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Chancellor’s Blog: Budget reduction principles, target initiatives

| Chancellor James Schmidt

Last weekend I met to review our current budget with university leadership and shared governance representatives of our faculty, academic and classified staff, and students. With the Rapid Action Task Force reports in hand and as the semester draws to a close, we wanted to identify, as much as possible, those decisions that can be made now. I would like to share with you the information we reviewed at our meeting — what we know and what we do not yet know. I will also review our assessment of the many ideas proposed by the Rapid Action Task Forces and the direction we are setting for UW-Eau Claire.

Before I outline our discussions, I want to thank the task forces for their work and for the literally hundreds of people from across campus who shared their thoughtful feedback and ideas through the online survey, in person at my chancellor coffees and at campus forums. I have listened carefully, and your input has been a vital part of our deliberations.

What we know now

  • $13.6 million: Our estimated total budget reduction for 2015-16. This includes: 
    • $9.1 million: UW System revised estimate of our share of the governor's budget, and
    • $4.5 million: Structural deficit with which we entered 2014-15.
  • $2.8 million: Reductions already taken on the structural deficit (this does not include results from the voluntary separation incentive program).
  • $10.8 million: Estimated remaining reductions needed for 2015-16. Thus far, the divisions have identified cuts to meet a portion of this amount, and the strategic initiatives described below will provide additional savings.

To put these numbers a different way, our current general fund budget (we call it Fund 102), without utilities, is about $95 million. On July 1, if the governor's budget is approved, we must operate with a budget of $81 million.

On a more positive note, we are seeing stronger enrollment numbers this year, a reflection of the many contributions from faculty and staff across campus who have stepped up to help our Admissions team, who have done a great job recruiting a strong incoming class. We are building the increased revenue this represents into our plan, which will help mitigate the reductions we take.

I want to remind you that we do not yet know the final size of our reduction, which must still be determined by the state Legislature. I appreciate the efforts of our area legislators who are working to reduce the size of the cut. We are hopeful this will happen, but we must plan now and then revise our plan as we learn more.

Our principles 

At our meeting last weekend, we laid out some clear principles for how we will approach our reductions. Cuts of this magnitude require shared sacrifice, and so every division will be asked to make reductions. We also agreed that voluntary separation incentive program (VSIP) savings and previously identified cuts will accrue to the affected divisions to help meet their respective contributions. At the same time, our future and the integrity of the Blugold degree demands that first and foremost we prioritize the student experience at UW-Eau Claire.

While there will be reductions required in our academic programs, our decisions will be based on minimizing instructional reductions and on preserving our ability to meet our four guidepost goals to strengthen our student mission. Those guideposts are:

  • 100%: All our students will have a high-impact learning experience.
  • 90%: We will retain 90 percent of our students to their second year.
  • 50%: We will graduate half of our students within four years.
  • 20%: We will increase enrollment of students of color and close the opportunity gap.

Budget targets for Rapid Action Task Force strategic initiatives

Our commitment to preserving the student experience will mean that non-instructional units will bear a significant burden. At our meeting this weekend, in consultation with classified staff, academic staff, faculty and student shared governance representatives, we identified the key initiatives from the Rapid Action Task Forces that we will implement. It was clear to us that the campus community wants to avoid across-the-board reductions in favor of an alternative path. We must make strategic decisions that will enable us to make our institution stronger. To that end, we will move forward now on those initiatives that are imperative for our future health. Implementation teams will be formed within the next several weeks.

The following are the key initiatives we will implement. Most have been designated with a minimum budget-saving target to meet:

  • There will be a 25 percent reduction among senior administrative-level staff.
  • Facilities will be evaluated and restructured for a minimum of 20 percent in savings.
  • A Student Services One-Stop Center will be created. An implementation team is being formed now with instructions to reduce costs across all partnering units by 20 percent.
  • An Administrative Service Center will be created which will include improvements to our business processes, consolidation of campuswide business services, and assistance to academic department associates (ADAs) and administrative support staff. Partnering units will be reduced by 20 percent.
  • Reductions of 20 percent will be made to administrative support and ADA staff across the university. We will engage support staff, chairs and unit directors in reimagining ways to manage the reductions and continue to provide administrative support.

We anticipate that some of these targets will be met through the VSIP program and through reductions already identified. This will help units manage their reductions. Additional changes may be needed once we know later in June how many faculty and staff will participate in the VSIP program.

Two additional initiatives were identified for implementation. While these have not been assigned specific budget-saving targets and may in one case incur additional costs, they are initiatives that are essential to us serving our core mission:

  • Academic Affairs will launch an academic master plan effort, to be concluded within the year, that will help to identify ways in which faculty workload can be managed and our program and course array refined and reduced. (The plan will include a range of recommendations from the Curriculum Task Force, such as streamlining degree requirements, improving the first-year experience, etc.). 
  • Our university will reimagine our EDI efforts so that we can strengthen our commitment to growing diversity and student success. 

All these reductions in administrative functions and units will have an impact across the university. With these decisions in hand, we are working now to develop the financial models that will enable us to determine the scope of the instructional reductions needed. It is my intention, in consultation with university leadership and shared governance, to share more details about potential changes to instructional staff within the next two weeks.

As you can imagine, our weekend leadership meeting involved difficult decisions. But I was encouraged by the focus of the entire group on preserving the highest quality student experience and by the willingness to come together to work through this challenge together. I know that regardless of the scope of the final budget, UW-Eau Claire is taking the second of two possible paths toward our future — rejecting across-the-board cuts (and the associated outcome of doing more with less) and instead focusing on those strategies that will strengthen us, help us weather the reductions and put our students first. 

Please share your comments with Chancellor Schmidt by completing the online survey. Please talk with your dean or director if you have specific questions.

Read additional blog posts by UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt.