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Chancellor's Blog: Traversing the dark woods

| Chancellor James Schmidt

 As everyone reading this now knows, early last week Gov. Scott Walker announced his 2015-17 budget proposal, which includes both the largest cut in history to the UW System and a provision for the system to be designated as a public authority, which would establish a more consistent, long-term funding source and provide us with much needed operational flexibilities.

At the open campus budget forums I hosted following the governor's announcement, it was plain to see in the eyes of the many faculty, staff and students who attended that the specter of the coming budget cut is weighing on us all, even as we continue our work to provide our students with an outstanding UW-Eau Claire Blugold experience.

While there is promise for the future that includes more autonomy for UW System as well as insulation from the funding fluctuations we've historically experienced, we are faced with a huge fiscal challenge as we grapple with taking on our share of a possible $300 million UW System base budget reduction over the upcoming biennium and a continued tuition freeze. This, of course, will come on top of the already-existing $4.5 million deficit —a result of previous cuts in state funding and a two-year tuition freeze, as well as a small drop in enrollment —that we as a campus have been dealing with for the current biennium. 

As I noted in our campus forums, we already have identified 27.36 faculty and staff positions that will be eliminated effective July 1, 2015. These eliminated positions, along with other cuts and efficiencies put in place, were moving us toward meeting our $4.5 million reduction for the current biennium. Now, we also must plan very quickly how we will handle whatever cuts are included in the final 2015-17 budget scheduled to take effect July 1.

So while we do not yet know precisely what size cut UW System ultimately will face, nor do we know what UW-Eau Claire's share of that cut will be, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated, based on historic allocations, UW-Eau Claire's share at about $7.5 million —a 23 percent reduction in our state funding. A cut of this size will impact every college and unit on this campus. I know the weight of this is affecting every member of the UW-Eau Claire campus community, and as I discussed with faculty, staff and students this week and last, I am working tirelessly to advocate with our state legislators for a reduction to the size of the governor's proposed cut to the UW System. 

This newest proposed budget cut and those in previous years reflect a long-term national shift in public policy away from the state supporting the public good, and it continues to frustrate me that the generation currently influencing policy takes the attitude, "We got our education, now you go figure out how to get yours." Our current students and those of the future deserve better.

While I continue to advocate with our legislators to reduce the proposed $300 million cut, we also have to do the work of planning for whatever cut comes our way. I'm convinced that we can, as I've said previously, find a path out of this dark woods we're in. While we'll have to make cuts that will have a serious impact across our university, we are approaching this in a way intended to preserve access and quality.

I will continue to provide updates via email and through this blog as we work through our process of planning for the cuts to come. Updated budget information also will continue to be added as it is available on our university budget updates Web page

It is my belief that we can come through this and maintain our tradition of excellence, staying true to our mission and continuing to provide our students now and in the future the same transformational Blugold experience we all are so proud to be a part of.