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More than 100 members of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s campus community attended a forum March 31 in Reeve Memorial Union for the results of a survey of students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the broader public on state budget reduction options to help the University trim up to $7.7 million from its budget for the 2009-2011 biennium.

More than 470 people participated in the survey, which sought feedback on the priority areas the University will consider when establishing budget development principles that will be used when making strategic decisions on what areas to enhance, which areas should be protected and where to make reductions. The survey also requested suggestions for reducing the impact of budget cuts, and recommendations for minimizing the impact of the budget situation on students and services.

Chancellor Richard H. Wells’ statement follows:

At UW Oshkosh, we are continually developing our budget strategies to maximize the effective use of resources to acquire, preserve and disseminate knowledge while minimizing unforeseen counterproductive effects.

The state currently has a $5-billion-plus projected shortfall for the 2009-2011 biennial budget. To address this structural budget deficit, the UW System is required to cut up to $174 million from its budget over two years. UW Oshkosh’s share is up to $7.7 million.

During the Tuesday, March 31, Budget Forum, we provided 2009-2011 biennial budget updates, responded to questions, shared the results of the Web-based Budget Development Feedback Survey, conducted a 40-minute open discussion of the survey results and obtained additional advice. I want to thank all of the budget forum participants, as well as the nearly 500 people who responded to the survey.

Please see my communication page for the Budget Forum PowerPoint presentation as well as earlier budget update memos.

The University is a complex, multifaceted community that provides students with access to a high-quality, affordable, comprehensive education while also fostering the scholarly activities of faculty, students and staff related to teaching, research, intellectual activities, creative expression and service. The University employs a decentralized model of budgetary authority and responsibility and must therefore promote analysis and action across the whole of the community.

We conducted a Web-based survey to obtain advice and recommendations from the whole campus community on how we can best preserve mission-central activities while facing significant budget reductions.

Web-based budget development feedback survey

We believe it is important to share what we have learned from the results of the survey and to explain what we will do with the knowledge and insights we have gained. We need every governance and administrative leader to read through the whole report. We need everyone with budgetary responsibility to consider the advice while making difficult decisions.

We want to ensure that when decisions are made within individual departments, the decisions are not developed in isolation, but rather made with an awareness of the interrelationships across the University.

In addition, the results of the report will be used to revise the budget guidelines we have in place. Good, clear guidelines are necessary for meeting budget reduction targets in the short term, and they could lead to more efficiency in the future.

Budget survey executive summary

The development, implementation and analysis of the survey results were led by Tom Grogan, Special Project Coordinator, and Professor James Simmons, Provost’s Leadership Fellow. This is one of the many important projects and initiatives in addition to teaching that Tom and Jim have completed in support of the Offices of the Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services.

They analyzed more than 250 pages of feedback provided by 472 respondents from March 2-24, 2009. During this period, 381 of the 472 respondents completed the survey in its entirety. Seventy percent (375) of the respondents chose to identify their university affiliation. Of those, 54% were university employees, 14% were current students, 27% were alumni and 5% self-identified as members of the broader public.

The complete survey, all responses, a 13-page analysis, a three-page executive summary and an opportunity to comment on the survey analysis have been posted at the Administrative Services Communications Web page.

We are pleased to report that with a couple of very rare exceptions, the respondents provided detailed, thoughtful and constructive advice for campus leaders to consider as they develop the 2009-2011 biennial budget. The overview of key findings contained within the Executive Summary is listed below.

1.    All constituencies surveyed strongly support the five budget criteria qualified only by some expressions of concern relating to vagueness, breadth, priority and potential interpretation.

2.    Most constituencies said the listed budget criteria covered the critical goals. However, many faculty said that research and support for the liberal arts were missing while many students, alumni and community members noted concerns relating to affordability (financial aid) and access.

3.    All constituencies favored protecting direct instruction and student academic support, although many respondents would change how the listed priorities were ranked. Campus safety received less support than the other three listed priorities. Students, alumni and community members tended to favor affordability, quality education and graduation, while the faculty supported scholarship, development and institutional integrity.

4.    Constituent opinion largely supports maintaining student enrollments — but only if quality can be maintained, sufficient resources are available and the available financial resources can support these higher levels.

5.    All constituencies gave a mixed response to the Growth Agenda. While many respondents favored it, essentially an equal number said it should it should either have lower priority than current programs or should be scaled back. Many respondents said they did not know enough about the Growth Agenda to respond.

6.    Respondents offered a wide array of suggestions for reducing the impact of budget reductions. Some constituents favored targeted cuts over across-the-board. Some frequently mentioned options include the following:

  • Increase class sizes and eliminate low enrollment courses.
  • Explore alternate course delivery, whether hybrid, online, technology utilization or D2L.
  • Cut administrative overhead, including positions, paperwork and programs.
  • Increase faculty and instructional staff teaching loads.
  • Reduce credits-to-degree and improve coursework alignment.
  • Increase tuition and fees in such areas as labs, differential tuition, excess credit and parking.
  • Eliminate low-demand (enrollment) academic programs courses, majors.
  • Reduce compensation — salary cuts, hiring freeze, job sharing, furloughs, etc.
  • Adjust the University’s calendar by considering a four-day week, more/fewer interim and summer classes, etc.
  • Revise majors — fewer requirements, end duplication, improve credit transfer, etc.
  • Increase faculty and instructional staff teaching loads.
  • Eliminate auxiliary programs — marketing, police, sports, clubs, selected student services, etc.
  • Go green — conservation and improved efficiency: energy, building utilization, paper, heating, new construction, housing, meals, etc.
  • Buildings — stop new construction, close during breaks and summer.
  • Adjust tenure/promotion expectations and retain/reward teaching.

