against their own boss on this? Hmmm. Sticky. We need honesty on this. We deserve to know.

I am very thankful for Miller’s time and encouragement today. Our state is sucking on education. We all want the things, but nobody wants to actually pay for the things. Also, efficiencies.

Thanks for tuning in.