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UW-Madison chancellor reaches out as UWS makes changes

The chancellor of the University of Wisconsin is taking time in her first year at helm to the main campus to get to know the rest of the state.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank found her way to the north just as officials at the University of Wisconsin-Superior were preparing to reveal the results of a nine-month study to close a roughly $4.5 million gap over five years, resulting from state budget cuts, enrollment challenges and a tuition freeze.

“Our campus has to be prudent with the resources available to us,” said Chancellor Renee Wachter. “We must take action. These steps and discussions, while difficult, are necessary to protect and sustain the university’s quality as well as its presence in, and commitment to, the Superior region for decades to come.”

Some of the decisions underway include contracting with Nebraska Book to manage the campus bookstore starting July 1, centralizing marketing and recruitment functions, and evaluating alternatives for custodial services and grounds maintenance.

There are several other areas identified for further discussion and evaluation. A handful of academic programs have been recommended — almost half the 15 masters programs, one undergraduate program and two minors have been suspended.

While the university will continue instruction for students in the effected programs, new students will no longer be accepted in visual arts and a couple communicating arts master’s programs, and undergraduate jazz concentration and minors in library science.

Other academic programs may be placed into a review period to further evaluate their viability and potential. All academic programs are asked to review and streamline the curriculum and think about new programs that fulfill a regional need.

Non-academic areas that face further evaluation include functions that support student success such as advising, tutoring and career services, auxiliary operations, campus safety and information technology.

“We are looking at all aspects of the university,” Wachter said, “from our academic program offerings, to how we might streamline or reorganize processes and services, to where we can invest and grow.”

After all, Blank said it’s critical to ensuring the university system is meeting the needs of the state.

“Also, I just want to get to know my fellow chancellors a little better, get a sense of what the other schools … look like,” Blank said of her travels to other campuses in the UW System. “What are their strengths? What are their problems? We’re all part of one system and it’s important to have a sense of how we all need to interact.”

After all, UW System is facing challenges, not just Superior.

While officials at the UW-Superior campus wrestle cuts, UW-Madison is going to be affected as well.

“We are doing exactly what the state wanted us to do,” Blank said. “We are using our tuition reserves this past year and this coming year to fill the hole in our budget that was created by the budget cuts that we were handed. We will, by next year, be at a point that I consider — from a management point of view — dangerously low in terms of reserves. I have a very big and complex institution. I will have less than a month’s reserves, which is not where I should be from a management point of view, but it is clearly what the Legislature has asked me to do. This next budget year is going to be quite critical for all of us in the university system.”

The reserves are one-time money, but the cuts are permanent unless the Legislature turns that around, Blank said. She said all of the campuses are facing serious deficits going into the next budget year.

In Madison, it will mean substantial cuts if some of the money that was taken away isn’t replaced.

“At some level, all of us are struggling with financial issues,” Blank said. “I really can’t complain about that because Madison has more ways in which we can generate additional revenue than other schools, but all of us are feeling worried about our current financial situation.”