Chancellor's Blog: Enrollment, EDI, employee investment to be semester focus

| Chancellor James Schmidt

On Thursday morning I met with faculty, staff and students to look at the year so far and to outline what’s ahead for the semester. View a video recording of the campus forum.

For those not able to attend, here are some highlights:

We have good news!

It was only about a year ago that our University gathered for a special breakfast to kick off our strategic planning efforts. Today, we have three strong plans to guide us: a University Strategic Plan, Academic Master Plan, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan. During the past year we have launched three new service centers and, on Thursday, Troy Terhark, director of facilities, talked about the new, consolidated facilities unit that will bring together staff from across the university into one team. While our consolidation efforts have been challenging, the changes have greatly improved our service and resulted in significant budget savings. I encourage you to thank your colleagues in Facilities, IMC and our new service centers for all they have accomplished this year.

State budget: A welcome change in direction

One very welcome change this year has been signaled by Governor Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget. The proposed $140 million reinvestment in the Wisconsin Idea is good for Wisconsin and for UW-Eau Claire. While there will most likely be changes to this budget as the legislature reviews it, the plan calls for:

  • A restoration of a $50 million lapse.
  • $42.5 million in new funding tied to performance measures.
  • A proposed 2 percent-plus-2 percent pay plan, beginning in September 2018.
  • A $35 million tuition cut that will be funded by the state.

UW System is continuing to study the proposals, but the bottom line is that this is good news for UW-Eau Claire. Read more about the proposed budget

Continued focus on enrollment

While increases in state funding are vital, almost 80 percent of our allocable budget comes from tuition and fees. Our enrollment — which we can directly influence — is our biggest resource. That’s why we will seek to grow our enrollment back to 2010 levels (about 850 more student FTE). This will require strong entering classes and about 25 more transfer students, but most important, it will require continued improvement in student retention.

Heather Kretz, director of admissions, and Billy Felz, executive director of the Advising, Retention and Career Center, reminded Thursday's forum attendees to especially welcome students and families to campus this spring as we seek to recruit another strong class. Faculty and staff can also help with retention by letting the advising center know if you see students struggling or needing help.

Our semester priorities: EDI and employee investment

This semester, I am sure, will continue to be busy. But before we are immersed in all we do I want to remind you of our two university priorities this year: EDI and investing in faculty and staff. EDI is something we can all contribute to. Investing in our employees is my leadership priority, as I outline below.

Our EDI efforts are already underway. Last month more than 80 faculty, staff and students met with shared governance to discuss how to incorporate EDI into employee evaluations. We have launched two Circles of Change pilot groups — groups of campus and community members who meet weekly to learn from each other and develop actions for change. Contact Audrey Robinson if you would like to participate in new circles this fall. And we have begun a search for an assistant chancellor for EDI to assist all of us in our individual efforts to enhance our campus climate and change our institution. I encourage all of you to sit down with your department or unit to talk about how you could help make UW-Eau Claire more inclusive for all.

Employee investment is the number one goal in our university strategic plan. Certainly a comprehensive pay plan is an important first step. We also have $3 million in one-time funding from UW System savings on utilities and employee benefits, which I have earmarked for investment in our employees. Because we are prohibited from funding our own pay plan, we have looked at a variety of strategies to support faculty and staff. To help us, we have done a comprehensive analysis of employee compensation within our market compared to our regional and national peers; it will help guide our decisions. We are also currently working with UW System to be sure that all our programs fulfill state and system policies. Over the next two years, we propose to do the following:

  • To provide one-time retention awards to faculty and staff with satisfactory performance whose compensation is 10 percent or more below the national average. These will be awarded by this summer.
  • Beginning now and running through June 2018, to make funds available to pay for work “above and beyond” that supports our university goals. To fulfill our strategic goals we will need faculty and staff to take on specific challenges. This will enable us to recognize their contributions.
  • This summer, based on the recommendations of the Equity Task Force, to use $750,000 to make base equity adjustments.
  • Coming in the fall, to implement a merit program that will provide awards to individuals with strong evaluations. Supervisors will receive professional development this spring to help provide effective employee evaluations.
  • Next fall, based on work of the Merit Task Force, to will provide merit funding for employees who significantly contribute to university goals.

We will be meeting with supervisors to provide more details as these programs are rolled out.

I believe it is our faculty and staff who are the heart of UW-Eau Claire and who make this the distinctive university it is. Investing in you is the key to our future.

In summary, I believe that while we have turned the corner, with our budget now in the black and enrollment strengthening, we are not all the way around. We do, however, have many reasons to be hopeful as we continue to support each other and serve our students well. Best wishes for the semester!

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