UW-Whitewater Chancellor Dwight Watson looked back on a year of COVID-19, at current contentious efforts to balance the university’s budget and ahead to vaccination efforts during his State of the University address Monday.
During last year’s address, university officials could not have foreseen the dramatic effects the coronavirus pandemic would have on the university and the world over most of 2020 and at the start of 2021.
UW-Whitewater dedicated nearly 40,000 hours of work time to making the campus as safe as possible during the pandemic, Watson said. He noted the number of hours officials needed to account for to get federal funding did not include everything university employees had to do.
Watson praised the extensive testing initiatives in place for both the university and the surrounding community.
During the fall semester, the university conducted more than 10,000 tests as part of legacy testing, which is reserved for the university, and more than 19,000 tests as part of surge testing, which is open to the community.
Hopes for an end to the pandemic are brighter this winter as vaccines are being distributed locally.
A university announcement shared Monday says University Health and Counseling Services has been vaccinating “a very small number” of those in priority group 1A.
The announcement also points to recent guidance from the state that higher education faculty and staff with direct student contact are in group 1B.
Watson said he wants UW-W to be a vaccination site in the spring, both in Whitewater and at its Rock County campus.
“(We) are working to secure this designation,” he said.
If that is the case, there are still many unknowns, according to the announcement, and, “It is likely the doses would not accommodate all the faculty and staff who qualify.” University officials suggest people watch for other opportunities.
Before COVID-19 dominated life on campus and elsewhere, the university’s budget cuts were front and center. Those problems, largely fueled by declining enrollment, haven’t gone away as efforts to balance the budget continue.
Watson said the university has reached 95% of the required savings for fiscal year 2020-21 and 46% of savings for fiscal year 2021-22. Some estimated savings strategies he shared include:
- Not filling vacancies: saved about $900,000.
- Reduction in maintenance projects: about $500,000 “by strategically looking at the available funds and priority projects,” he said.
- Reduction in central funding for student help and professional development: more than $800,000.
- Revenue sharing and shift of costs for service-based pricing programs: $1.3 million.
- Investment optimization: $500,000.
- Reduction in operation costs: $475,000.
“I know that these savings have been sacrifices as well,” Watson said. “Righting the financial picture of the institution is critically important for the long-term viability of UW-Whitewater.”
But factions within the university have not seen eye-to-eye on how to make the budget cuts.
In December, the university’s faculty senate warned that academic programs could be cut, which would harm the local economy. Watson disagreed with the senate’s estimate of how many programs were identified for cuts, saying it was “woefully inaccurate.”
Watson on Monday acknowledged some “consternation about how we all define shared governance.” The faculty senate and the chancellor have not agreed on who or which body has the authority to cut academic programs.
“And while we don’t always agree on how decisions are ultimately made, I am confident that we can continue to work through our differences, continue to respect the process and come to agreements by putting what is best for the entire university first,” Watson said.
The faculty senate is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday. UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson is expected to attend the beginning of the meeting.
The meeting will be streamed on the faculty senate’s Facebook page.