On Feb. 17, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Student Association (SA) met virtually with Chancellor Joe Gow and discussed the importance of sustainability on campus, the new budget for the upcoming years, and COVID-19 updates.
Chancellor Gow came to SA as a guest speaker to give updates and to answer questions from students. The main topic of discussion was the renewal of the Strategic Plan 2016-2020 and the inclusion of environmental sustainability into it. Gow said that he met with the joint committee on environmental sustainability and discussed the language needed to try and include sustainability into the plan.
Gow said that he is in support of trying to include sustainability into this plan but also said that this could be “tricky to do right now because still being in this COVID phase, you don’t know what our finances will be like and enrollment is down a little bit right now for this semester and for the fall.”
Currently, the strategic plan does not include sustainability, and the Faculty Senate did not pass the same resolution as SA that included sustainability. Student Senator Andrew Ericson is going to present to the Joint Planning and Budget Committee (JPB) next week and go over how and why sustainability can and should be included in the new plan. Passing the resolution through JPB is the next step in trying to ensure the inclusion of sustainability in the strategic plan.
When asked how he felt about including it into the strategic plan Gow said, “I was surprised that it wasn’t in the strategic plan already, this is a way to make a formal commitment through the strategic plan, but I can’t do it alone.”
The main concern that individuals seem to have in regards to including sustainability is finding the funds for it. COVID-19 has brought enrollment down and led to budget cuts that are making it hard for the campus to find the funds needed to support sustainability.
The Faculty Senate has passed a different resolution that does not include sustainability. They have passed this resolution on to Joe Gow and asked him to sign and support their resolution. When asked if he planned to sign the faculty’s resolution Gow was unable to give a direct answer at this point in time but, “hopes that people will say that it [the sustainability resolution] is a good thing and that it is a good plan.”
In relation to this plan, Gow also talked about the budget that Gov. Tony Evers proposed for the next year. In this plan, Evers proposed another extension of the tuition freeze for another two years and Gow said it is “a budget that is favorable for the UW systems.”
This budget still needs to pass through the legislature and won’t be finalized until this summer, so until then the university can’t make plans or adjustments to its budget plan. This budget plan will directly affect what UWL can do with sustainability and other organizations around campus.
Gow said how the budget proposal would impact all UW institutions in some ways but there will also be particular ways that it could impact UWL. For example, the completion of the second phase of the Prairie Springs Science Center construction will be a specific cost that could be decided in the state budget proposal.
The second phase includes taking down Cowley Hall and putting up the second half of the labs. Gow said that he would be watching very closely to see if the legislature approves this part of the budget. Gow also spoke to UW system president Tommy Thompson and said that Thompson is aware of the importance of this build for UWL and has said he will work very hard to make that happen.
Gow also said that in the upcoming weeks he will meet with committees and discuss what the different budget models could be for UWL. Gow said, “The only thing for certain is that there will be a tuition freeze…beyond that, the funding is not clear.” He plans to try and keep enrollment strong and growing in the upcoming years.
Gow also discussed the potential for a commencement ceremony in the spring. Now that the county is on the medium-risk level for COVID-19, they are working on coming up with a possibility to make graduation in-person. Gow said, “We won’t be able to do the handshaking, but certainly we’ll find a special way to get you your diplomas.”
Spectators will not be allowed to come, but the graduates will be invited into the arena to accept their diplomas. Gow said, “We will do something special and virtual and give you your own moment, as we always do when we call out your name.” The university and board members are still working on the logistics of this planned will release more details and updates as the end of the semester approaches.
The final point of discussion in the SA meeting also revolved around the budget. The SA voted to endorse the Academic Initiative Differential Allocation Committee (AIDAC) FY22 budget. This is the budget from 12 organizations on campus for 2022, and due to low enrollment, AIDAC was forced to cut make a $24,000 cut. Most of the organizations volunteered up how much they were willing to cut and AIDAC worked from that, student Senator Jared Zwettler said, “That got us to about halfway to our goal.
AIDAC then took in other considerations such as if an organization got funding from other sources as well and came up with the final budget. The total cut ended up being $24,634 and the SA endorsed this budget.