Q: UW-Eau Claire is looking at a $7.7 million annual cut in state funding this year — a 26 percent reduction. This cut, combined with the $3.1 million reduction in 2013-15, means the university is receiving $10.8 million less annually from the state. What will the impact be on the university?
A: The short answer is that the greatest impact will be on our people. More than 85 percent of our general fund budget is devoted to our faculty and staff, who directly serve our students. A reduction of this size means a much smaller workforce. So far, that has meant a reduction of 168 full-time-equivalent positions, and more positions will need to be eliminated to meet the cuts.
One of the things that initially attracted me to UW-Eau Claire was the reputation of our faculty and staff. From our instructors in the classroom to our groundskeepers who make this the most beautiful campus in Wisconsin, our people are committed to our students and their success. I hear stories every time I talk with alumni about the special faculty member or coach or residence hall leader who changed their life. So budget reductions have a real — and personal — impact on this community.
Q: Has the voluntary separation incentive program helped you manage the reductions?
A: Absolutely. The response was greater than we expected, with 98 people taking the early separation. This does help us find savings and hopefully minimize involuntary separations. Of course, it also means that we have a lot of experience and wisdom leaving the organization. Some have found other positions, and we wish them well. We hope those who are retiring and staying in the area will come back to campus often and continue to participate in the wonderful activities that keep our campus so vibrant.
Q: So will fewer faculty and staff mean cutting corners and reducing quality?
A: No, and here’s why: From the beginning I refused to follow the standard practice of taking our reductions across the board. I challenged the campus to make strategic decisions based on our core value of “Excellence.” We need to work smarter, and we need to prioritize what’s most important for our students. The Rapid Action Task Forces did just that and came up with some very exciting ideas that will help us transform how we work with one another. We are slicing through the red tape. We are focusing even more intensely on helping students succeed. We are asking people to think in new ways about how to be more efficient and effective. Two years from now, how we operate as a campus will be very different. But one thing won’t change: Everyone will still be focused on excellence.
Q: What do you see in store for UW-Eau Claire in the next few years?
A: I’m an optimist, and I believe in this campus. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not amazed by the achievements, the dedication and the creativity of the students we serve and the people I’m privileged to call colleagues. I know we will emerge from these reductions as a stronger, more agile institution. And we’ll do it without diminishing our quality and academic reputation. At the same time, I recognize that the changes that we must make in the coming year will be momentous. Any organization going through this kind of reduction would face challenges. I know we will make some mistakes. I know it will be a tough year for everyone. But I also know Blugolds. We will create our future. And we will continue to thrive.