The University of Wisconsin-Madison will remain part of the university system under a deal struck Friday by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. But parts of the deal are “devastating” for the system’s other campuses, including the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow.
The committee voted 12-4, approving an agreement that supporters said will give all schools in the UW System increased flexibility.
The new plan would cut $250 million from the UW System, or about an 11 percent reduction in state funding for all the campuses, but would give universities more freedom over personnel and property decisions and provide leaders a block grant that would allow the individual schools to keep money saved through cost-saving measures. The proposal would also create a panel of experts to study ways to add more flexibility to the system.
Even with the additional flexibilities, the plan would not allow universities to set tuition, which Gow said is “disappointing.”
“They’re taking $250 million of funding out and then capping tuition at a level that would not even restore half of that $250 million,” he said.
“It’s devastating to all campuses,” he said.
At UW-L, that means technology updates and maintenance repairs again will be put off, staff probably won’t see pay increases, and three or four faculty positions will not be refilled after retirements.
Anticipating lost funding, UW-L began several years ago postponing some technology updates and maintenance repairs. At the beginning of this year, officials set aside $450,000 that were planned updates and repairs. But the funds won’t fully cushion the blow, Gow said.
Still, he praised some parts of the deal, such as keeping UW-Madison linked to the other schools.
UW Regent and La Crosse attorney Brent Smith said the Board of Regents had pushed for UW-Madison to stay in the system, and to give each of the schools in the system some of the flexibilities that UW-Madison officials were asking for.
State Rep. Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat from La Crosse and member of the Joint Finance Committee, said before the vote that she supported giving other system universities more flexibility but not splitting off UW-Madison. Shilling sided with the three other Democrats on the committee by voting against the bill.
The office of Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, did not return a phone call requesting comment. In a statement opposing the split made May 24, Kapanke said, “Over the course of the last two months, I have expressed my concerns regarding splitting off any campus from the university system. It is a significant proposal that needs to be fully vetted through the standing committee process with input from all stakeholders, and the budget is the wrong venue to properly handle this issue.”
Also Friday, the committee voted to repeal a 2009 law allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities.
As the committee voted, protesters chanted “Education is a right, not a privilege!” and were taken out of the room by police. A Milwaukee immigrant rights group organized two days of protests in the committee hearings. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said 26 people were arrested for disorderly conduct Friday.
The drama came in the waning hours of the committee’s last day voting on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget before its sent to the full Legislature for consideration. Spending at UW was one of the largest issues left for the panel to consider in the two-year spending plan that starts July 1. Along with legislative approval, the budget needs Walker’s signature to take effect.
The Associated Press and Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.