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Chancellor's Blog: State budget impact on UW-Eau Claire

| Chancellor James Schmidt

Governor Walker has now signed the 2015-17 state budget into law. This budget will have a significant impact on UW-Eau Claire, as I outlined during a campus presentation on Friday, July 10. More than 200 faculty, staff and students attended — it was an overflow crowd. A video of that conversation is available online. Here's a summary of those remarks: 

Where do we stand? 
As I have outlined in presentations and emails to campus over the past several months, UW-Eau Claire’s net budget annual reduction will be $12.2 million. This reflects the $7.7 million per year reduction in the 2015-17 state budget, as well as our previous structural budget deficit of $4.5 million. You will recall the structural budget reduction resulted from a combination of the $3 million 2013-15 state budget cut, along with $1.5 million from an unplanned enrollment reduction of approximately 850 students.

If there is positive news it is that we have already identified $8.9 million in base reductions of the $12.2 total. The $8.9 million represents $4.8 million in cuts from across the university and $4.1 million in the general fund from the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program. At this time, 94 individuals are participating — almost a third of those who were eligible. (View the list of VSIP participants.) This is significant and the result of months of thoughtful analysis, planning and difficult decisions by chairs, directors, deans and university leadership. I want to recognize our departing colleagues who have served this institution for many years. Most staff in this VSIP group will be taking a summer departure, and instructors the end of the semester, although we have done all we can to accommodate requests for alternate dates. To those who are leaving, we ask that you please stay in touch — you will always be part of this community.

Our path forward
While we have made progress, we must still identify an additional $3.3 million in annual savings. We are finalizing this plan now; it will include two strategies. First, we have asked for 20 percent savings from those units that will be part of our new initiatives: the Student Services One-Stop Shop, the Administrative Support Center, the Advising and Student Success Center and the Facilities restructuring. These initiatives, proposed by the Rapid Action Task Forces, are already underway. They involve restructuring how we are organized to serve our students, and we anticipate savings as we consolidate and streamline these functions. I also will seek a 25 percent reduction in administration positions — those with "chancellor" or "dean" in their titles. 

The second strategy is to examine all areas of the university and identify where we can find additional savings. Our priority is to protect our instruction and ability to provide a distinctive student experience. Units funded from sources other than the general fund (such as auxiliaries) are also making reductions.

What now?
By August we will have identified our path forward. I will consult with shared governance and share the plan with campus, both in presentations and through my blog. Please watch for regular updates. 

More important, we must implement our budget plan. The coming year will be one of transition as we say goodbye to longtime colleagues, examine and improve our processes and procedures, and make difficult decisions about our long-term priorities. As I mentioned on Friday, I am certain that during the coming year we will make mistakes. When we do we will figure out why and try again. Our journey to becoming a stronger university will not be a straight path, but it is a journey we must complete. So please be kind to your colleagues, encourage one another, and always keep our students at the forefront of all we do.

Additional questions
Several questions at Friday's meeting helped to clarify information:

What about tenure?
The current budget gives the UW System regents oversight over the tenure policy. While the budget expands the grounds on which tenured faculty may be dismissed, UW System has instructed all institutions to refrain from implementing those options until the System Task Force on Tenure has provided its recommendations. I serve on that task force, which will begin to meet later this summer. At this time there will be no operational changes to current practice.

Scope of position reductions
To date, based on voluntary reductions, elimination of vacancies and non-renewal of annual contracts, UW-Eau Claire has cut approximately 130 positions. This includes the 94 VSIP positions. I recognize that for those individuals whose contracts were not renewed it feels like a layoff. I anticipate that we will see some additional reductions as the Rapid Action Task Force ideas are implemented. These will be included in our plan and shared with campus.

Enrollment picture
While state support for the general fund is significant, more than 75 percent of our revenue comes from student tuition. We have greater leverage by focusing on how to strengthen our enrollment — a strategy every institution across UW System is adopting. Higher education in Wisconsin will become even more competitive, but we have significant advantages. 

Last year the Enrollment Management Task Force set a goal of 200 new first-year students by 2024. We met that goal in one year and we will see the largest entering class this year in more than two decades. I want to thank not only our Admissions and Marketing teams for a job well done, but all our faculty and staff. This year you've answered students' questions, kept our campus beautiful, welcomed families to campus and collectively put out the welcome mat. Your Blugold pride is contagious.

While we are successfully recruiting students, we also are graduating them sooner, which means we must retain those who are here. This coming year, reductions in transfer and returning students put us slightly behind last year's enrollment total. Retention must be a focus for the coming year.

As I told faculty and staff at Friday's meeting, I have every confidence that we will not only meet our budget challenges, we will become even stronger. This university and our students deserve nothing but our best.

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