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Gov. Walker’s budget proposal causes concern on campus

February 11, 2015

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts for the UW System scheduled to take effect in 2015 through 2017 has caused UW-River Falls students, faculty and staff to question the future of the university.

Walker proposed a $300 million budget cut throughout the UW System, or a 17 to 18 percent General Purpose Revenue (GPR) cut–and an 8.5 percent cut on the GPR/tuition fee base–according to the UWRF website.

Along with this reduction, Walker has said that he plans to keep the tuition freeze in place for another two years. He said his intention is to give the system some independence from state government, which “should allow universities to save money,” according to Nathan Vine of Point Journal Media.

Criticism and debate about the proposal has sprung up throughout the UWRF campus; a printed summary of the estimated budget cuts throughout the system was taped to the elevator wall of the Kleinpell Fine Arts building with “I hate him” (supposedly referring to Walker) scribbled on it in pen.

The debates surrounding the proposed budget cuts include concerns about whether Walker is hurting the “Wisconsin Idea,” and the guiding principle for the state’s universities for more than a century, according to Jason Stein, Patrick Marley and Karen Herzog from the Journal Sentinel.

The Wisconsin Idea helps mandate the line of authority between the state and universities within the UW System. It’s not a specific, written statement; rather, it’s a general policy that guides the relationship between the state of Wisconsin and its universities.

However, Walker announced that there was poor communication on his end and that he never meant to attack the Wisconsin Idea.

In an email interview, UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen said his biggest concern for UWRF is that a $150 million per year base budget cut to the UW System would translate to approximately a $4.2 million reduction for UWRF. This would represent about a 17 percent decrease in state support, during a time when tuition is frozen.

The proposed budget cut combined with the current tuition freeze would have a serious impact on UWRF, including the outstanding group of faculty and staff who educate and support the students.

Provost Fernando Delgado said that in his six years of working at UWRF, he has experienced many budget cuts, but there is something different about this proposal, and that is the lack of flexibility to use resources and to manage responses.

“I’ve never seen anything to this magnitude without the tools to respond to them,” Delgado said.

Neil Kraus, professor of political science at UWRF, said it’s hard to fully understand what impact the budget cuts would have until the specifics are ironed out within the next six to eight weeks.

“The devil will be kind of in the details over time, but if that passes that could be a pretty major permanent change to the UW System,” Kraus said.

Van Galen said that it’s too early to know exactly how we would address a budget cut of this magnitude and it’s difficult to know what the future holds for UWRF if the proposal passes.

“With the tuition freeze in place, our options for compensating for a large budget cut are very limited,” Van Galen said. “Essentially, we would need to dramatically reduce expenditures. It is difficult to predict the future of tuition, but I would argue that the combination of state support and tuition must be sufficient to ensure a quality education for our students.”

The proposed budget may undergo amendment as it makes its way through the legislature over the next several months but the campus will plan to implement major budget reductions for fiscal year 2016, beginning July 1, according to the UWRF website.

For more information and updates about the proposal, visit https://www.uwrf.edu/Administration/BudgetInformation.cfm or visit the UW System Student Representatives page on Facebook.