UWM introduces plan to cut $41.25 million from budget

Center for Urban Initiatives and Research to close June 30

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone introduced a plan this week to cut $42.25 million from the school’s budget over the next three years.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The cuts will address UWM’s $38 million deficit created through a combination of state budget cuts, declining enrollment and a tuition freeze.

“We like to call it a perfect storm,” said Robin Van Harpen, UWM vice chancellor for administration and finance. “After all the investment in UWM, the new buildings and new schools, a lot of external forces hit all at once.”

The plan Mone outlined before an audience at the UWM student union on Monday included $5 million of administrative cuts and a strategy to save around $19 million over a three-year period by eliminating a large portion of what he described as the university’s “open positions.” Mone said UWM could also save between $3 million and $4 million by increasing academic efficiency and avoiding course duplication.

The cuts could save the university around $24.5 million by the end of the current fiscal year, and $41.25 million by the end of fiscal year 2019.

“We have a fundamental tension between job security and the ability for this university to continue to be viable,” Mone said. “Those are inherent tensions. The reality is, when I talk about numbers, when I talk about budgeting, what we’re really talking about is people. And we’re talking about the ability to continue to operate as effectively and as efficiently as possible given the environmental changes that we have.”

Mone did not say specifically if any schools or programs would be cut and said instead “a whole UWM is better than a UWM that has decisively said we are not going to have this or that college.” Earlier this year, Mone said the university would remain committed to research regardless of looming budget cuts. 

UWM was recently classified as a Tier 1 research institution by the Carnegie Foundation.

“The cuts will make things more difficult for us, there’s no doubt about that,” Van Harpen said. “But I think we’re positioning ourselves well and buckling down so we can continue to move forward.”

Gov. Scott Walker cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system in the 2015-2017 biennium, which included a $30 million cut to UWM’s operating budget. UWM’s budget was slashed by $15 million in the previous biannual budget.

From academic years 2010-2011 through 2015-2016, enrollment at UWM fell 11 percent from 30,740 to 27,119, according to data kept by the University of Wisconsin System, which led to millions in lost tuition revenue.

In an email sent to its community partners on Monday, UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives & Research, which was established nearly four decades ago, announced it would be closing on June 30 because of the university’s budget problems.

CUIR conducts research and surveys for public and non-profit organizations to help them make informed policy decisions.

“We were notified last summer,” said Terry Batson, director of the center. “I think they knew the budget situation was really bad. We were told we were cut for budget reasons. I do feel that it’s a fairly significant situation in terms of the budget that UWM is in right now, so I understand their pain. But as far as CUIR goes, it’s a real shame because I think of all the units on campus, we’re the one that’s probably the most integrated into the community and that’s going to be a loss that’s felt for a while.”

The center employed 14 staff members and 25 student staff members when it was notified of the cuts last summer. Batson said three staff members have been relocated to different parts of the university, but the rest will likely lose their jobs with the university if they are unable to find ways to integrate their research into other university schools or centers by the end of June.

“We’re really interested in trying to continue the work,” Batson said.

Van Harpen said that despite the cuts and the challenges they pose, she’s optimistic about the university’s future.

“We always feel good about where UWM is going,” Van Harpen said. “There is no option but for UWM to make it through this and be stronger in the future. It’s too important to the region and the state. We’ve been underdogs in the past and we’re comfortable in that position. We’re good at surprising people with what we can do with the resources we have. And we’re going to continue to do that in the future, but it will be a challenge.”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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