The UW System Board of Regents meeting sparked a great deal of controversy when System President Ray Cross canceled UW Budget Presentations April 7–9.
Reports indicated that Cross had concerns of the presentations exaggerating the cuts’ effects to the public, that the 12 individual presentations went overtime during rehearsal and even that Cross brought a red button with the sound effect “No whining!” if a chancellor was perceived as complaining during a presentation.
However, many UW employees felt uneasy about the omission of the $250 million budget cut summary, seeing it as a missed opportunity to inform the public.
The UW Colleges American Association of University Professors (UWC AAUP) released an email statement about the perceived oversight.
“We … are troubled by UW System President Ray Cross’ actions at the recent April Board of Regents meeting. We worry that if the people of Wisconsin are not made aware of the extent of the damage done by the current cuts, that the UW System may be faced with additional cuts in the next biennium, cuts that will continue to do irreparable damage to the services and quality of our public education system,” UWC AAUP collectively said.
Holly Hassel, UW Colleges senate steering committee chair, also stated the reach the presentations may have had to the public.
“I think many of us were troubled by the budget cut presentations being removed from the Regents’ agenda. Because the Regents’ meeting is webcast, there would have been greater visibility and accountability that simply cannot be replicated by a compiled print handout or news story. It would have been made visible in a higher-impact way,” Hassel said.
Budget information was intended to expand upon infographic budget cut summaries during the presentations, but in lieu of that, the infographics have been shared through various UW System campuses and news outlets. Extended clarifications, as per Cross’ stance, are to be distributed at the local level.
Martin Rudd, regional executive officer and dean of the UW Colleges’ northeast region, shared this sentiment.
“I would hope that the Student Government on each campus is able to provide that information to students. I think elected senators and student government officers should be providing this information in a forum to all interested students. I know for a fact there are regular meetings of the student senate that are open to students on campus,” Rudd said.
He added that the infographics are supplementary in nature, and are intended to be accompanied by elaboration.
“One thing that is particularly useful is if there is discussion of what is in the content because, on its own, it captures some key points, but behind all this, there’s a story. I think an observable background is useful to provide if you were to ask about any of the points on this document,” Rudd said.
He pointed to the UW Colleges’ student-to-adviser ratio as an example of this.
“One of the effects that we’ve seen is a significant bump in the student-to-adviser ratio. We believe now that the ratio is 533-to-1, which is way above what is considered a normal range,” Rudd said. “It means we’ve reduced the number of advisers because of the budget reduction. Students are either going to get a much shorter amount of time with an adviser, less information, less about personal information. That is a number that could be a worrying result of the reduction.”
However, at the Student Government level, Blake Miller, acting treasurer, asserted what may be problematic about distributing budget information at a local level, pointing to an April 19 Chancellor presentation at UW-Fox Valley to Student Government, which provided the information that would have been presented at the Regents meeting.
“It was available for anyone to go to: administrators, student government and the public, but no one pretty much did except for Student Government,” Miller said.
While addressing the fine lines administrators must cross in distributing information and the exaggerated messages Cross was concerned about, Miller indicated that it wasn’t publicized well enough on the state level.
“I absolutely think the Board of Regents did not do the best job that they could have distributing information,” Miller said. “It would almost be better if they pointed to a one-time [position] of someone whose job would have been, just for this year, just explaining the situation; almost like a press team.”
He went on to explain that, per his Student Government role, he had viable access to this information. Theoretically, so do students and the public, since every Student Government event is open for all.
“I would have never known, [otherwise]. I can’t imagine that anyone who doesn’t have these resources would be able to get any piece of this information. That’s the point, I got my information from the source,” Miller said.
The UWC AAUP also expressed the importance of public dissemination of information on the strength and character of the universities.
“Though we appreciate President Cross’ statement that ‘it was too difficult for chancellors to summarize their handling of budget cuts in five minutes,’ we believe that five minutes of public response by those who have implemented the cuts would provide a clear and succinct picture of how repeated, sizeable cuts to university resources will ultimately erode institutional integrity and quality.
“The withholding of information … at a visible and statewide forum has the effect of disenfranchising taxpayers and the state of Wisconsin—stakeholders with a vested interest in a strong system of public education,” UWC AAUP said.
As the UWC AAUP suggested, deferring budget information to local communities may come with the byproduct of public disengagement. However, at Chancellor Sandeen’s presentation at UW-Fox Valley April 19, there was an open invitation with students to ask questions about UW Colleges current events, including the cuts.