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State Budget: Regents Discuss Making the Case for the UW System

Troye Fox
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences

The UW Board of Regents began a two-day meeting in Waukesha on Thursday.

They heard from UW System President Ray Cross, who told regents he’s making progress in swaying legislators, on the next two-year state budget. Cross is working to convince lawmakers not to go ahead with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, to strip $300 million from the system in the next two years. Cross wants a smaller cut, in addition to greater autonomy for the system.

Regents, and some chancellors who attended the meeting, say they’re pleased, if there’s been progress. But they were quick to suggest strategies, in the effort to restore money to the budget. Regent David Walsh urged Cross not to soft pedal the impact of the proposed cut.

“Keep it in context that this is a devastating cut to our budget, and don’t claim victory if you get it down to $200 million,” Walsh said.

Walsh and several other regents pushed Cross and others who back the university system to adopt certain strategies, to change lawmakers’ minds about the cut. Regent Charles Pruitt said system supporters must trumpet the potential negative impact of the historic cuts.

“I would love to see some specific conversation about what might be the effect on the quality of the education on our campuses, in terms of losing talented faculty and staff,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt says the UW System should seek the help of community leaders who believe in programs campuses offer, such as those in southeastern Wisconsin.

“We have heard for a very long time from the local business community about the need to invest in the School of Freshwater Sciences, the need to invest in the School of Public Health, the need to invest in Innovation Campus. I would love to hear from our Milwaukee business community what they believe would happen if we would have this kind of cut at (UW-Milwaukee),” Pruitt said.

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow also spoke at the regents’ meeting. Like Pruitt, Gow says the campaign to reduce budget cuts should have a local flavor.

“If you say ‘University of Wisconsin System’…maybe that’s taken for granted. But when you think about your own community, then you can start to see how important we are in those communities, and there are going to be some big cuts under this projected budget,” Gow said.

While many who spoke at the board’s meeting in Waukesha shared advice on how to make the case for the UW System, Regent Jose Vasquez took a different tack. He says he wants lawmakers to make the case to regents, of what they’re looking for from universities.

“What exactly is the system that you do want and that you’re willing to support? Because at this particular moment, I feel that we are just being asked to cut, cut, cut, but I have no sense as to what is ultimately going to be an acceptable UW System that (makes lawmakers say) ‘now we’re satisfied, this is what we wanted all along,’” Vasquez said.

Vasquez says the regents would be in a better position to lead the UW System if they knew more. He says the only message he gets from lawmakers in the Republican majority is that they want smaller government and lower taxes. He says those goals might not be consistent with maintaining a world class university system.

The Board of Regents is set to meet again Friday, to vote on whether to raise tuition for non-resident and graduate students at nine campuses. The hike would be designed to help offset Gov. Walker’s proposed budget cuts.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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