Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Walker’s Funding Cuts for UW Ignite Firestorm

Lawmakers may balk at cuts and at plan to give UW System autonomy from legislature.

By - Feb 2nd, 2015 11:19 am
A protest over cuts to education during the passing of Act 10. Recently, Gov. Walker compared the cuts to the UW System to Act 10. Photo taken in February 2011.

A protest over cuts to education during the passing of Act 10. Recently, Gov. Walker compared the cuts to the UW System to Act 10. Photo taken in February 2011.

Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut state aid for the UW System by $150 million in each of the next two years, and then give the board that sets System policy the power to completely run it by 2017, will prompt the biggest Capitol fight over public universities in 44 years.

In 1971, elected officials merged the two flagship universities – UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee – with what was then nine state universities. That merger was so controversial it took three years to complete.

There are several reasons for the looming political firestorm over Walker’s proposal:

First, every one of the 13 universities that award four-year degrees – stretching from UW-Parkside in southeast Wisconsin to UW-Superior – is an economic anchor of their communities. Thirteen other communities have two-year UW colleges.

Every UW campus has its own identity and an army of boosters – students, parents who write tuition checks, alumni, faculty, staffers and business partners– that will fight fiercely to protect it. And, every one of those groups knows how to find their local legislators.

Second, Walker’s plan to cut state aid to the system by $150 million per year, while also freezing tuition for another two years, will pinch some campuses much harder than others. For instance, state aid this year will make up 32 percent of UW-Superior’s budget, and 26 percent of UW-Parkside’s budget. But state aid is only 18 percent of the budget of UW-Milwaukee.

Third, legislators are reluctant to give up oversight of the UW System that they have maintained for more than 150 years, though the percent of funding coming from the state has been declining for decades. This year, the UW System will spend $6 billion, with 19 percent of that coming from the state budget.

Republican Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, for example, is afraid of potentially huge tuition increases that a new UW System Authority would order for the 2017-18 school year. Every 1 percent increase in resident tuition costs students and/or their parents about $7.5 million.

When the four-year tuition freeze finally ends, a new System Authority could make up for it with tuition increases of 10 percent, 15 percent or even higher – and legislators could do nothing about it, said Nass aide Mike Mikalsen.

Also worried about the impact of an immediate $150-million cut in state aid is Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who was a student member of the Board of Regents when he attended UW-Whitewater.

For the next two years, Walker’s changes would give the UW System a “bloc grant” of about $783 million, which could touch off a tire-slashing internal fight for that cash between university chancellors. Some UW officials predict layoffs on all campuses next year, if the governor’s two-year fiscal straightjacket is approved.

The battle for funds between universities becomes all the more fascinating when you consider these thumnail profiles of the 13 universities that award four-year degrees:

  • UW-Madison: 16% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 85%, women 51% of undergraduates, 14% students of color.
  • UW-Milwaukee: 18% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 47%, women 50% of undergraduates, 23% students of color.
  • UW-Eau Claire: 19% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 73%, women 59% of undergraduates, 7% students of color.
  • UW-Green Bay: 19% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 54%, women 65% of undergraduates, 10% students of color.
  • UW-La Crosse: 16% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 76%; women 56% of undergraduates, 8% students of color.
  • UW-Oshkosh: 17% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 61%, women 59% of undergraduates, 10% students of color.
  • UW-Parkside: 26% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 35%, women 51% of undergraduates, 27% students of color.
  • UW-Platteville: 15% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 60%, women 34% of undergraduates, 7% students of color.
  • UW-River Falls: 18% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 55%, women 60% of undergraduates, 8% students of color.
  • UW-Stevens Point: 16% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 67%; women 52% of undergraduates, 9% students of color.
  • UW-Stout: 17% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 59%, women 46% of undergraduates, 8% students of color.
  • UW-Superior: 32% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 46%, women 59% of undergraduates, 10% students of color.
  • UW-Whitewater: 15% of budget from state aid, six-year graduation rate 60%, women 50% of undergraduates, 13% students of color.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the non-profit WisconsinEye public affairs network. Contact him at

15 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Walker’s Funding Cuts for UW Ignite Firestorm”

  1. PMD says:

    Whenever I hear someone say something like teachers should just work more, it’s clear that person has absolutely no clue whatsoever what teaching involves. Walker either has no idea what he’s talking about, or he is just attacking teachers for political reasons, or both. Either way, it’s really repugnant.

