Recently, UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis J. Shields paid a visit to Richland Center and stopped by The Richland Observer office for a chat.
Along with him were Senior Special Assistant to the Chancellor and Legislative Liaison Rose Smyrski and Communications Specialist and Editor Dan Wackershauser, who was The Richland Observer editor from 2007-2009.
As might be expected, budgetary concerns were very much on the Chancellor’s mind.
“We faced some challenges even before this budget,” he said. “We had a $5 million deficit already. The Legislature did reduce what the governor recommended. The worst case scenario was a $5 million cut. Now that’s $3.5 million.”
Shields said that he and his colleagues have been working through proposals to move forward and have come up with about one-half of UW-Platteville’s budget reduction. Strategies have included raising tuition by $600 per year per student from Illinois and Iowa, not filling vacant positions and providing incentives for voluntary separation. He said that 83 staff and faculty members applied and were approved for the incentives.
However, he said, “Savings remain to be seen. Some won’t be replaced. Some will need to be replaced.”
In any case, he and his colleagues now have a basis of reference for sorting out UW-Platteville’s own budget. “We know now what’s been signed into law,” he said.
He stated that assessments will be made of tuition revenues and he will sit with governance groups through most of the fall.
“The challenge will be deciding which take priority and which we need to cut back on,” he said. “The emphasis will still be to deliver educational programs for students and to minimize the impact. We’re pleased that the Legislature saw fit to scale back cuts, with support from (State Senator Howard) Marklein, (and Representatives Travis) Tranel and (Todd) Novak. They stayed in touch and allowed us to have input. We discussed the budget with (Representative Ed) Brooks, too.”
Shields noted that a stop-gap measure will provide some immediate relief.
He said, “The (University) System will help with one-time funding. We’ll have a glide path. We won’t have to do dramatic sudden changes. There will be advance warning to programs and opportunities for other revenue streams.”
Chancellor Shields said that Wisconsin’s budgetary woes are not unique. “States are strapped for cash,” he said. “Institutions have to look for other ways to support themselves.” He said he’s ambivalent about the freeze on tuition, although he’s cognizant of the need to keep it affordable. “That’s part of the mission,” he said. “We will look to charge more tuition for more expensive programs. It’s going to be very interesting, moving forward.”
Still, the Chancellor is enthusiastic about what UW-Platteville has to offer.
He said, “The faculty has a commitment to serving students well and most courses have 20-30 per classroom. Only one classroom seats 100. We offer personalized attention. There’s a great need for engineering and the School of Agriculture is growing more than any other. It has doubled in size over the past five years. There are more women than men in ag economics, business and production. Industrial technology studies are important and we have a real strong School of Education. We have one of the strongest criminal justice programs in the Midwest. We have a nice array of academic disciplines in a manageable environment.”
An overview of UW-Platteville student life was also provided by Chancellor Shields.
“Freshmen and sophomores live on campus,” he said. “They immerse themselves in an academic environment. Many are the first generation to go to college. It’s the central experience of their lives at that moment. All of our students start from a basis of strong liberal arts. It helps them prepare to be leaders and innovators in the future.”
Shields sees a difference between university graduates of years past and those from the present time.
He said, “Unlike our generation, which took a job and stayed 15-20 years, most of our graduates change jobs three, four or five times in the first 15 years out of college. Training helps them adapt and adjust to the fast changing world we live in.”
Shields believes that adaptability is crucial in today’s society.
He said, “There are changing needs of consumers and changing technology. It has become more of an international economy. The ability to work with different kinds of people is critical in any industry. A liberal arts education provides that ability to work in a group setting.”
Despite budgetary concerns and challenges, Chancellor Shields is optimistic about the future. “Times are challenging, but we’ll get through them,” he said. He stated that, with 8,000 students and 900 employees, “If we didn’t have shared governance, we’d have to create that.” And he noted the impact of UW-Platteville on our local area, by stating that there currently are 300 alumni in Richland County.
Iowa native Shields earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Iowa College of Law and his undergraduate degree in business administration from Graceland College. He and his wife, the parents of three grown sons, enjoy world travel and he spends almost all his spare time golfing.
He smiled as he offered parting words, “Every day is a great day to be a Pioneer!”