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.