Column: Difficult decisions weigh heavily on UWSP
By Bernie Patterson, Chancellor of UW-Stevens Point
 
These are challenging days at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Because the university is so intrinsically linked to the community, I want you to know what has transpired.
 
We have held several forums for faculty, staff and students to explain what we know, what we don’t know and to address questions. We don’t have all the answers yet. We do know difficult decisions must be made.
 
We are not just looking at numbers; we are looking at people, programs and the futures of our students. This weighs heavily on me and all of us at UWSP.
 
This week, we began having preliminary conversations with people across campus about potential cuts to units and departments. These conversations are painful. They may be occurring with people you know — friends, neighbors, family members — people who buy homes, pay taxes, shop, dine and volunteer in our community.
 
Many readers will relate to how upsetting it is to learn your job may be lost. These people, including faculty and staff who teach, advise and support our students and overall campus operations, have served UWSP well. Sensitivity and respect of individuals’ privacy are appreciated.
 
We are trying to minimize the impact of these potential cuts by adopting several cost-containment measures. Among them are suspending salary equity or merit adjustments, not filling many open positions, limiting out-of-state travel, suspending tuition assistance for employees, and limiting purchases and institutional memberships.
 
It’s important to remember the state’s next budget remains a proposal. Until the Legislature and governor approve the budget, we won’t know the size of our reduction. Yet, we must prepare for what is likely the largest cut in UWSP’s history.
 
UWSP anticipates a potential cut of $7.8 million. This includes $6.4 million from our base budget plus an additional $1.4 million cut in segregated program funding. (Several programs at UWSP are supported through state legislative segregated funds, which are different than the state support received through the UW System budget.)
 
Combined, these cuts total 20 percent of UWSP’s state support, the highest proportional cut in the UW System.
 
Some observe the governor’s proposed cut of $300 million over two years represents only 2.5 percent of UW System’s overall $6 billion budget. While technically correct, there’s more to understand about why cuts would harm the quality of education students receive.
 
At UWSP, total funding is $219 million in the current 2014-15 fiscal year. A $7.8 million cut is about 3.5 percent of that total. However, a significant portion of these funds are not available to absorb the proposed cuts. Nearly $83.3 million of our $219 million in funding is restricted. It can only be used for such areas as debt service, state and federal grants, federal student financial aid and student segregated fees. We have limited discretion over other funds, such as auxiliaries, used for room and board. If you would like to know more, visit my budget webpage atwww.uwsp.edu/chancellor/Pages/budget.aspx.
 
University leaders and our budget advisory committee of faculty, staff and students are looking at various budget scenarios and mission-critical roles to make the most strategic decisions.
 
Our goal is to have the least negative effect on classroom instruction. In fact, some academic areas may expand to provide new opportunities for our students and to financially strengthen and strategically position the university.
 
We are grateful for the community’s support — alumni and parents, city and county leaders, local legislators, business partners and friends. The turnout at the community forum hosted by state Rep. Katrina Shankland and state Sen. Julie Lassa Feb. 19 was heartwarming. We appreciate your care and concern.
 
We are committed to providing students with the best possible education at an affordable price.
 
I remain hopeful about the future, and the prospect of a public authority that would help UW System be more stable and sustainable while remaining accountable to the public.
 
These tough times require kindness and continued resilience. Thank you for both.
 
Bernie L. Patterson is chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.