Marklein and UW–Platteville
I appreciate Sen. Howard Marklein’s updates and hope he continues to keep in touch with his constitutents. As an emeritus professor who retired from UW–Platteville in June 2015, I was quite interested in his discussion concerning the finances of the UW System as presented in Madison Journal March 2. I would like to bring a few points of concern to his attention, since the numbers he cites do not tell the entire story of what is happening to higher education in Wisconsin.
Marklein’s discussion of cash on hand failed to mention that a significant amount of the cash on hand in the UW System is designed to address future needs and encumbrances, and that very few businesses are required to keep their annual rollover at 12.5 percent, which is the latest requirement imposed upon the System. Successful businesses often roll over 20 percent or more in cash reserves to use for investments, as a buffer against fiscal downturns, and the like. Any responsible Certified Public Accountant would agree with a fiscally conservative policy allowing a significant rollover; the legislative mandate to keep the rollover artificially low already has had a negative impact on the system, as plans for the future must be shelved due to the unpredictable nature of funding.
Marklein also failed to mention that the Legislature has used lapses to disguise the drastic cuts that have been made to the UW System, another source of unpredictability for those who are attempting to meet future needs. When a budget officer at a university is faced with a mid-budget cycle cut in the form of a lapse — that is, when the state takes back money it supposedly has allotted to the system — budget chaos ensues. The inability to plan ahead more than a few months results in constant revisions to budgets and staffing, and in addition, consumes time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
And while Marklein noted that UW System expenditures have gone up, he did not note that state spending per student has dropped since Gov. Scott Walker took office. In 2011, the state spent $6,853 per student, based on full-time equivalent enrollment figures. By 2014, that figure had dropped to $5,999 in constant dollars. The state went from covering 42 percent of college costs in 2011 to 34 percent three years later, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. As a result, Wisconsin students are now responsible for nearly half of their college expenses, compared to 40 percent when Walker took office.
Averages, such as those you cite, are not particularly enlightening. UW–Madison skews averages tremendously, so when one looks at the System as a whole, the plight of the smaller units is swept under the rug. At UW–Platteville, we have been hit particularly hard by the cuts; our enrollment has grown nearly 50 percent over the past 10 years while our budget has continued to dwindle in real dollars. As I have mentioned in a public meeting hosted by the chancellor, we lose money every time we enroll an in-state student. He was unable to disagree.
Personnel in my department, Media Studies — one of the 10 largest majors on campus as recently as two years ago — have been cut by 50 percent. We had a death and three retirements, and none of those openings was filled due to draconian budget cuts. The department was absorbed into the School of Business, and I have little doubt that the major itself will cease to exist within a few years. Course offerings have been cut drastically, and the major requirements have been reduced from 60 credits to 39, which means students in the major will be required to declare a minor in another program. Our breadth and depth have been severely curtailed, in other words, reducing our ability to offer a high-quality education in the discipline.
Other programs at Platteville are understaffed due to layoffs, attrition and enrollment figures. Programs that are authorized to fill open positions are unable to do so because of the substandard salaries we can offer. In the recent past, Civil Engineering, for example, made eight job offers and was turned down each time due to the low salary it was able to offer. It finally was able to hire its ninth candidate. Other programs on campus have faced similar issues; Sen. Marklein should contact UW–Platteville Human Resources if he does not believe that failed searches have become the norm at Platteville.
Thanks to the Legislature and the governor, the citizens of the state of Wisconsin seem to think that the term “taxpayers” does not include state employees, such as faculty members, with the net result being that the “taxpayers” somehow think they are being gouged, while nothing could be further from the truth. State employees are working cheap, and they are paying more for their pension and health insurance, with further increases being projected. I estimate that I have had a 20 percent salary cut in the past five years when inflation, those increased costs, and the lack of raises, even for cost-of-living increases, are factored in.
Numbers are important, but there is no need to take a backhanded swipe at so-called anecdotal evidence. Although I cannot give you hard numbers, I can tell you that laying off 50 to 70 people here at UW–Platteville, as we are doing, will have a huge impact, not only on the quality of the education we offer, but on the economic health of the surrounding community. Platteville, and perhaps Wisconsin, will lose dedicated, educated members of the work force as they go elsewhere to seek employment, taking their families with them.
Marklein’s incomplete version of the numbers — presented to his constituents as if it were a comprehensive, objective look at the state of the UW System — might make sense in terms of short-term political gain; the state and its citizens, however, will pay a huge price in the long run as our governor and Legislature continue to employ misleading rhetoric to discount the importance of investing in higher education.
Arthur L. Ranney, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UW–Platteville
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