The University of Wisconsin System received approval from the Legislature’s employment relations committee to begin implementation of new personnel systems across the system Wednesday.
The plan will grant university administrators new flexibility from state oversight through two new personnel systems, one for employees at UW and one for employees at all other UW System campuses.
“This new system will give us flexibility in some places where we need it, greater coherence in how we deal with staff across all positions, and should help us recruit more effectively,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said. “Making sure we have the best talent is crucial if UW-Madison is to remain a world-class university, provide an excellent education to our students and help drive the economy of the state.”
A similar approval for greater autonomy in personnel systems was almost granted to the UW System last year, but following the discovery of hundreds of millions of undisclosed reserve funds, the vote was postponed by Joint Committee on Employment Relations co-chairs Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah.
Approved on a 7-1 committee vote, the plan includes several provisions, such as changes to the way universities deal with faculty payroll grievances and pay range hikes for top UW officials. Additionally, seniority will no longer be the only deciding factor in employee layoffs.
UW System President Ray Cross told the committee he and his colleagues have committed to increasing financial transparency, establishing new financial management tools, creating forecasting and modeling tools to view long term financial trends and eliminating “financial surprises.”
“I am confident that we have made and are making significant changes in managing our finances,” Cross said. “I want to be clear. Our goal is to explain our finances and how we’re managing them to help restore the confidence of this board, this committee, all legislators and the taxpayers that support us.”
Among the legislators to vote for the new plan was Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.
Darling, who has criticized past UW System leadership and fiscal policies, praised the work Cross and other UW System officials have done to increase transparency.
“[I] just want to acknowledge the progress that we feel has been made at the UW System in terms of accountability and transparency, especially of its budget and I think this chart represents the work done with the audit committee,” Darling said. “I think this is a much better step in the right direction.”
Blank said she would look to gain approval to reward merit-based salary increases to employees at UW, saying there are professors doing “almost Nobel-Prize worthy work” who do not see salary increases.
The controversial topic of the UW System’s cash balances also came up during the meeting, when Vos brought up the slow rate of reserve spending. Cross said it would be illogical to spend the reserves hastily without a specific plan.
Blank said UW has significantly drawn down its cash reserves. After starting the fiscal year with 14 percent in cash reserves, the flagship campus now sits at 8 percent in reserves for emergency expenditures, she said.
“We’ve substantially drawn down these reserves,” Blank said. “If you look at our numbers, you’re going to see exactly what you expect to see.”
Planning for the restructured personnel systems began in 2011, which included collaboration from employees and faculty from all the UW System campuses and drawing input from thousands of individuals, according to a UW System statement.
Implementation of the plan is scheduled for July 1, 2015.