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Professors show concern over budget repair bill changes

October 14, 2011

Faculty and staff at UW-River Falls have begun to feel the first impacts of Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.

Walker’s budget repair bill, which was introduced on Feb. 11, increases faculty and staff’s contribution into both their pension and health insurance. An estimated 5.8 percent of salary will be given to pensions. The health insurance provision now requires staff to pay an average of 12.6 percent of annual premiums which was increased from 6 percent.

The Office of the Wisconsin Governor’s website released a statement last spring stating, “these changes will help the state save $30 million in the last three months of the current fiscal year.”

On that same statement Gov. Walker said, “It’s fair to ask public employees to make a pension payment of just over five percent, which is about the national average, and a premium payment of 12 percent, which is about half of the national average.” The budget repair bill will also save the state $165 million by restructuring the debt and lowering the state’s interest rate.

The campus has already started to feel the effects. Last spring there were 58 resignations and retirements across campus from staff and faculty. Members of the faculty who have been here for 30 or more years may have left sooner than they would have.

“The short term affect is going to be a decrease in morale,” said Patricia Berg, a professor of journalism. “I fear the long term effect will be the University won’t be able to attract excellent teachers because they won’t be able to afford living here.” Berg was also one of the professors who attended a rally in Madison last spring to protest the bill.

Along with the effect on teachers, UWRF will receive an 11 percent base reduction in the state funding. This has increased tuition by a small amount with the majority affecting other parts of the University’s budget. The budget repair bill has also made a noticeable impact on newer teachers to the University.

“It is a pretty significant impact,” said Erik Johnson, a digital film and television professor, who has been working for the University for four years. “I’m trying to stay positive and I’m thankful I still have health benefits,” said Johnson.

“I’m concerned about the UW-system not drawing in good teachers, as a parent and as a professor,” said Grace Coggio, a communication studies professor. Last year Coggio was a visiting professor but was offered a tenure track position in the spring. With the increased payment into retirement and health benefits, she didn’t notice a difference.

“I got a raise, but I’m not seeing it yet,” said Coggio.

Morale is another big issue on campus right now with faculty members feeling discouraged because of the significant change.

“The commitment to students is strong but I think faculty members just feel demoralized by this change. We work hard, we’re grading papers at night and on weekends, and it’s almost a sense of punishment for us,” said Coggio.

For most professors, it’s not about the money, it’s the feeling of being singled out.

“I didn’t come here for the money, I chose here because I believe this population of students deserves greater education,” said Berg.

The administration is staying positive about this situation.

“We are fortunate for our administration and chancellor who have been so supportive,” said James Pratt, a professor of marketing communications. “They have stayed so positive and give us the feeling that we’re all in this together.”

Positive thinking doesn’t change the fact this repair bill has had a financial impact on all.

“Our coverage is good but when your health care premium increases 10 percent a year and your income decreases 8.2 percent, things become difficult,” said Pratt.