7.    Constituents had differing views over the question of job security. The alumni, students and public were open to a variety of options including cutting employees, while the faculty and staff tended to favor measures to prevent layoffs. Frequently mentioned suggestions include:

  • Reduce hours, increase part-time employment, flexible scheduling, layoffs, etc.
  • Reassign work, job sharing, cross-training, collaboration.
  • Hiring freeze, compensation freeze/cuts, furloughs, encourage retirements.
  • Increases workloads — teaching, service, advising.
  • Eliminate low performers and layers of management.

8.    Responses from all constituencies indicated that the University has made a strong effort to engage the campus community in the budgetary process. Suggestion for additional communication included the following items:

  • Electronic communication: additional surveys, continued e-mails, blogs, improved budget Web site, podcasts, etc.
  • More efforts to engage students including University-wide “town hall” sessions and through posters, focus groups.
  • More discussion and information sharing at the unit, department, division and college levels.
  • Dissemination of more detailed information, improved clarity in priorities and budget options/scenarios.
  • Improved newspaper coverage through the Oshkosh Northwestern and Advance-Titan.

9.    Recommendations for reducing costs to students emphasized auxiliary expenses such as textbooks, housing, food, segregated fees and sports:

  • Cost of textbooks: explore rental, e-books, less expensive options, use of older editions.
  • Increase assistance: scholarships, grants, financial aid and fees.
  • Reduce extracurricular costs: athletics, meals, parking, housing, police, etc.
  • Credit-to-degree time reduction, transfer credits, improve advising.
  • Do not construct new buildings.

10.    Constituents offered a wide range of suggestions for increasing University efficiency:

  • Sustainable Campus — conservation, utilities, paper, recycling, reuse.
  • Reduce administrative overhead — positions, support staff, diversity.
  • Establish productivity benchmarks.
  • Consolidation of positions and functions; eliminate duplication of service.
  • Contracts: streamline, renegotiate, audit, address for waste, etc.
  • Eliminate non-essentials: police (city provide), athletics, various student services, etc.
  • Combine departments and academic functions.

11.    Other comments and advice identified suggestions not found elsewhere in the survey:

  • Improve advocacy and lobbying efforts.
  • Concern over internal University morale.
  • Close other UW campuses and references to impact of the state’s criminal justice process and corrections system.
  • Engage and inform external community.
  • Recruit student and community volunteers.
  • Pursue federal and state stimulus funding.

Some initial insights and next steps 

Given the above findings, it is clear that our campus constituents understand the challenges we face and have provided thoughtful feedback. They remind us of protecting our central mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education for our students while doing our best to support other mission-central scholarly work related to research, intellectual, creative and service of faculty, students and staff.

Respondents asked for more and better-defined budget development criteria. With respect to enrollment planning, they emphasize the important and difficult task of finding an optimal balance between access and quality while facing budget cuts. Access without quality is not really access, and quality without access is irresponsible for a public university.

Campus leadership also needs to do a better job explaining the importance and nature of the Growth Agenda for Northeast Wisconsin, as well as the importance of enhancement of the University’s facilities. It also is clear we need to better understand who does what and why. This is a very large, complex community, and it is not always obvious what each of us contributes as members of the faculty, staff and administration.

Finally, survey respondents offered dozens of suggestions for implementing budget reductions while minimizing negative impacts, reducing costs for students, aligning the workforce, increasing efficiency and improving communications. We will build upon and use these initial insights as budget plans are both finalized over the next several months and adjusted during the two-year 2009-2011 biennium. Please review the budget development “next steps” schedule listed below.

Once again, thank you for your extraordinary everyday work during difficult times.

  • Feb. 17, 7 p.m. — Governor’s budget address
  • Feb. 18 — Campus-wide budget update e-mail communication
  • Feb. 25, 2-3 p.m. — Chancellor’s Staff, Deans, LLCE & U-Plan budget update
  • March 2 — Campus-wide budget update e-mail communication; launch budget feedback Web site/survey and campus-wide budget communication
  • March 9, 8:30 a.m. — Administrative Staff meeting, RU306
  • March 11, 3:30 p.m. — U-Plan meeting, D212
  • March 13 — Close budget feedback Web site
  • March 13-27 — Analyze budget feedback survey responses
  • March 31, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — Open forum, RU202
  • April 6, 9-10 a.m. — U-Plan follow-up meeting, D301
  • April 7, 3-4 p.m. — Chancellor’s Staff, Deans, LLCE follow-up meeting, D301
  • April 14, noon-1 p.m. — Special U-Plan meeting (includes Deans and LLCE), D212
  • April 15 — Campus budget submitted to system
  • April 16-17 — Campus-wide budget update e-mail communication

The above timeline will be adjusted as new information emerges. Special meetings and campus-wide e-mail communication updates will be provided as needed.