About Stout Transcript: December 5, 2008

Full-Text Transcript


Doug Mell: Welcome to another edition of About Stout. We’re going to do things a little differently this time around by having two guests join us for our half hour. First, I’d like to welcome Chancellor Charles Sorensen. Welcome, Chancellor.

Charles Sorensen: Good to be here.

Mell: Joining us for the first half of the show is Diane Moen, and she’s our vice chancellor for Administration and Student Life Services.  Welcome, Diane. We’re going to talk about the state’s budget problems and how we’re responding here at UW-Stout. During the second half of the show, Lucy Nicolai, who is director of the UW-Stout Memorial Student Center, she’s going to join us to talk about a proposed remodeling of that facility. Let’s start right in talking about the budget problem and the magnitude of it. The governor has called it a crisis. It’s probably the biggest budget deficit we’ve ever faced. It’s $5.4 billion for 2009-2011, $346 million for the current biannual, and probably growing as we speak. Is there any way of knowing what our share of that’s going to be?

Sorensen: Well, we could do some simple mathematics, but the problem is we don’t know if that’s the real deficit or not, and last time we had a budget deficit, I think it was about five percent, wasn’t it Diane? It was about a $1.8 million reduction for the campus, so you just take that and look at $2 million or more as a reduction for Stout over the biennium will probably be in the ballpark of what it might be, but we don’t know, so it’s a real guessing game right now. And plus, the deficit between now and July 1, about $350 million, is another unknown, so it really is a guessing game. We won’t know until we hear the address by the governor in February.

Mell: Yeah, and some things may be leaked out and all maybe after the first of the year, etc. This is kind of becoming old hat, isn’t it?

Moen: Right, I think we’ve had budget cuts or lapses for the past dozen years, so it has been something that the university, unfortunately, has been getting rather good at, planning for cuts and lapses.

Mell: Do you want to explain the difference between a base reduction and a budget lapse?

Moen: Right. And that’s very important, Doug. There’s actually three ways that the state can have a reduction in funding to the UW System. One is a permanent budget cut, a base budget cut, and that’s when they take our authority away from us permanently, so we don’t receive those funds year after year, and that’s probably the most damaging type of cut that we can receive as an institution.

Mell: You don’t recoup it. I mean you don’t get that back.

Moen: You never get that back, that’s correct. So, if you cut a position, that position is gone permanently. The second way is a budget lapse, and that’s where they take the money one time and that’s probably the most doable type of cut for the UW System because we can look at all different funding sources; we can hold positions vacant for a while.

Mell: Right, so they gave it to you for the biennium but they’ll tell you you can’t spend X amount of dollars.

Moen: Right, so that’s good because, let’s say, we can hold a teaching position vacant, but we don’t use it. We can fill it in a couple of years, and really then, the third way that they cut our budget is by raising tuition without giving us any of those tuition revenues. In the 2003-2005 biennial, the chancellor mentioned, I think when the state had a $3.2 billion cut, they raised tuition by almost 10 percent each year of that biennia. Those funds really did not come to us to increase our budget, so that’s really another type of cut that we – or how they handle a cut.

Mell: You’ve said before, I think, every biennium during your tenure here, you’ve had to deal with some sort of fiscal problem or cut or something.

Sorensen: That’s right. Either a lapse or a base reduction, something like that, so for 10 biennia we’ve dealt with some form of a budget reduction.

Mel: What kind of pressure does that put on a university?

Sorensen: Well, I think that we have core operations we have to protect. We have core services we must protect: financial aid; we have admissions; we have a lot of what Diane does in her budget office, we have to protect. We have instruction we must protect. So, we have to identify what the core is of a campus against our long-range plans and short-term plans and protect that so we can continue as a university, so the pressure is there. You can’t cut willy-nilly; you have to be very strategic.

Mell: Or across the board.

Sorensen: Or across the board. We’ll do some modeling and one will be an across-the-board modeling, but if you do across the board the divisions have to measure that against the vision, the mission of the campus, so there is pressure on prioritization of the cuts, making sure they’re the right ones.

Mell: So, if we don’t do across the board, what sort of principles or what sort of guidelines do we use to…how do we figure out where to cut if we don’t do it across the board? How does that process work?

Moen: Well, I think several years ago, when cutting budget wasn’t as normal to us, we tended to just cut across the board, and I think that departments generally had a little bit of flexibility that they could accomplish that, but those days tend to be gone now because we’ve had cut after cut without any replenishment or building back of budgets, so we do a lot of different modeling for the chancellor to say, “Well, if we did not cut instruction as much as we cut Student Services or if we looked at Physical Plant.” We look at those types of things --.

