Office of the President
President Kevin P. Reilly
July 19, 2005
Good afternoon. Co-chairs Gard and Lasee – and other members of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations – thanks for allowing me to address the committee today.
I am here to provide background and perspective on the recommendation of the Director of the Office of State Employment Relations for a 2005-07 biennial compensation plan for University of Wisconsin faculty and academic staff. I‘ll be brief in my remarks, but I would like to take just a moment at the outset to publicly address some issues currently surrounding the university.
The University of Wisconsin System is one of the state’s undisputed treasures. In recent weeks, news articles and reports have raised questions about some of its employment policies and practices. I’m here today to say that as the president of the UW System, I take these criticisms very seriously, and I am very concerned about them. I know the chancellors on all our campuses are as well.
The Board of Regents and I are taking a hard look at these matters related to employment. While I cannot predict exactly where this examination will go, or what the outcomes might be, I want to assure you and the citizens of Wisconsin that if this review demonstrates that things are broken, we will fix them. We will do that to reassure Wisconsin residents that their tax dollars are being invested appropriately in the education of this generation of Wisconsin students, and generations to come.
My colleagues and I realize that the state economy is still recovering from an economic slowdown and a budget deficit. We appreciate the fiscal constraints that face the Legislature and the Governor. I want to renew our pledge to be part of the state’s solution to these economic challenges. With the right support and creative thinking, we can better prepare our students for "21st century jobs," graduate more students in fields that are in high demand by state employers, invest in cutting edge research that will attract federal resources and start-up companies to the state, and work with our local counties and communities on regional economic development.
We are, and we must continue to be, a vital economic engine for the state. But our primary fuel is people. To educate our students and carry out our programs, we need to be able to recruit, and retain, the very best faculty and staff. And we need compensation packages that will help make that possible.
As you know, our faculty and staff received 0 and 1 percent pay increases in the last biennium, in addition to having to cover some of the cost of their health insurance. As a result, we are seeing a greater attrition within our ranks.
The market pressures on our campuses are unrelenting. Beyond coping with the continued retirements of large numbers of our faculty and staff, we are in a constant battle to retain employees who are being lured to campuses in other states. We are seeing an increasing number of the faculty on our comprehensive campuses being hired away by major research universities. We need your help to resist that loss to Wisconsin of bright minds and helping hands.
The Board of Regents originally requested pay increases of approximately 5 percent for each year of the biennium based on painstaking research about compensation at our peer institutions, and even those increases would not get us to the median salary of our peers. In fact, the pay plan for the two biennia covering 2003-07 will not even cover the cost of inflation. By 2007, we are likely to be approaching a double-digit market shortfall for our faculty. In that environment it is extremely difficult to recruit faculty and staff with the same level of quality parents and their children have grown to expect from their public university.
In closing, let me say that we appreciate your help and support and that we look forward to the next biennium where, hopefully, the state will be better able to improve the UW’s competitive position. In fact, it’s my hope that two years from now, the state’s fiscal outlook will be much brighter, and we can work together to close the competitive salary gap.
Without this joint effort, the university will not be able to fill the ranks that will be depleted by large numbers of retiring faculty and staff. We will not be able to keep the quality where it belongs – in the classroom and serving students. I am not trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but the reality is that we will need to do better if we are to remain competitive with our peers and meet the needs of our students, and the state. We serve one of every three graduating Wisconsin high school students – some 160,000 students in all – and we appreciate their steadfast support of quality. They would agree, I think, that competitive salaries and strong compensation plans will enable us to better serve them.
Thank you again for the opportunity to join you here today. I ask that you do all you can to support UW faculty and staff, including our 9,000 classified employees who deserve to be paid market wages.
I’d be happy to respond to any questions you might have.