Where has summer gone? I know I have been finding myself asking that question a lot lately and I imagine many of you have as well. It is hard to believe that in just one week we will reconvene as a campus at the Blugold Breakfast as we prepare for another academic year and our Centennial Celebration.
This has been an especially busy summer, both professionally and personally. I was able to attend the two-day Eaux Claires music festival this past weekend to experience first-hand the talents of our students, staff and alumni. UW-Eau Claire students and staff played a key role in staging the festival (Students take Eaux Claires from field to festival) we again housed festival-goers in our residence halls, and – in case you missed it – our alumnus Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver debuted their new album (Gleauxing reviews? What people are saying about Eaux Claires II) Friday night at the festival. I was truly proud of all of the Blugolds who did so much to make the second year of the festival a success.
Last week, along with my youngest son, Ben, I attended my first Brewers game at Miller Park and ate my first cream puff at the Wisconsin State Fair. Of course, I also mixed in some business with those personal experiences. My primary reason for going to the Milwaukee area was to attend the August 10 State Building Commission meeting at State Fair Park. The meeting was one of the most momentous in memory as the building commission took actions that will positively impact the UW-Eau Claire campus and our community for decades to come. Those actions (Facilities projects to move forward following State Building Commission approvals) included:
- Release of $15 million general fund supported borrowing to Eau Claire Confluence Arts, Inc. for the construction of the Confluence Arts Center. The release of the state funds means construction of the arts center can finally begin this fall. What an achievement for our university and community.
- Approval of $2.7 million in state funds to implement energy conservation measures in 12 campus buildings through a variety of initiatives including installation of new lighting, new digital utility controls, and removal of inefficient printing devices. This supports our commitment to sustainability.
- Authorization of the lease at Haymarket Landing between UW-Eau Claire and Blugold Real Estate Foundation, Inc. Haymarket Landing, an integral part of the Confluence Project, includes a 119-student apartment complex on five floors that will provide housing for more than 400 UW-Eau Claire students beginning this fall. The good news is it will be full as soon as it opens: our students support this newest endeavor.
- Go-ahead for construction of the Garfield Avenue Corridor Improvement project. This $12.4 million project will reconstruct Garfield Avenue from the intersection of Park Avenue and Garfield Avenue to the base of the bluff at the Putnam Parking Lot to address utility replacements and to construct new amenities along the Chippewa River. With this project, our front door to the river will be greatly improved.
The approval of these projects is great news for our campus and our community.
Funding for these capital improvement projects is separate from our general fund budget. It would not be possible to use the money from the capital budget allocations to fund operations.
Speaking of general fund budgets, the UW System Board of Regents this Thursday will consider the UW System 2017-19 budget request. UW System is seeking an additional $42.5 million in state funding for the coming two-year budget cycle. Last week, I met with local media organizations to outline the budget request and to make the case for why a modest reinvestment by the state is good for UW System, UW-Eau Claire and the people of Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker has indicated he intends to continue the tuition freeze as a way to ensure Wisconsin’s public universities are affordable for all families. I told the media that I support an ongoing tuition freeze, but only if it is accompanied by additional investment by the state, and I reiterated my view that affordable access without quality is no bargain for students and their families.
Governor Walker has now said publicly on several occasions – including at an Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce luncheon – that he is considering additional funding for the UW System based on yet undetermined performance measures. I believe that our focus on our four guidepost goals, especially 90 percent retention and 50 percent graduation rate within four years align well with potential performance measures. Our 96 percent post-graduation placement rate, 58 percent of students completing at least one internship, and our ability to educate students to meet the state’s needs in high-demand fields also are institutional strengths we can continue to build upon.
The governor also has publicly stated that the UW System budget will automatically increase by $50 million in the coming biennium. That automatic increase would be the result of a $50 million lapse in the current biennial budget (part of the overall $250 million state funding reduction) being restored as base funding.
I had the opportunity to meet briefly with Governor Walker after the State Building
Commission meeting last week and I thanked him for his support of our building projects, as well as his public statements of support for additional funding for the UW System in the upcoming state budget. These public statements provide reason for optimism the 2017-19 state budget will result in state reinvestment in the UW System. I will continue to strongly advocate on behalf of UW-Eau Claire with the governor, regents, our business community and area legislators.
There are a number of reasons for optimism as we begin our new academic year, foremost among them the record class of new students who will be arriving in two weeks, our largest since 1988. And, even with the increase in the class size, the academic profile of our students has ticked upward. This is a strong class. I will be talking more about our new class and other achievements at the Blugold Breakfast and I look forward to seeing you there.
In the meantime, enjoy the quickly fleeting days of summer. See you bright and early on August 23!
Photo Caption: Student members of the Event Production Crew work on a rigging prior to the Eaux Claires festival.