November 16, 2011
Dear UWM Campus Community,
On Tuesday, I was among those invited by the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Higher Education to an informational hearing, “UW System and the Wisconsin Idea.” Along with UW System President Kevin Reilly, several other university chancellors and other invited guests, we discussed with state senators the current and future challenges facing the UW System.
The hearing was, in part, a result of the potential $65.6 million lapse in budgeting for the UW System proposed for the 2011-2013 budget cycle. The UW System is being asked to withstand 38 percent of the total budget lapse to state agencies even though it accounts for 7 percent of state expenditures—raising the issue of the fairness of the proposal. That funding reduction would be in addition to the $250 million in cuts already allocated to the UW System during this budget cycle. UWM’s share of the newly proposed lapse would be about $8.9 million.
My message was straightforward: Even with our best efforts to improve campus efficiencies through the development of a strategic plan, creation of a new budgeting model, and restructuring of campus units, the proposed budget lapse will go beyond our abilities and take even a further toll on our faculty, staff and campus.
I shared many concerns relating to our campus and used three examples which are summarized below:
1. Brain drain from our campus
Excellent faculty and staff are leaving UWM. Even before recent changes in benefits, our faculty members were benchmarked to be underpaid by 19 percent to 29 percent below their peers.
Those who are being recruited away are a combination of established and up-and-coming educators and researchers. In the last year, more than 40 faculty and teaching staff have left or, our academic deans tell me, are in the process of leaving our campus for greener pastures at other institutions.
Combine this exodus with the record number of retirements on our campus — three times the normal rate over the past year (160 from November 2010 to October 2011 compared to an annual average of 48 over the preceding three years) — and we are losing some of the most productive and experienced campus employees.
2. Can UWM meet expectations of recent private investment?
The private sector has made significant investments in UWM to help secure its future success. Forward-thinking organizations understand the importance of UWM to develop technology and a talent pipeline that will be drivers in their industries and the well-being of the state for decades to come.
Here are just a few recent examples that represent millions of dollars in investments:
* Rockwell International, endowed chair in supply chain management;
* Johnson Controls, endowed chair, labs and fellowships; and
* Milwaukee Water Council, internships and technology incubator.
I truly admire industries that have a long-term vision of partnering with UWM. If the state continues to make deep budget cuts, however, I question whether our university and university system can fulfill the commitments made to these partners..
The private sector does not just want UWM to help them move forward, it needs UWM to move forward. Especially in strategic growth areas like water technology and energy storage devices, there is only a very small window of opportunity to be international leaders. The present budget cuts promise to cripple UWM’s ability to invest in new growth areas and programs that help bolster the state’s economy.
3. The budget’s impact on UWM students
When a university is already as lean as UWM, proposed cuts will directly impact instruction and programs. There will be larger class sizes and fewer sections. Students who already complain to me that they can’t get into classes they need to graduate will find it even harder to graduate in five years.
In the College of Letters and Science alone, Dean Rodney Swain has indicated that if taken by traditional methods, the proposed cuts could require the laying off of more than 100 lecturers. The breadth of this impact is highlighted by the following facts:
* Each of the 100 lecturers teaches on average two sections of 30 students each, meaning 6,000 students will not be able to get into courses.
* This is just one of our 10 undergraduate schools and colleges.
* Nearly every student on our campus will be impacted.
In my closing comments, I challenged legislators to consider our legacy. Those of us who serve the public enter our roles with the goal of leaving society in a better place than we inherited it. This will be impossible with the proposed cuts to the UW System. They will do irreparable harm to the state and particularly UWM.
Investing for the long term takes courage and wisdom; it is often a contrarian approach because many in society seek immediate gratification. I would hope that the state, like our corporate partners in Milwaukee, would have the fortitude to make decisions that do not just address immediate challenges in the budget, but will ensure the success of future generations.
Now I have a special request for the UWM campus community. The holiday season is upon us. In the coming days and weeks, I know you will be at many gatherings of family and friends. Will you please tell everyone the UWM story? UWM and the UW System should be treated fairly and cuts should be made proportionately so our campus can continue to grow and meet the needs of our students and the communities we serve.
Michael R. Lovell