Friday, February 6, 2015

Traversing the dark woods

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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Governor’s budget proposal includes Confluence Project support

Gov. Scott Walker addressed a crowded room Jan. 28 when he announced the inclusion
of state funding for the Confluence Project during the Chippewa Valley Rally in Madison.

It was an honor yesterday for me to join other community and business leaders from the region for the Chippewa Valley Rally in Madison, where we had the opportunity to talk with our area legislators about economic, education, infrastructure and other issues important to our region.

The day was an important one for us to build and strengthen partnerships, with community leaders giving our lawmakers important feedback about the impact of our state’s laws, policies, regulations and economic initiatives.

A high point for the day was Governor Scott Walker’s announcement to our group that he will include $15 million in funding for the Confluence Project in his 2015-17 state budget proposal. Given the challenges of our next biennial budget, I am very pleased to see that support for the Confluence is being put forward by the governor to our legislators. (See today's Leader-Telegram coverage of the governor's announcement.)

As I’ve said many times, the Confluence Project is a shining example of how partnerships can result in great achievements that no single partner could accomplish on its own. Governor Walker’s announcement is an important step forward for UW-Eau Claire and our public and private partners on this important project for our university, community and region. It means that we are on a continued path to realizing a state-of-the-art arts center that will serve UW-Eau Claire, the Chippewa Valley and all of northwest Wisconsin.

This project is a game-changer for downtown Eau Claire, as demonstrated by the investments already made in the JAMF building and Haymarket Landing, and the reinvestment in the Lismore Hotel, Green Tree Inn, new apartments and other projects.

The Confluence Project community arts center will be a catalyst for continued economic development in the region and will provide the university and regional businesses a competitive advantage in terms of their ability to recruit and retain top talent — especially younger talent.

With the powerful combination of state money, local money and philanthropy, we will build something truly special for UW-Eau Claire and the community.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

King remembrance challenge: Continue work of community-building

On the evening of January 19, I joined millions of people around the country in paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Eau Claire’s evening program of remembrance brought together people from across the city, the university and faith communities to hear Dr. King’s words read by young and old alike. I was particularly pleased that my son Ben was selected to be one of the readers this year.

Dr. King’s words still have the power to grab our attention, demand that we look at uncomfortable truths and inspire us to continue the hard work of building true community. He spoke often about a “beloved community” (the theme of our evening program) — that community where people are able to bridge differences and work together for what they hold dear.

Creating that beloved community is not easy, and in Eau Claire we still have work to do. At my inauguration as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, I asked our campus to be audacious in how we create our future. At the King remembrance, I challenged those present to be audacious as well, to come together to create a more inclusive and supportive community that, in Dr. King’s words, opens the “doors of opportunity” to all.

Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” On January 19, we came together with light and with love to demonstrate that faculty, staff, students, civic leaders, people of faith and people of goodwill can look forward to audacious work and to keeping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision strong.

Thanks go to Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton for organizing the event, and for co-sponsors St. James the Greater Catholic Church and University Lutheran Church. Participants included students and faculty from Lakeshore and Putnam Heights elementary schools, Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School, DeLong Middle School and Memorial and North high schools. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My 1,000th tweet

For the past year or so I’ve been tweeting as @ChancellorJim, and I noticed Monday that I’d reached 999 tweets. That gave me pause. What should tweet No. 1,000 be?

The answer came from the intersection of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the news that UW-Eau Claire student Tayo Sanders II was named a Rhodes Scholar — the only student from any Wisconsin or Minnesota university selected among the 32 Rhodes recipients nationally.
So, here’s the tweet I decided to send: “Thankful to be the chancellor of such a special university — proud of all Blugolds!”

I deliberately wrote “proud of all Blugolds” because I’m thankful for the generous and thoughtful ways our students, faculty, staff and alumni all contribute to the amazing tapestry that is UW-Eau Claire.

This year has brought a bounty to our university in terms of seminal accomplishments, such as Tayo Sanders II being named our second Rhodes Scholar in a decade, and also in terms of transformative gifts, such as the $10 million in land and money donated by alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag for development of the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex on Menomonie Street.

There are, of course, dozens more examples I could cite. At UW-Eau Claire we truly have a “horn of plenty” when it comes to accomplishments like these — something we must never take for granted.

I wanted to be sure my one-thousandth tweet captured my special appreciation for this place and its people — and to share that widely with others so they know how thankful I truly am.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Update on the university budget

Over the past several weeks I’ve met with literally hundreds of faculty, staff and students to talk about the UW-Eau Claire budget. For those of you unable to join me at one of our campus forums, I’d like to share what we discussed and encourage you to watch the video of our presentation.

Our current budget situation presents us with a challenge as a university community. Due to an unprecedented two-year freeze in student tuition — including the Blugold Commitment — reductions in our state allocation and changes in the number of enrolled students this year, we currently have a structural deficit of $3.1 million. If our spending and enrollment remain at the current level, our deficit will grow to about $4.5 million by June 2015. Our immediate challenge is to eliminate that deficit over the next two years through a combination of revenue growth (increasing the number of enrolled students through recruitment and retention) and a reduction in our expenses.

