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Faculty union discusses effects of budget lapse

December 2, 2011

As the debate over $65 million in state-ordered budget lapse cuts placed on the UW-System continues in Madison, the UW-River Falls faculty union seeks to foster discussion of the issue within the campus community.

United Falcons AFT, the faculty union at UWRF, held an open forum Nov. 9 in the University Center to give members of the River Falls community an opportunity to discuss budget cuts and their effect on the University.

“One of the things that clearly came out (during the discussion) was that the group felt that students, parents and the public didn’t really understand how this lapse would affect the University,” said United Falcons AFT President Kurt Leichtle, who is in his 26th year as a professor at UWRF. “The people at the meeting felt we ought to be clearer with students and the public about where this is affecting us.”

Some of the potential short-term effects of budget cuts include larger class sizes and fewer offered courses, Leichtle said. The immediate impact would be professors finding it more challenging to provide feedback on student writing assignments, as well as students having fewer chances to enroll in classes required for graduation.

Although this latest budget lapse will impact current members of the UWRF community, Leichtle said it is just one instance in a long line of budget cuts that are shaping the future of higher education in the state.

“Wisconsin has been one of those places with a good reputation (for education), but now people are starting to question it. And that means you’re going to lose potential applicants, as well as the people who are here now,” Leichtle said. “In that sense we’re losing the memory of the institution.”

United Falcons AFT formed last spring following legislation signed into law March 11 by Gov. Scott Walker that limited collective bargaining rights for a majority of public employees. The union comprises of 37 percent of the faculty at UWRF, Leichtle said.

The lapse cuts being discussed are the result of an announcement made Oct. 14 by the Wisconsin Department of Administration ordering state agencies to return $174.3 million of general purpose revenue by 2013 as a measure to balance the biennial state budget. The UW-System was ordered to cover $65.8 million, or approximately 38 percent, of the lapse. UW officials denounced the lapse distribution for disproportionately targeting universities.

The UW-System originally planned to submit to the Wisconsin government an outline of proposed cuts during the week of Nov. 21, but nothing has been delivered thus far, according to email statements by David Giroux, the executive director of communications and external relations for the UW-System.

The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Higher Education held a hearing Nov. 15 in Madison to discuss the impact of budget cuts on the UW-System. The committee invited administrators and officials from the various UW-System schools to speak on behalf of their institutions. Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry and Associate Professor Timothy Lyden represented UWRF.

UWRF will need to cut $1.31 million for the current 2011- 2012 academic year, and an additional $556,000 for 2012- 2013, according to an Oct. 19 statement by UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen.

UWRF administrators will not need to submit a detailed plan for budget cuts at the University until after the current discus- sion between the UW-System and the state government has concluded, and a final lapse amount has been decided, according to an email statement by Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Joseph Harbouk.

In the meantime, Leichtle said he hopes United Falcons AFT can help the government and UW-System reach a deci- sion. Having taught labor management history in past semesters, Leichtle said he has insight on how to reach a favorable outcome.

“It usually works best when everyone works together and understands each others’ goals and limitations,” Leichtle said. “United Falcons wants to be part of this discussion and help create a solution.”