Brent Smith reacts to UW System budget cuts

Home » Here and Now » All Episodes » Brent Smith reacts to UW System budget cuts

Brent Smith reacts to UW System budget cuts

Premiere Date: 
May 23, 2013

UW System Board of Regents President Brent Smith responds to UW budget cuts.

 

Episode Transcript: 

We turn now to a university system response to the joint finance committee recommendations. For that we go to La Crosse where the president of the UW board of Regents joins us, Brent Smith. Thank you so much for doing so.

Brent Smith:

Sure.

Frederica Freyberg:

Just when the UW thought that it had the increased autonomy and a friendly budget, those things got yanked. And yet, Regent, does it seem that the system has no one to blame other than itself?

Brent Smith:

Oh, I don’t– I think the only thing that I have said in the past that we could have done, I think, a little better job is the transparency issue to highlight a little bit more of this balance, and then perhaps have a policy on balance. But–  that would have been in effect at the time. But I don't think you can blame the university. I– it's still kind of a mystery to me as to what's happened here in the last month. But I think for whatever shortcomings we might have had, what happened last night certainly doesn’t fit.

Frederica Freyberg:

Senator Glenn Grothman, on the transparency piece said, had the university been more transparent the governor's budget probably wouldn't have looked the way it did.

Brent Smith:

Well, let's talk about transparency. The financial document that we file every year in February, which we filed this year, at three different places, it had what our balance was. That is audited statement. It also was part of a public hearing that we had in February which are attended by many, many people, including the media. So if we were trying to hide this somehow, we didn't do a very good job.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet, as you just suggested, the actions that the legislature and the governor have taken, you think those are out of keeping with what the university had done in terms of growing its reserves.

Brent Smith:

Right. I think what we had done in terms of growing our reserves, as we’ve talked in the past, is consistent with what other institutions of higher learning do all across this country. And all across-- I’ve talked to people here in my city, La Crosse, business owners, they say, of course you’re supposed to have that type of reserve. So the reaction, to me, is way out of proportion to what we did as far as reserves go.

Frederica Freyberg:

As you well know, it was kind of these tuition reserves that got people going on this. And one of the things, and I'm sorry to kind of keep having to throw this at you, but Glenn Grothman has just said this. He said the rich Regents on the Board of Regents don't understand this. They don't get this. They don't understand the difficulty of back-to-back year-to-year tuition increases on the students.

Brent Smith:

Well, I think you’ll see the Regents come from a variety of backgrounds on our board. We are, right now as you know, about half and half, half appointed by a Democratic governor, half appointed by a Republican governor, come from all parts of– all walks of life. So to say that we don't understand, many of us have college-age children, so I–  I don't think that's quite accurate to say we don't understand the issues affecting people in our state as far as tuition goes.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, I have read a statement from you saying that the action at the Capitol, cutting the UW budget and freezing tuition will mean core operations will not be supported going forward. Like what?

Brent Smith:

I don't think I said that. I said that in the future we are going to have some real difficulties if these base cuts of $32 million keep in effect. We can probably, with a one-time, handle the next couple years. But in 2016, if we keep this same base with a structural deficit of over $60 million. So, that's going to cause some challenges for us if that's the way we’re going to go forward. We'll have to identify– we are starting as early as next week to sit down with the chancellors and figure out how to deal with cuts, re-allocations, and we’ll do the best we can.

Frederica Freyberg:

The mind set, at least in some portions of the Capitol, seem to be like Glenn Grothman's, who says he didn't think this went far enough in cutting the university.

Brent Smith:

I just find that hard to believe, that this is– for the university, one of the main economic engines of our state, to think about that it was good to cut and they should have cut further. There's all type of evidence about how important the university is in our state, number of college graduates, as they increase, is good for the state. So for somebody to say we should have cut further, to me does not make any sense.

Frederica Freyberg:

What, in your mind, will these kinds of cuts, you know, perhaps as you suggest, after 2016, mean to the quality and standing of this university?

Brent Smith:

I fear very much that it is going to affect both the quality and the standing. The number one thing that I have said is a threat to our quality is compensation for faculty and staff. We’ve talked a lot about that. And what happened last night, if that is upheld and our inability now to do some adjustments to salary, I think in the short-term and the long-term, it really threatens the quality of education. We’ve already seen in our system, because of our inability to compete, a difficulty retaining  and attracting new faculty and staff.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is that what happened to faculty and staff like Lorrie Moore and Jeremi Suri?

Brent Smith:

Yeah, it is very, very difficult to compete for people like that. We’re seeing that. Those are two examples, but you see it on almost every campus in our system.

Frederica Freyberg:

How about access to the UW? Will student financial aid be hurt, or can the university, as the legislature seems to have recommended, cover financial aid?

Brent Smith:

Well, I think it's been covered. It's kind of an odd way they did it. They took money from our budget and put it over to –  and then took money away from -- budget. So the financial aid stays about the same.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is your reaction to, literally, the table pounding calls for System president Kevin Reilly to be replaced in the aftermath of all this?

Brent Smith:

I don't agree with that. The first vote I took in the Regents nine years ago when I came there was to vote to make President Reilly the president of our system. I think that was a good vote then.  He is recognized nationally as a leader in higher education. I think he’s done an excellent job as our president, and he certainly retains my confidence.

Frederica Freyberg:

Regent President Brent Smith out of La Crosse, thanks very much.

Brent Smith:

Thank you. 


We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comment or story suggestion.

Get to know the Here and Now crew.

Find information on elections and candidates and connect to coverage from Wisconsin Public Television and Radio.