You can see a picture of our current budget in the budget calculator we have created to help us address this challenge. The calculator outlines all the major contributors to our revenue (state appropriation, tuition, enrollment levels, etc.) and our expenses (faculty and staff salaries, operating budgets and benefits). Using the calculator we can determine what changes to any or all of these contributors will help us strengthen our financial position.

Currently the vice chancellors are working with our deans, chairs and directors to continue conversations with faculty and staff and to develop a range of strategies that will enable us to meet this challenge. Too often institutions look to quick fixes to get over a budget gap as painlessly as possible. They make across-the-board cuts or nibble around the edges in the hope that if they just hang on, things will change. That strategy puts a Band-Aid on a problem but it leaves the university weaker.

In the coming months, we must be innovative and make some difficult choices. As positions become vacant, they may not be filled. We must look for ways to consolidate programs and services or eliminate duplication across campus. We can enhance our attractiveness to students by creating a program array that responds to student needs and demand. And we can continue to refine our curricular requirements to help our students graduate sooner. I invite you to become involved in these conversations and encourage you to work with your chair or director as together we create an even stronger UW-Eau Claire.

I believe that we can become a stronger university through this challenge, if we take the longer view. This campus community has a long history of innovation on which we will draw and the collective creativity to challenge ourselves to not only eliminate our deficit over the next two years but also position ourselves to improve compensation for faculty and staff, invest in new opportunities AND continue to serve our students with excellence.

I welcome the exchange of ideas that the coming months will bring, and I will continue to provide you with information about our budget and our progress. Please check my website for current resources and new information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Balancing act: College affordability and quality

It was my pleasure to welcome Governor Scott Walker to our campus today, where he had the opportunity to visit with our students and to discuss the topic of college affordability, including his proposal for an additional two-year tuition freeze for the UW System.

As chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, college affordability is one of my primary concerns. I believe today’s students should have access to an education that is equal to, or better than, the education provided to generations of students before them, including me. While keeping college affordable, we also need to keep our eye keenly focused on quality. As Governor Walker stated this morning during his visit to campus, UW-Eau Claire and the UW System are among the finest institutions in the nation — and recent rankings by national publications including this week’s U.S. News & World Report reflect that.

The 2015-17 biennial budget approved by the UW System regents last month includes a two-year tuition freeze and also a request for $95 million in strategic investment in Wisconsin’s public universities. The budget request, if approved, will enable UW-Eau Claire to continue to address talent gap challenges in Wisconsin. The budget reflects an understanding that the UW System is a key to ensuring social and economic prosperity for the state of Wisconsin and its people.

Another two-year tuition freeze would certainly have a major impact on the finances of UW-Eau Claire. We are already anticipating an additional cut of at least $3 million in the coming year to address the current tuition freeze. Any additional freezes, not coupled with additional appropriations, will have a significant effect. While limited fund balances have cushioned the impacts of the current tuition freeze and budget reductions, we are now left with a structural deficit to deal with.

This will be my first biennial budget as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, and I intend to work with our area legislators, regents and the Governor’s office to encourage passage of the UW System proposed budget and the inclusion of strategic investment that will provide our private sector partners with the graduates that will help them grow their businesses.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Saying YES, thinking AND, asking WHAT IF?

UW-Eau Claire 2014 Blugold Breakfast

It’s been an amazing week as our UW-Eau Claire campus community marks the official start to the 2014-15 academic year. From celebrating the many outstanding accomplishments of our faculty and staff at Tuesday’s Blugold Breakfast, to welcoming our new and returning students moving into the residence halls, I’m once again inspired by the excitement and all the promise for the future that fills the air during this time of year on our beautiful campus.

At the Blugold Breakfast, we also took time to think about our future together and how we can move forward confidently, even in the face of significant challenges for higher education, as we approach our centennial and our next century. I shared some thoughts about how I see us growing and evolving as a university, strengthening even more the steadfast commitment to students that permeates our campus culture. I talked about a future in which we are known for (1) saying YES to our students, (2) being an AND university that makes synergistic connections both internally and with our community and the world, and (3) facing our challenges together by daring to ask, “WHAT IF?” (The full text of my Blugold Breakfast state-of-the-university address is available on my website.)

As I discussed on Tuesday, one big “WHAT IF?” has been considered by our Enrollment Management Task Force since that group began its work in January: “WHAT IF we took charge of our enrollment and determined what the size and makeup of our student body should be?” In response to that question, the task force has completed a report with some audacious recommendations around recruiting students and providing them with the help they need to succeed and graduate.

I encourage all faculty and staff to read the Enrollment Management Task Force report, available on my website, and to give some thought to its recommendations. Please watch for details about meetings I will host this fall to discuss the report and our budget situation, and plan to attend and participate.

I also invite you to share with me your “WHAT IF?” ideas for ways our campus community can work together more effectively and efficiently, whether in the office or in the classroom, as we face very real challenges as a tuition-driven university to continue to thrive without burdening our students with more debt. What are your ideas? Let me know by responding via the online survey that is linked from my website. I look forward to hearing from you!