On Tuesday night, the entire state sat anxiously as the end of the world as we knew it approached. The fate of mankind looked pretty bleak and fear ran rampant as Gov. Jim Doyle prepared to deliver his budget address to the state Legislature. What would be cut? Would he cut off all emergency management units? Would he shut down all prisons in the state? Or worst of all, would the University of Wisconsin cease to exist?
Well, no. And far from it. The UW System actually fared pretty well in Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 biennial budget. The governor vowed Tuesday to protect funding for education, which did not translate for other areas of the budget. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, $1.2 billion of the UW System’s $4.7 billion budget for this fiscal year came from the state, and state funding will drop to $1.1 billion in the first year of the new biennium.
Naturally — it really should not come as a shock — tuition will rise probably about 5 or 6 percent next year. Chancellor Biddy Martin has been warning of such a climb for several months. But perhaps most important of everything that came out of Doyle’s budget address, the governor’s plan includes freezing tuition for families that make less than $60,000 per year.
While the specific impact of how budget cuts will affect the university have yet to arise, Doyle should be commended for remaining committed to education excellence in the state. There will be fewer services and larger class sizes, but given the bleak outlook going into Tuesday, anything short of cutting UW’s College of Letters and Sciences or selling UW’s dorms to Steve Brown or evicting all the occupants of the second floor of Vilas Hall might have been acceptable.
So kudos to Doyle for keeping his promise of making education his top priority. But on the other end of State Street, our chancellor also deserves credit for being realistic and informative to the student body regarding the future of UW. While e-mails “From: Chancellor Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin” likely go unread by the substantial apathetic portion of the student population, it appears as though Martin is going to be relatively open as far as what cuts are to come.
Our editorial board has been critical of Martin in the past, urging her to solidify herself as the public face of the university and display the knowledge necessary to gain the confidence of the faculty and students. In dealing with the university’s forthcoming economic challenges, the relative newcomer to UW is displaying the leadership students can be proud of — and hopefully give them inspiration to get involved. Martin said in her e-mail she will keep students updated through e-mail, her website and additional forums. If you care passionately about an issue on this campus and budget concerns might threaten it, voice your opinion.
By all accounts, it seems no concerete decisions have been made regarding the future of UW’s budget. Martin now has the unenviable task of deciding what stays and what goes, but at this point, I, at least, am confident she will be honest regarding the decisions she must make. In previous meetings with her, I have always found her to be open to student opinions, and it would not surprise me that particulary during budget delibirations, she will come to rely on student voices.
Perhaps I am too optimistic. Perhaps I have too much faith. Perhaps my gut feeling is wrong. But I believe now is not a time in this university’s history when our leader will lock herself in her office and make decisions by herself. Her door appears open right now — walk in before it closes.
Tom Schalmo ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.