  2. AG says:

    PMD, I half agree with you. When I hear someone say something like professors should teach more, it’s clear to me that person has either absolutely no clue whatsoever what being a professor involves or has an absolutely clear view of what being a professor involves.

    Many times when people make that statement, they don’t realize how much time research can require of a professor. In addition, how much time teaching takes that involves outside of the classroom.

    However, there are many times when tenured professors take on roles and responsibilities that have little to do with either research or teaching. A lot of times these professors take on administrative roles, committee work, and accreditation that could be taken on by non-professors.

    Either way, the UW system has been clamoring for more autonomy for a long time. And we KNOW there are inefficiencies in the UW system (redundant programs, administrative services that could be shared, etc). This seems like a good time to tackle those inefficiencies while gaining more autonomy.

  3. David says:

    @PMD… Politically its really working for Walker. It started with talk radio’s attack on teachers several years back. Hop on a blog on JSonline and read the posts associated with an article about teachers. It’s incredible how much anger and disgust there is towards teachers whether K-12 or post secondary. Lazy, disgusting, overpaid, blah, blah, blah. Remember, they are indoctrinating our children….. communism is next. Its divide and conquer…. get the “have nots” fighting over scraps.

  4. PMD says:

    In a system as large as UW, I’m sure there are inefficiencies. I’m not quibbling with that. But is a $300 million cut the only way to grant them more autonomy and tackle inefficiencies? And it would be nice if the governor could discuss inefficiencies and autonomy without belittling teachers. Between this and Act 10, it seems like this governor dislikes educators, and that’s just idiotic and shameful.

  5. PMD says:

    Yeah the anti-teacher sentiments expressed by so many in this state is really depressing. Many people seem to transfer their hatred of the teacher’s union to teachers themselves, something they don’t do when it comes to say police officers and their union.

  6. Ryan S. says:

    Governor Walker, who we well-know failed to receive a college degree, proudly slashes deep cuts in his state’s university system. Is anyone surprised? His plan is working quite flawlessly: grow the base of misinformed and socially-cloistered citizens while heightening emotions of vulnerability utilizing scare tactics. All to pursue personal power and broaden the gap between the “elite” and the “dispensable” remaining 95% of society. The trend is disturbing, to say the least.

  7. Victor says:

    What about the slush fund UW has. Would they be able to use any of that to balance it out?

  8. David says:

    Walker and the Republican long term strategy is to dumb down the population of citizens to their dim-wit level, so citizens are even easier to manipulate with their lies and propaganda. Facts and education do not matter to them. Walker, a deluded idiot and proven liar (>75% of the time by Politifact), proved that by being elected without any real skills or knowledge and not being able to cut it getting a college degree. Stupid people like Walker do not have the intellect to know that they are stupid and will say and do just about anything to hold their position. As a lackey and stooge, they perform their tasks at the bidding of their benefactors and bullet items and laws written by corporations from ALEC.

    We have witnessed the results in Wisconsin and many states. Wisconsin was beginning a climb out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Walker and his cronies have led Wisconsin to near bottom performance in most measurable indicators and quality of life compared to other Midwest states. The attacks on citizens, loss of rights, freedom, and due process will continue with these thugs in positions of power in the state and around the country.

    Welcome to the 21st Century version of fascism and plutocracy. Beating will continue till morale improves.

  9. AG says:

    Victor, UW doesn’t really have a “slush fund” they can just use for anything. The surplus that everyone got so upset about was money in many many different funds that are usually segregated with their own sources and can only be used for specific purposes. Such as, funds raised by and to be used for student organizations, grant funding for research that hasn’t been spent, etc.

