Before a pandemic spread across the globe and eventually reached Rock and Walworth counties, the biggest story on UW-Whitewater’s campus was its budget.

In January, Chancellor Dwight Watson announced plans to make $12 million in base budget cuts over the next two years to compensate for declining enrollment.

Since then, University Housing has asked students to move out of the dorms, classes have been shifted online and May’s commencement ceremony has been postponed—the date and format of which remain to be decided.

The measures were put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Grace Crickette, vice chancellor for administrative affairs, said Friday that the pandemic has not changed the budget process.

Although fewer people are on campus, the university is still operating and requires some employees to be physically present.

Many meetings can be done by phone, but those who are on campus, which on Friday included Crickette, are following infectious disease control best practices, she said.

The university had a pandemic plan already. Crickette said employees have practiced various exercises and plans for such a situation.

“Practice makes perfect,” she said.

Crickette emphasized two points about the budget process during an interview Friday.

First, she said the university’s budget is a “dynamic document.” It’s a plan that can change. Most of the operating budget comes from tuition revenue, so she said that will depend on who enrolls in the fall and spring.

Second, the university budget comprises several smaller budgets, such as for capital projects and operations.

Housing and dining fall under the auxiliary budget. Housing and dining, she said, “have to be self-sustaining” and generate revenue like a business because they essentially are one.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that the UW System’s room and board prorated refunds—coming as campuses have told students to leave and resume classes online—will cost about $78 million.

Of that, Crickette said UW-W estimated its refunds will cost about $5.8 million, although that number could change as it becomes clearer how many students are staying out of need.

Crickette said those working on their budgets must submit their materials to her office by Wednesday, April 1.

Then, she said, the goal is to send everything to the UW System by April 17, after which it could change further.

She praised the “tremendous job” everyone has done to identify cost savings, which included attrition and contract nonrenewals.

“We will have a balanced budget at the end of the fiscal year,” she said.

“We’re required to.”