A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor asked UW System President Ray Cross Wednesday whether he’d resign if the proposed $300 million in cuts remain and if shared governance is removed in the state budget.

And Cross had a simple answer: “Yes.”

Cross was speaking to a UW-Milwaukee audience about the proposed state budget, which would cut $300 million from the university system and remove current rules on tenure and shared governance.

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Richard Grusin, a UW-Milwaukee professor who’s been leading efforts against the budget, asked Cross the question and said in an interview that the response surprised him.

“Asking the question wasn’t to get him to resign, it was to get him to light a fire and show how important this is,” he said.

According to a transcript Grusin posted to his blog, he asked Cross, “Will you pledge here today that, if you fail to secure a substantial reduction in the proposed budget cuts, and if you prove unable to protect tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom for all University of Wisconsin universities and colleges–will you pledge here today to resign your position as President of the University of Wisconsin System?”

Walker’s budget would also shift the UW System from a traditional state agency to a public authority, giving it more flexibility over its operations than other state agencies.

Cross has stood by the public authority plan throughout the budget discussions and also called for reduced cuts to the system.

But a Republican co-chair on the state’s Joint Finance Committee, which is tweaking Walker’s budget before sending it to the full Legislature, introduced a plan that would scrap the public authority proposal while still giving UW System flexibilities.

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The plan from state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, would also try to reduce the $300 million in cuts Walker has proposed.

Nygren has typically supported Cross’ efforts to mend relations with lawmakers and recommended him for the UW System president job. Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, a frequent critic of UW leadership, thinks Cross’ approach is “a breath of fresh air,” Nass spokesperson Mike Mikalsen said in a recent interview.

Nygren has, however, criticized UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for”bringing Washington politics to Madison.”

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Cross’ answer today will likely not change much in terms of the actual legislation, but it could make the UW System’s Board of Regents more active in the discussions against the budget, said Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

“The one thing that might have an impact is the Board of Regents would wake up and ask some serious questions,” Radomski said.

Wednesday’s UW-Milwaukee forum can be viewed below:

Nina Kravinsky contributed to this story.