Faculty: State not funding UW tuition freeze means universities would have to make other cuts

Board of Regents continues to push for more money

New Board of Regents President Drew Petersen said he believes the University of Wisconsin System made a “responsible request” to the state’s budget committee and plans to continue to push for more money.

“I, along with other folks in the system and on the board, are continuing to make the case that this is a terrific reinvestment, and we’re optimistic that we’ll see additional dollars,” Petersen told News 3 Now.

The Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance approved spending $69 million less on the UW System than Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed, leading UW System President Ray Cross to say he feels like he’s been “kicked in the shins.”

GOP leaders have said Evers’ plan spends more than the state can afford.

The Republican-crafted plan, which the full Legislature will vote on next week, continues a two-year tuition freeze for in-state students, but it eliminates the funding Evers proposed for the tuition freeze.

“The Board of Regents has previously supported a tuition freeze with the recognition that there’d be reinvestment for things like faculty salaries, like public safety,” Petersen said.

Judith Bursytn, the chair of UW-Madison’s chemistry department and a former president of the non-profit faculty group PROFS, said universities currently face problems recruiting and retaining faculty members because their salaries aren’t competitive.

“There was a roughly 20-year period where very few people left our department, and over the last five or six years, we’ve seen quite a number of departures,” Burstyn said.

Under the two-year plan approved by the budget committee, UW faculty members would see a 2 percent pay increase the first year and a 2 percent pay increase the second year.

However, if the state doesn’t provide the $50 million Evers asked for to pay for the tuition freeze, it will lead to problems in paying for the raises for faculty, Burstyn explained.

Universities would have to allocate about $16 million from other places to cover the 2 percent pay increase, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

In total, the Republican-crafted budget proposal gives the UW system about $58 million more in state funding. Of the total, $8 million would provide funding for dairy hubs at multiple UW campuses.

However, there is a catch for the rest of the money. The remaining $45 million would only be turned over to the UW system if lawmakers approve of how they want to spend it.

Petersen called that idea “a little bit heavy handed.”

“We have done a very good job as it relates to receiving performance-based funding that was put in several bienniums previous and demonstrated that the dollars we’re receiving are being well invested in high-impact programs and making a difference,” he said.

Petersen said he was “thrilled” by the $1.1 billion the budget committee approved for UW System state building projects. It includes nearly $78 million to renovate Camp Randall stadium and $48 million to renovate the Kohl Center.

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