Mell: All our different operations, all of our different areas of operation.

Moen: Right, and we make that they really fit what our strategic plan is for the university. So, for example, we receive money for growing engineering programs this biennia. If that’s a strategic priority for the university, we’d want to make sure that we did not damage that as that was going forward and we were looking at what our budget cuts would be down the road. So, I think that a lot of different modeling is very important, keeping in mind that sometimes a vacant position isn’t the best position to cut. It might be the easiest, but it might not be in the best interest of the institution, so I think a deep knowledge of where we spend money, how we spend money, where we look the same, where we look different, what our initiatives are and using a lot of data.

Sorensen: And, I think too, Doug, we try to become more efficient, so we’re doing some modeling on, you know, what if? What if we increased class size by 10 percent or 20 percent? What does that do to minimize the need to hire more people? Can we be more efficient in the way we advise students? Can we use technology more efficiently to reduce, say, a budget process that is driven by people right now? So, we do a lot of modeling. We’re trying to preserve positions and preserve instruction and preserve services. So, how do you do that in a very efficient way? So, we do a lot of different models that we look at together and say, “Hey, we’ll try this one because it seems to work.” So, it isn’t just cutting; it’s also becoming more efficient at what we do.

Mell: We spend a lot of time here working, as you talked before, about our strategic plan and working on our priorities – both short-term and long-term priorities. Does this kind of fiscal problem or challenge make it hard for us to persevere with that strategic plan or…?

Sorensen: It makes it more difficult, I think – more challenging. But we know that if we vary from our planning process, or the strategic vision we have, we’re going to hurt in the long run and we’ve chosen a direction. We’ve chosen a direction of a polytechnic model. We’ve chosen a direction of applied research; we’ve chosen a direction of applied education and we can’t vary from that or we would diminish who we are, so it poses different challenges, but I think we stay true to what we said what we were going to do and who we are and we’ll come out of this OK.

Mell: You talked before about the core operations that we need to protect. Do you have an idea of what some of those are?

Moen: Well, my opinion in the non-instructional area is that we’ve really been stripped down to what is core at this institution, so now we’ll look at, for example, what in the business office could be eliminated as a service or what in Physical Plant could be eliminated as a service, and I think a lot of those core services are definitely below their averages we would expect to see in them, and I think this, again, is a major difference from this and other cuts. Other cuts we found more efficient things to do things. We’re still looking at that, and I think this time around we’re going to have to eliminate some services that we provide to the campus. There may be some areas that we can’t cut, and we’ll have to think about police services. Is that something, as a campus, that we’re willing to do less with or counseling or advising or general ledger support, so I think there’s a lot of key decisions to be made in that regard, but I’m not sure that we have much left that isn’t core to the institution.

Sorensen: Yeah, I agree. I think that the real core course is instruction, but that isn’t just pure instruction, it’s surrounded by some of the service areas as well.

Mell: So, some support functions.

Sorensen: Exactly right, so we must protect that and we must protect what’s essential to making sure the classrooms can function well. IT (instructional technology) is one of them. At what level do we protect IT though versus advisement for freshmen? We have been very generous in the past, you know, two decades or so, in providing the campus all they really have asked for in terms of services, and Diane’s correct. Can we provide all of that now? The answer may be no. We’ll have to do without some of those services. We’ll have to cut those and preserve instruction.

Mell: What opportunities are there going to be, do you think, for students, faculty and staff, to play a role to have a say in offering opinions? Obviously, the final decisions always rest with the chancellor, but as far as seeking advice from outside.

Sorensen: Well, probably this deep of cut will have some forms on campus. We’re form-focused here. We have forms every fall to talk about our priorities, and those priorities drive who we are. I envision that as we get down to the crunch of cutting budgets, we’ll have forms at least by division if not by colleges or both, to say, “This is what we’re planning to do, please give us your reaction to it.”

Mell: Yeah, and we’ve had those in the past.

Moen: Yes, we have, and in addition to that, we have the strategic planning committee and the chancellor’s advisory council, which are very key in a process like this, and all of those have faculty, academic staff and often student representation on them, so I think there will be a lot of opportunity for input.

Sorensen: Yeah, ample opportunity.

Mell: We do have some guidelines. However, you already said that that is sort of the overarching umbrella. Do you just want to talk about those a little bit?

Sorensen: Well, follow our plan. We have a very effective strategic planning process. We follow that plan. We have to honor all contracts that we have. We have to make it a broad base kind of reduction so one division isn’t totally decimated at the expense of another. For example, we have to make sure we protect, say, things like supplies and services so that if we have a department with no supplies and services, then you can’t [unclear] to provide that, so it can’t be one area affected by the cut. So, it’s got to be broad based and based in a lot of common sense and based on the impact it has on how you deliver services.

