Today, the Joint Committee on Finance will hold a hearing regarding the disproportionate budget lapse to the University of Wisconsin System. It is proposed that the UW System take a $65.6 million cut, 38 percent of the total lapse. This, after the System received a $250 million cut in the current biennial budget, bringing UW funding down to 7 percent of the total state budget.
Wisconsin’s higher education system has become an easy target for legislative cuts due to a tepid response from the UW System, especially the general inaction of UW System President Kevin Reilly and his administration. While other groups targeted for cuts have fought back, the UW System administration has rolled over, allowing cuts to higher education to become the path of least resistance in Wisconsin’s ongoing budget battles. Last spring during the debate revolving around the future of Wisconsin higher education, Reilly stressed the importance of an undivided UW System in order to maintain a strong, unified voice at the Capitol. Where is that voice? We are seeing once again that due to the UW System’s passive reaction, higher education is taking a disproportionate hit.
This lackadaisical leadership has become all too familiar under Reilly’s administration. Despite several ambitious proposals such as the “Growth Agenda” and “Principles for Progress and Prosperity” plans, few of Reilly’s attempts at improving the university system have been pushed to fruition. It wasn’t until the bold leadership of former Chancellor Biddy Martin that these concepts broke through and were even seriously discussed at the Capitol. Once the conversation was underway, Reilly and his administration demonstrated that they had the potential to be a powerful voice through their advocacy of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership. However, in the absence of this kind of assertive, activist leadership, the university system is undefended in the face of continued state assaults.
This lapse against the university system is the most recent of these attacks. The $65.6 million cut — $25.8 million of which will hit our own campus — will threaten the educational quality provided by the UW System and expected by the citizens of Wisconsin. We understand that the state faces difficult times, and we know that all entities within the state must share the burden, but the proportion of it that the university must carry should be on par with our share of the budget. That is why we ask the Joint Committee on Finance to correct this disparity and reduce our share of the lapse to $12.2 million, or a proportional 7 percent. Otherwise, our state will send a clear signal that the future of our children is simply not a priority.
As Reilly himself stated in a 2006 speech to the Board of Regents, “Vision without action will not change anything.” We urge President Reilly to abide by his own words. It is time to become that strong voice once again and defend this great system of higher education that we hold so dear.