Wisconsin governor to professors: To make budget cuts work, just teach more classes

Faculty stress their schedules are already packed

Faculty reactions to remarks by Wisconsin's governor highlight a split between academia and university critics, reports Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Karen Herzog.

While discussing a proposed $300 million budget cut for the state's higher education system, Gov. Scott Walker (R) said that faculty members simply need to increase their course load to save the system money, because educating students remains their primary responsibility.

Meanwhile, professors, writes Herzog, see their primary purpose as research: running labs where students work, applying for grants, and publishing papers—in addition to teaching students in a classroom.

Budget background

If approved by the legislature, the plan in Walker's budget proposal would exempt the Board of Regents from certain state rules and processes, awarding them more power over construction and service contracting. Simultaneously, the budget would cut state aid by almost 13%.

Under the plan, University of Wisconsin's (UW) tuition freeze (begun in 2013) would continue for two more years, at which time the Board of Regents could set tuition prices itself—unless the Legislature preemptively passes a bill extending the freeze or limiting rate increases.

Walker's comments

In an interview with a local radio station last week, Walker said, "maybe it's time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work."

Later in the day, he elaborated to reporters that with more autonomy, "they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester."

Faculty reactions

Later last week, UW System President Ray Cross responded, "it's a shame that people don't understand what faculty really do."

Office hours, writing letters of recommendations, advising, grading, preparing lecture material, and working in labs and classrooms with students add up to a 60 or 70 hour workweeks, says Jo Ellen Fair, faculty chair at UW-Madison. They also plan and coordinate course schedules, supervise internships, and aid in career counseling.

"I'm not sure what else they can do," she says, adding that the students will leave the state if Madison stops employing "some of the finest scholars, researches, and teachers in the world."

 "[W]e're going to have students leaving the state. The University of Minnesota is going to start looking a lot better. And we know we're better than Minnesota," she says.

The proposed budget cuts could lead to faculty layoffs, but is too early to know, says Cross. First, the system will examine "backroom costs" such as administrators.

Months ago, a private consultant began looking through the system's human resources, IT, and payroll to streamline processes across campuses, and is to recommend changes by late March (Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/29).

The takeaway: Governor tells University of Wisconsin professors to "d[o] more work" and teach more classes, but faculty say they are already working 60 to 70 hours a week.

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