Mell: This [unclear] puts a lot of pressure on your budget office. You talked before about modeling. That’s a lot of work.

Moen: Right. It is, but it’s a really important, I think, part of the process because otherwise there’s a lot of assumptions and kind of myths on campus. Well, this area has most of the budget, they should have most of the cut, and I think by doing all of this modeling, looking at some of the hard data, we can make some objective decisions as a campus. But we end up producing a little booklet, kind of the background of the budget cut and the governor’s budget proposal when that comes out. What are the principles and guidelines that we all agreed upon? We do at least, I don’t know, a dozen different models so individuals can take a look at this and come with ideas or --.

Sorensen: I think, too, cool heads have to prevail because we’ll get from the campus, “Let’s just cut all of the salaries of administrators. That’ll do it.” Or, “Let’s lay off all administrators during the summertime. That’ll do it.” None of that works. It has to be a really calculated model and then apply it in a very systematic way, so it does put pressure on all of our divisions, but I think, on the BPA especially, they go through and model a lot of the different scenarios for what we can and cannot do and what the impact is if we do it like that.

Mell: Are you getting questions already from either faculty or staff or perspective students? I mean, when the governor comes out and talks about a budget crisis, I think an assumption may be that, you know, we’re in dire straits, but I think the message from what I’m hearing here is come next year the lights are going to be on, students are going to be taught. I mean, there may be some things that we’re going to have to do differently or do without, but things are going to proceed much like they’re proceeding now.

Sorensen: I don’t think we have any kind of panic on campus at all. The admissions office has not told me that parents of prospective students are worried about, “Will you be open or not?” Nothing like that. And I think, too, the budget deficit may be – not manufactured. It’s not manufactured, but it does include the agency requests for the 2009-2011 budget.

Mell: So, it may be a little higher than what it says.

Sorensen: So, it may be higher than, and that’s what Todd Berry says, of the Taxpayers Alliance, it’s a little bit high. So, we have to live with that and see what that really means. But I have no sense of panic around here right now.

Mell: Well, we’re going to be back in the second half of the show, but first, I want to thank Diane for joining us. She’s our first return guest on About Stout.

Sorensen: She earned that right, Doug.

(Laughter)

Mell: This is a historic day. We’re going to be back for the second half of the show. We’re going to feature Lucy Nicolai, who’s head of the Memorial Student Center and we’re going to be talking about our plans to remodel the Memorial Student Center.

(Music plays)

Mell: I’d like to welcome Lucy Nicolai, head of the Memorial Student Center, to About Stout. Welcome, Lucy. You have some rather ambitious plans to renovate the Student Center we’d like to discuss. Why don’t you, first of all, just give us the basics of what this plan entails.

Nicolai: Well, the plan is really ambitious and very exciting and we started the process about two and a half years ago already.

Mell: Seems just like yesterday.

Nicolai: It does, that’s right. It’s gone very fast, but the exciting thing about the plan is that it’s going to give the students now and in the future what they are looking for because we have an ever-changing student body. So, we’re going to look at getting more natural light into the building. We’re going to put a staircase in the center of the building so that it connects the first and second floor. The more natural light. We’re also going to bring in the student organizations to the main lower level so it gives the student orgs a lot more visibility, and then one of the other things is to upgrade all the infrastructure: the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, window replacement, plumbing and electrical.

Mell: That’s about half the project, isn’t it?

Nicolai: That’s right, and that was one thing when we talked to the student government about it, that would have to be done no matter what – the infrastructure replacement would have to be completed at some point in time. So, this was a nice time to do the renovation and the infrastructure all at once.

Mell: So, you can do it all for $18 million?

Nicolai: That’s what we’re hoping for; that’s what we’re hoping for. And the student government approved the bonding of $18 million in October, and we’re very pleased with that decision.

Mell: How important is the Student Center?

Sorensen: Well, it’s very important and I want to thank the students for stepping up. They really stepped up and said, “We need this,” not for their lifetime here, but for those who will follow them, and I think that the Physical Plant for any campus is critical to attract a student, and you go around the nation today, not just Wisconsin, but Minnesota and any state. They’re building very nice physical plants because students want that. Whether it’s an academic building, a building for IT or a student center, that’s an attraction, and you have to have that. So, you have to have a well-rounded physical plant to attract students to that campus. The competition is doing that, so we must do it as well.

Mell: River Falls just built a brand new one. I think you’ve been there.

Sorensen: Oh, it’s beautiful.