    It was certainly a big deal they didn’t report these funds and made the system look shady, but it can’t just be spread around to cover for other expenditures.

  10. Steven M says:

    I have to chuckle at Walker’s attack on the UW system and all of his backers. Many of those who gripe about their little cherub not “getting into” Wisconsin, because of their misguided perceptions about quotas of out of state and international students, are going to be hurt the most. Lower rates of in-state enrollment is going to happen. Then who will they blame? Doyle? Again?

    The attack on teachers isn’t Walker’s alone. It began with Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk.” (Talk about chicken little prognostication and dog whistle politics all rolled up into one big GOP turd!) It continues with Vos’s comment about the “mating rituals of whatever” yesterday. It’s like they can’t help themselves when in public…bash, bash, bash. Mentally dry heaving in front of microphones.

  11. Tom D says:

    If UW is no longer part of the State government, does Act 10 still apply to it, or would UW Hospitals be able to negotiate working conditions and schedules with a nurses union? Just how much autonomy would Walker give UW?

  12. “Whenever one person stands up and says “wait a minute, this is wrong,” it helps other people to do the same.

    Please help us students and our faculty to resist this unwarrented and harmful assault on UW. Educate yourselves and your neighbors and family. We will not stand for this. Solidarity. Join us as

  13. Dave says:

    In 2011 & 2013, UW Colleges commissioned 2 separate independent national higher ed research companies to analyze UW Colleges in respect to its operations & viability (at a cost of approx $100,000 per report). Both companies concluded that, for the purposes of recruitment, UW COlleges needs to connect the AAS degree with the world of work. For financial soundness, assistant dean positions should be eliminated or drastically reduced & each one of the 13 campuses does not need a dean. The smaller campuses should combine administrative functions. UW Colleges continues to have declining enrollments & pitifully low graduation rates. In addition, a very small percentage of UW Colleges students go on to baccalaureate institutions. UW Colleges has declined to the point where it no longer is fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea. The UW System could safely eliminate UW Colleges to meet budget reductions. The 2013 report was called the Huron Report. I cannot remember the name of the 2011 report.

  14. Vernon says:

    It is a fact that the 2011 & 2013 reports that analyzed UW Colleges citied extremely low graduation rates, declining enrollments, the inability of campuses to be financially self-sustaining (particularly UW-Marinette), along with the fact that UW Colleges has bastardized its mission and continues to keep its head in an Ivory Tower instead of fostering a connection with the world of work and economic development of the State of Wisconsin. UW-Marinette’s priority is international students (cash cows) & locals are viewed as rural beer drinking low lifes. This campus needs to be closed!

  15. ken says:

    I am from the Marinette area & agree that the UW System budget cut should come, in part, from closing the UW-Marinette campus. The campus is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year & part of that event should be the closing of its doors. This campus has become totally irrelevant to its catchment area. The campus is a tiny microcosm of “better-than-thou” arrogance. There exists equal distain between the campus & local citizens. The WTCS is doing a marvelous job statewide (including in Marinette). This fact is recognized within the 13 baccalaureate UW institutions which is demonstrated by the number of articulation agreements between them & WTCS campuses. Case in point: Madison College (formally Madison Area Technical College is the biggest “feeder” school for UW-Madison. UW Colleges is “top heavy” at their Central Office in Madison & at the individual campus level. Small campuses like UW-Marinette (which is the smallest of all of the UW System campuses) does not need a full time dean & 3 full time assistant campus deans. Instead of reducing these high paying positions, UW-Marinette eliminated a key advising position that was dedicated to military veterans, adult students, collaborations with baccalaureate institutions & the internship program. Also, the reduced library hours & library positions. These reductions were in direct conflict with Huron Report recommendations suggested that administrative positions should be reduced (not positions that directly serve students). For starters, UW System, close UW-Marinette, restructure UW Colleges & your budget reduction will be mostly solved.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us