University of Wisconsin - River Falls

April 29, 1996

UWS President Provides Budget Peek

University of Wisconsin System President Katharine Lyall provided a peek at the System's budget preferences for the next biennium on Monday during a visit to UW-River Falls.

Lyall, who oversees the 26-campus UW System, spent the day at UW-RF visiting with faculty, student and staff governance groups, administrators, lecturing to a class on urban politics, and conducting an open meeting.

At the public session, Lyall responded to far-ranging questions from faculty, staff, legislators and the public. Topics covered the on-going UWS Regents 21st Century Study, efforts to move students through college more quickly, tuition costs, faculty tenure, training and salaries, and campus closings.

Outlining the impact of a $33 million base budget reduction in the UW System in response to property tax relief measures this biennium, Lyall said public higher education is being stressed because of shifts in public funding to corrections, environmental mandates, Medicare and Medicaid, and welfare.

"We are being squeezed out by a multiplicity of needs and demands," Lyall explained.

She noted that she plans to make a stronger effort to build support for public higher education by speaking out publicly about the benefits of the University of Wisconsin System as an economic engine, and the contributions of its graduates to the state's robust economy.

Lyall stated that as the UW System chancellors and administration prepares its budget request later this summer for the 1997-99 biennium, it will ask to be spared from the budget scalpel.

"I would hope that the effort we will make for the next biennium is to vigorously advocate for maintaining the existing base budgets for the institution, and asking the state if it will invest in the new distance learning and instructional technologies we will need to serve our students and to reach our continuing education students around the state. We cannot, with budget cuts, reallocate for that technology. I do believe it is an obligation or a duty of the state to fund that, just as it is the obligation of a private employer to properly equip its workforce for productivity."

Lyall said she also will lobby for competitive faculty and staff salaries. She noted that the UW System struggled throughout the 1980s to gain funding to keep salaries competitive with its peer institutions. That was achieved by the early 1990s, but salaries are beginning to fall behind, she said. In other topics, Lyall:

-Responded to a question from State Sen. Alice Clausing, D-Menomonie, on Lyall's highly publicized recent comments regarding considering closing a campus.

The system president noted that she had responded to a hypothetical question during an editorial board meeting of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when she noted that the system's $33 million budget reduction was equal to the state funding for an entire campus. Lyall said she was asked by the editors how the System would respond if it faced a similar cut during the 1997-99 biennium.

"I said something along the lines that we may need to amputate something. I think it's terrible idea. I agree politically that it would be impossible to close a campus," Lyall related. "But I think we need to face squarely that if we have to take another $33 or $43 million budget cut we would have to eliminate whole programs and units across the system. We've come to the end of squeezing down, thinning out, working our resources over time.

"I did not have any particular campus in mind to close when I said that, but I was trying to make the point about the magnitude of these cuts and what they have meant."

Both Gov. Tommy Thompson and UWS Regents President Michael Grebe have stated they oppose closing a campus.

-Supports moderate and predictable tuition increases. Lyall said she favors state policy that keeps student contributions at about one-third of the cost of education. Many states are requiring students to pay 40 to 50 percent of the cost. But Lyall said that those states are now beginning to "reap the bitter results" of graduates who are saddled with long-term debt through borrowing to pay for education. Lyall said public higher education is beginning to see students enroll whose parents are still paying off loans from their own college experience.

-Indicated that tenure should receive some review as a process that provides a guarantee of a job for productive faculty. Lyall noted that Minnesota is currently debating whether to eliminate its tenure system.

She said she believes it must continue so as to provide academic freedom, Instead, Lyall said, staffing flexibility could be achieved by increasing the variety of employment contracts offered to professors. As an example, she noted that one option could be to provide a higher salary to faculty who work on a fixed contract.

-Stated that the UW System is looking at an array of ways, through the Regents 21st Century Study, to move students more quickly through their University experience. Among the suggestions are more intensive faculty advising both in course and degree selection, an optional four-year guarantee for graduation, and a reduction in the number of credits, to 120, to graduate in some majors.

Lyall noted that many students are not aware of the additional costs when they take five years to complete their college education. She said these include substantial additional costs associated with the education, lost income, as well as the lost retirement investment potential on an additional year's income.

"Our intention in the 21st Century Study is not to force students to finish in four years, but to have enough information so they can make an informed decision . . . All of these ideas are being considered seriously as a way to stretch our existing resources just as far as we can. The absolute bottom, bedrock value is that we must maintain the quality of a UW education, otherwise all we've done is provide a cheap education."

-Cited the UW-RF "Reach for the Future" review program as a System leader for redirecting funding to priority academic and support programs. The five-year program will shift an estimated $2.5 million.

Lyall said the goals and objectives set out in the plan will help the UW System Board of Regents in addressing UW-RF priorities.

UP to Public Affairs Home Page