How to Run A Railroad, Part I

This is the first of a series of analyses by  Margo Anderson, Distinguished Professor of History & Urban Studies.  Anderson has been active in faculty governance at UWM since 1977.   She researches the history of official statistics, especially the United States census.

Act 55 has upended life on University of Wisconsin campuses around the state as faculty, staff and students have started to cope with the devastating $250 million budget cut to the university system and the removal of the statutory authority for faculty and staff governance from state statute.

At the flagship, Madison, several tumultuous faculty senate meetings have exposed the potential crisis of staffing and the threats to programs and research enterprises. The faculty are trying to write rules for tenure in the new environment, consider what “post tenure review” means in this new environment, confront how to cope with possible financial emergencies, or maintain the excellence of degree programs now that the legislature has authorized layoffs or terminations for “curtailment, modification, redirection or discontinuance” of programs or departments. What in the lord’s name does that mean?

Elsewhere, where resource levels are already stretched to the bone, the most immediate crises are budgetary. At UW-Milwaukee, there are 144 fewer full time employees in October 2015 than there were in October 2014. Similar numbers are projected to disappear this year. At Eau Claire, the chancellor recently reported that the campus staffing cut for the biennium is 15%, or 179 positions. He continued, “UW System [is being] asked to do the impossible…We can’t continue to shoulder budget reductions and still produce the graduates this state needs.”

So, what to do….

Well, one thing we can do is listen to one another and take good ideas and practices from around the state. To that end, the provisions passed by the Madison Faculty Senate on Monday I think provide some guidance for us at UWM and our budget woes.

So, a bit of background on why the budget shortfalls loom so large at UWM.

As is well known, in the past 15 years or so, UWM has undergone a major building expansion, on the main campus (the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Center); downtown (the Zilber School of Public Health; the School of Freshwater Sciences), and in Wauwatosa. We have built new schools and fields of study. The number of doctoral programs grew from 17 in 2003 to 33 in 2014. Doctoral enrollment which ranged from about 600-800 from the late 1980s to 2000 is now over 1400. The Regents and the state supported this expansion with significant bonding authority for capital construction and pledges of $30 million of GPR over three biennia to staff up.

Only problem is the state only delivered only $10 million of the GPR, since the 2009-2011, and 2011–2013 allocations disappeared from the state budget. So UWM backstopped the roll out of the new research initiatives and programs with “reserves.” Then in July, Act 55 removed another $21 million in GPR from the UWM base budget, and the state required campuses to get rid of their “reserves.” So now we are looking at a VERY BIG budget hole to maintain and consolidate the work of the past 15 years.

Which brings me to the documents from Monday’s Madison Faculty Senate.

The concerns at the Madison Faculty Senate to date have been primarily about issues of tenure and governance, but embedded in their policies and procedures language is also very good guidance on how to approach financial emergencies, for a campus, or even a portion of one. I am not sure whether these provisions are all new, but they do look like they would help us confront our budget woes.

First, one more historical note. Statutory provisions for declaring a financial emergency for a campus date from the 1970s, when the faculty had statutory primary authority for academic activities and faculty personnel matters. The provisions for any consideration of financial emergency on a campus retain that language:

“It shall be the primary responsibility of the faculty of the institution to establish criteria to be used by the chancellor and committee for academic program evaluations and priorities. A decision to curtail or discontinue an academic program for reasons of financial emergency shall be made in accordance with the best interests of students and the overall ability of the institution to fulfill its mission.”

Accordingly the Madison governance provisions lay out in quite clear detail what would be needed to make a determination whether a fiscal emergency exists, or even the question about whether it could exist. First set up a committee.

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6.36. FACULTY CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE ON FINANCIAL EMERGENCY.

A. MEMBERSHIP. The Faculty Consultative Committee on Financial Emergency shall consist of the following members:
One member selected by and from the membership of each of the four divisional executive committees.
Two members selected by and from the membership of the University Committee.
One member selected by and from the membership of the Commission on Faculty Compensation and Economic Benefits.

The chair shall be appointed by the University Committee. The selection of the committee shall be completed during the autumn term of each year and shall be reported promptly to the faculty.

B. FUNCTIONS. The committee shall function as specified in UWS 5.04 through 5.06, and Chapter 10 of these rules.
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Then the provisions define what the committee is to do: https://www.secfac.wisc.edu/FPP_ch_10.htm#10.03.
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10.03. FINANCIAL EMERGENCY: CONSULTATION AND RECOMMENDATIONS.

The chancellor shall consult with the Faculty Consultative Committee on Financial Emergency (FPP 6.36.) if at any time a declaration of financial emergency is to be considered. It is the right and responsibility of the Faculty Consultative Committee on Financial Emergency to represent the faculty if a declaration of a state of financial emergency for the campus is being considered and to assure that the procedures of UWS 5.05 and 5.06 are followed.
Consultation shall proceed in accordance with UWS 5.05 and shall include consultation with the Academic Staff Executive Committee and the University Staff Executive Committee, as well as those other individuals and groups who may be able to provide valuable advice (see UWS 5.05(1)(e)).
The chancellor and the Faculty Consultative Committee on Financial Emergency shall pursue all feasible alternatives to termination of appointments such as the voluntary reduction of full-time faculty members to part-time status, in accordance with FPP 7.19.C., expenditure of one-time money or reserves as bridge funding, furloughs, pay cuts, deferred compensation plans, early-retirement packages, deferral of nonessential capital expenditures, and cuts to non-educational programs and services, including expenses for administration.
If the chancellor decides to recommend the declaration of a state of financial emergency for the campus, that recommendation to the system president and the board shall be accompanied by a report which shall be in conformity with UWS 5.06(1).
Before any proposals for program discontinuance on grounds of financial emergency are made, the faculty or an appropriate faculty body will have opportunity to render an assessment in writing of the institution’s financial condition. The faculty or an appropriate elected faculty body will have access to at least five years of audited financial statements, current and following-year budgets, and detailed cash-flow estimates for future years as well as detailed program, department, and administrative-unit budgets.
The chancellor and the chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee on Financial Emergency or their designees, and representatives of affected colleges, schools, departments, and programs may appear before the board at the time the recommendation is considered. Other interested parties may submit alternative recommendations or challenges to any part of the report in writing.

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The most crucial piece of this guidance in my view is the requirement for EVIDENCE for decision making:

“Before any proposals for program discontinuance on grounds of financial emergency are made, the faculty or an appropriate faculty body will have opportunity to render an assessment in writing of the institution’s financial condition. The faculty or an appropriate elected faculty body will have access to at least five years of audited financial statements, current and following-year budgets, and detailed cash-flow estimates for future years as well as detailed program, department, and administrative-unit budgets.”

So, here at UWM, how about we produce those “five years of audited financial statements, current and following-year budgets, and detailed cash-flow estimates for future years as well as detailed program, department, and administrative-unit budgets” and then we can get down to work.

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