MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin System president fired back Thursday against Gov. Scott Walker's suggestion that faculty teach more classes as a way to help absorb a $300 million funding cut, saying the governor doesn't understand professors already face a huge workload.
President Ray Cross told The Associated Press he's frustrated by the suggestion, saying the governor shouldn't target professors at the system's 26 campuses. Cross said he partly blames himself for not informing state officials that professors on average work more than 50 hours a week and help attract research worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"It just reflects a lack of understanding," Cross said. "It's our responsibility to help the public understand what a faculty member does, what their workload includes. We haven't done a good job with that. My frustration is both toward me and people who don't understand."
Walker, a Republican mulling a presidential run in 2016, has proposed the massive financial cut as a way to help solve a $2 billion state budget deficit. His plan also includes a two-year tuition freeze and would decouple the system from state oversight, allowing it to operate with more independence.
Walker said Wednesday the cuts will force UW faculty and staff to teach more classes, work harder, and do things they traditionally haven't done.
Cross compared Walker's perspective to someone who thinks a minister only works on Sunday mornings, or legislators only working when they're on the floor debating bills. Cross said that if Walker thinks the faculty isn't performing, he should blame system administrators who supervise them.
"If you do it well — and that's what we want — it is a heavy workload," Cross told the AP.
UW-Madison professors are required to teach six classroom hours a week, and professors at the system's other four-year schools must teach 12 hours a week, Cross said. Grant Petty, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor at UW-Madison who leads PROFS, a group of UW-Madison faculty, said teaching even a three-credit course, which equates to three classroom hours a week, requires 10 to 15 hours of preparation time.
"It appears that (Walker) views higher education the way a manufacturer views an assembly line, as if the only consideration is how many graudates come rolling out the other side and at what cost," Petty said in an email.
Cross had asked Walker for an additional $95 million in the budget to help offset the tuition freeze, but the governor instead proposed slashing the UW System's funding by $300 million and keeping a ban on tuition hikes for two years. Cross said he and other system officials on Wednesday started figuring out how they could absorb the cuts by ordering moratoriums on travel, hiring, raises and promotions for system administration employees.
He told Wisconsin Public Radio he doesn't see a way to avoid layoffs.
A Walker spokeswoman didn't immediately return an email seeking comment on Cross' remarks.
However, Walker's cuts are far from final. After the governor releases his budget plan on Tuesday, the Legislature will spend months revising it. Critics, including some Republican lawmakers, have already said the cut is too deep and worry giving the system autonomy will lead to massive tuition spikes beginning in 2017.