UW-W chancellor: Proposed budget would cut classes

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Andrea Anderson
March 13, 2015

WHITEWATER–UW-Whitewater will have fewer employees and offer fewer classes next year if Gov. Scott Walker's proposed $300 million funding cut to the UW System is approved.

“We will have to have fewer people. I see no way around it,” Chancellor Richard Telfer said.

The university has been working on several “what if” scenarios since Walker proposed the cuts in January as part of his budget. The cuts would affect 26 UW campuses over the next two years.

One tentative plan is to not fill 41 positions that are either open, planned to be filled or will be open because someone is leaving, Telfer said.

The 41 positions would save about $2.4 million of the projected $6.4 million in state dollars the university is expected to lose next year, Telfer said. Twelve of the 41 positions are full-time faculty jobs that affect 71 classes.

The university has about 1,260 employees, according to its website.

UW-Whitewater's 2014-15 operational budget is $219 million. Of that, $95 million is the "household budget," Telfer said. The university uses the $95 million to pay employees, utilities, classroom renovations and the like. The remainder of the operational budget covers such things as grants, student loans, housing and food services.

Salaries and certain benefits make up about 90 percent of the university's household budget, said Jeff Arnold, vice chancellor for administrative affairs.

The $6.4 million figure does not include about $1 million the university also will need to pay for municipal services such as sewer and water and other costs now covered by state funding, Telfer said.

Whitewater isn't the only university that might cut classes and people. UW-Rock County will be employing fewer people and offering fewer classes, Dean Carmen Wilson told The Gazette on Monday.

Which classes and how many will be affected have not been determined because the state budget has not been finalized.

When UW-Whitewater students begin registering April 6, they will see the classes the university hopes to offer.

“I can't believe we're ultimately going to offer all the sections that are in the scheduled classes,” Telfer said. “I just don't see that happening if all the things stay as they are.”

Negotiations on reducing the $300 million in proposed cuts are underway in Madison.

Some classes will be listed with an enrollment cap of zero, indicating the class might or might not be offered. That is common practice for universities, Telfer said, until need and available bodies and space are determined.

University deans and departments begin planning course offerings in January. The courses were submitted Friday, March 6. The university can cancel or open a class at any point until classes begin.

Classes required for graduation, such as an introductory English class averaging 45 students, will not be cut, Telfer said. An upper-level English class, where the average class size is about 10, could be cut or condensed into a lower-level English class to free up faculty.

Condensing classes and creating bigger sections could help ease the looming budget cuts.

Telfer, the university's strategic planning and budget committee and campus governing groups are putting their heads together to look at ways to increase revenue.

Most of the university's revenue comes from tuition.

Under the proposed budget, the UW System's two-year tuition freeze would be extended another two years for undergraduates. Out-of-state and graduate or professional school tuition is not part of the proposal, Telfer said.

That means UW-Whitewater could increase tuition for those students to bring in revenue.

The university also could aim for more students. However, it faces a roadblock with potentially not having enough on- and off-campus housing and not having faculty to teach, Arnold said.

The university has the academic facilities to accommodate more students, but that could create bigger classes that students purposely came to UW-Whitewater to avoid.

“That's our challenge,” Telfer said. “We need to have it be a place where people want to be.”

Telfer does not anticipate solving the problem before July 1, when next year's budget kicks in.

UW-Whitewater plans to use funds set aside to help get through the first year. Telfer said “that's really dangerous” and wants to focus on ways the university can make long-term cost-saving decisions.

While the state Joint Finance Committee combs through and tweaks the governor's proposed budget, university department heads will be looking at their staffs and seeing where they can cut and if the cuts are in the best interest of students and the university. From there, a decision will be made by the strategic planning and budget committee and interested parties using prepared guidelines.

While Telfer is concerned about the budget, he is also concerned about losing quality employees and having to rebuild.

“If we lose them, then how do we keep these programs going?” Telfer said. “That's the piece that's not part of the budget cutting. How do we work with people that we have to make their experience as positive as we can? I can't reassure everyone that they're all going to be here because I don't know that. I want to deal with them as effectively as I can because they work really hard to teach these folks.”

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