As University of Wisconsin System officials across the board welcome Gov. Scott Walker’s recent push to invest in higher education after years of budget cuts, Chancellor Rebecca Blank highlighted some of the key items she plans to track in the next biennium.
In a blog post, Blank first thanked the governor for his commitment to reinvest in the system, particularly his willingness to restore $100 million worth of funding.
Overall, Blank said she was “very thankful” for the investment, but that’s not to say she is without concerns.
When coming to the nitty-gritty of the proposal, the UW chancellor voiced her hesitations in certain areas.
Blank highlighted six main areas of concern:
- Compensation plan for UW employees
- Performance-based funding
- Faculty workload reporting
- Segregated fees
- Academic freedom policy
- The capital budget
The ability for students to potentially opt out of segregated fees has been met with concern from various student organizations across campus. Along with students and faculty, Blank said the governor’s proposal may come with “unintended consequences” as it may reduce the availability of certain services and programs on campus, such as free bus passes and funding for the Rape Crisis center.
“We share the governor’s goal of keeping college affordable, but the proposal to let students opt-out of allocable segregated fees may … reduce the availability of needed services and programs,” Blank said in the post.
Along with allowing students to potentially opt out of allocable segregated fees, the governor also proposed a policy that would prevent students and faculty from being punished for sharing unpopular opinions.
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The Academic Freedom Policy, if passed, would codify in state statute a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression.
“It will be important to have a conversation with the Legislature on the impact of any differences between the proposed language and the existing policy,” Blank said, referring to a similar resolution the Board of Regents passed in 2015.
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When it came to Walker’s proposal for performance metrics, Blank said she agreed that certain measures are crucial in making sure the UW System is aligned with state goals, such as college affordability and strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce.
Instead of allowing the state to create these metrics, Blank said the measures would be handed down for the Board of Regents to handle. Blank also added that the system already measures performance.
“If there are additional factors the state would like tracked, we would be happy to work with them and the Board of Regents to make any needed changes,” Blank said.
Within his proposal, Walker also called for a general wage increase proposed for all state employees, however, there is a caveat.
The funding for the wage increase would come from savings generated from the state moving to a self-insurance model for health insurance, Blank said. While legislators are still questioning whether to move forward with the model, Blank said the funds for a wage increase for UW employees would not exist.
“I, along with System leadership, will encourage legislators to treat all state employees consistently for wage increases,” Blank said.
The budget proposals will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee later on, and a revised budget will be voted on by the Senate and the Assembly before Walker will sign it into law. The final budgetary decisions are expected to be done in June.