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Chancellor Richard Wells

Governor Walker’s signing of the state budget in the days ahead will make official new and long-sought leadership and management flexibilities for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and all UW System institutions. Our campuses and our state will benefit from this first wave of transformative freedoms, and we look forward to working with the legislature’s special task force, also created by the budget, to investigate, enhance and further spread flexibilities throughout the UW System as soon as possible.

The Board of Regents will meet in mid-July to act upon UW System President Kevin Reilly’s and all Chancellors’ budget recommendations. After the board’s action, by the end of July, I will share a memo with our campus community summarizing UW Oshkosh’s budget plan for 2011-12. It will be the culmination of several months of hard work and input from our faculty, staff and students.

We also appreciate the support and cooperation of many others who helped get us this far. First, we would like to thank all of our New North state legislators, especially State Senators Michael Ellis, Randy Hopper and Luther Olsen and State Representatives Dean Kaufert and Gordon Hintz. They strongly supported a unified UW System further galvanized by leadership and management flexibilities at each of its campuses.

At a special meeting in February with university chancellors and leaders, the Governor provided advance notice of his proposal to give UW Madison separate, public authority status. He also signaled his support to extend many of Madison’s flexibilities to campuses system-wide, provided we first build a statewide, grassroots foundation of support. I greatly appreciate the Governor’s understanding that all UW System institutions need these freedoms and management flexibilities to provide the citizens of Wisconsin the best possible education in challenging economic times. The state’s business community agrees. By late April, business organizations representing thousands of companies and storefronts across the state had signed onto UW System’s Wisconsin Idea Partnership, designed to provide flexibilities to all universities.

We must also recognize the other local, regional and state entities that got behind our call to empower UW System institutions. They include, but are not limited to, Chambers of Commerce, economic development collectives, city councils, county boards of supervisors and a multitude of private Wisconsin entrepreneurs and citizens who took the time to write, email and call legislators. They all saw the business sense and broader economic value in keeping our efficient, highly-regarded UW System unified. They also understood the wisdom in individually empowering campuses inside our unified system with these necessary freedoms. New procedural and decision-making powers will free university administrators and governance leaders from some of the red tape and bureaucratic obstacles that, up to now, have prevented them from more effectively managing both short-term and long-term budget challenges.

Excellent progress has been made, but the budget’s passage must not mean the end of the collaborative effort.

Important though they are, flexibilities are tools, not solutions. They will help us address UW Oshkosh’s $9.8 million share of the UW System’s $250 million, 2011-13 biennial budget shortfall. Unfortunately, flexibilities will not defray or give credit to the 1,700 UW Oshkosh employees who face required reduction of $5 million in take-home compensation due to increased health insurance and retirement benefit contributions. Our faculty’s and staff’s required sacrifice will prevent layoffs and help close the state’s budget deficit but will not reduce UW Oshkosh’s share of the funding cut.

I am consistently inspired by the dedication of our faculty and staff members. I also realize we cannot continually expect and rely on their sacrifices to counter our budget shortfalls and keep tuition increases modest. Leaving retiree positions vacant only shifts work to a smaller number of faculty and staff at a growing institution posting new enrollment records each year. Expecting more for less, no matter how selfless, service-oriented and passionate our faculty and staff, is not sustainable. Nor does it honor our UW System’s first and foremost obligation to quality and to the citizens of Wisconsin. As the Wisconsin Idea commands, ours are the people’s universities.

All this says nothing of the deepening challenges we face in enhancing the talent at our institution.

Even before Wisconsin’s budget shortfalls this year, UW Oshkosh and the UW System faced the staunch challenge of retaining, recruiting and supporting exemplary faculty and staff in a competitive Midwest and national marketplace. We are losing some of our best and brightest. I see the need to address this problem as our biggest test moving forward.

Let me be clear: Compensation averages for our faculty and staff, which trail Midwest comprehensive university peer group averages by well over 12 percent, send an unfortunate message that Wisconsin does not want or value the talented people necessary to help meet the knowledge needs of its citizens. We must do our best to respect the talent, growth and loyalty of our faculty and staff by closing this very large and increasing compensation gap.

The collaborations and supportive partnerships we forged this year, in spite of the divisive and sometimes uncivil atmosphere in Wisconsin, must be built upon, not cast aside or forgotten with the budget’s closure.

Local government, legislative, business and university leaders cannot let differences prevent us from working together to preserve the quality of higher education and, for that matter, the quality of life in the state. We must call upon our long tradition of collaboration, and focus on strengthening the social, cultural and economic foundations of Wisconsin’s future. The flexibilities the new budget delivers, and those we still need to attain, will help our UW System institutions play a lead role in achieving these fundamental community and state goals.

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