Mell: And I know Eau Claire has plans on the table now to renovate their Davies Center, so, I mean, aren’t we one of the last ones?

Nicolai: We are. We’re one of the last ones to renovate and/or build new. So, in fact, when we created our project planning committee, we took the students and staff around to the other student centers so they could see what we could have.

Mell: Why don’t you explain a little bit, you started with it, how we arrived at these plans, how the process works.

Nicolai: Okay. Well, first of all, the Student Center was built in 1985, and at that time we really were a state-of-the-art building. In fact, we won awards for our architect and we’re recognized by the Association of College Unions International. So, 23 years have passed and we really haven’t done any major upgrades or remodel to the building.

Mell: Which, I think, speaks well of how it was constructed to begin with. I mean, who has a house and hasn’t done anything to it in 23 years?

Nicolai: That’s right, yeah. Well, and our staff has done a really good job in trying to maintain the cleanliness of the building and the infrastructure of it, but our students were telling us, “Our needs are changing. We really want to see something different in the Student Center.” Plus, we started seeing our traffic decline, and so that was a red flag for us.

Mell: Sure.

Nicolai: So, in 2000 we hired a company called Brailsford & Dunlavey and they did a market analysis for us and our students told us the Student Center was dark, hard to navigate through the building. They wanted upgraded dining services because we were still kind of stuck in the early 1980s, and so, when we heard our students say that, then we thought, “We need to get a committee together, and we called it the Memorial Student Center Project Planning Committee.” And that particular committee analyzed all the data; we visited other student centers, and from that, then, we developed a mission statement and vision statement for it, and the terms the students were using for that vision statement were colorful, bright, sustainable, and they wanted leading technology in the building too.

Mell: Sustainable is a big term.

Sorensen: It’s market-driven now. We must be sustainable or direct yourself in that direction.

Mell: Would it have even been possible to build a new one or was it a decision from day one, we’re going to do the renovations?

Sorensen: In my opinion, no, it wouldn’t have. It’s really only 23 years old. It’s sound structurally, so to ask for a brand new one would have been, I think, fruitless.

Mell: So, basically, this is just taking what has already been invested in down there and just preserving that investment.

Sorensen: Yeah, and the plans are absolutely stunning, quite frankly.

Nicolai: They are.

Sorensen: It’ll be like a brand new building when it’s done, and I think people will think it is, so I think renovation will fill the bill for this building.

Mell: So, once you got the plans developed, then what?

Nicolai: Then we hired preplanning architects – Perkins & Will and SDS Architects out of Eau Claire, and what they did was do an infrastructure study, so that’s how we found out we need to upgrade some things there, and they also did renderings for us and a picture is worth a thousand words, and, in fact, we have them at the Student Center. They’re quite spectacular with that. So, they did the layout for us too. And really, in the design, we’re not adding anything, any square footage to the building; we’re just repositioning what we already have. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re going to move the student organizations out on the main traffic area.

Mell: That’s one of the things I notice. For example, at River Falls, when you look down from the second floor when we were at Regents you could see all the student orgs had little booths or cubicles down in the basement.

Nicolai: The project planning committee also recommended getting rid of the bowling lanes. And I know there’s some nostalgia there, but again, our trends were declining and it’s a very costly operation to keep up, so we’ve talked about putting the bookstore there, giving them an outside visibility, with a possible outside entrance even. And then I mentioned the staircase connecting the two levels, because if you’ve ever had to give directions in the Student Center, it’s rather difficult. It is very awkward. The other thing that we talked to the architects about was whenever we would tell someone, “Let’s go meet at the Student Center,” there isn’t one main entrance. And so, there is that possibility within this renovation to create a major entrance on the corner of 3rd and 10th – really creating that beacon, that beacon of light, if you will. Students now want to see and be seen. We want things to be a lot more transparent. The other things the architects are recommending to get more natural light in is to increase our skylight about three times.

Mell: Right. We have some, but…

Nicolai: We have some, but it could be more than what we have. And create a clear story, and a clear story is a wall of windows with a roof on the top, and so that would really bring the natural light in, and where there would be railings, that would be very transparent with glass, you know, spindals – something a lot more transparent than what we currently have.

Sorensen: And Doug, too, it complements the Jarvis--.

Mell: I was just going to talk about what’s happening next door.

Sorensen: That’s right. So, next door you have this magnificent $45 million renovation going up that will complement one another. It’ll be very attractive down there. Extremely.

Mell: Now, there’s no taxpayer dollars involved in this, correct?

Sorensen: No, this is all student fee driven, and Lucy knows more about that than I.

Nicolai: That’s right. In October, the Stout Student Association supported the bonding of an $18 million project, which would be paid over 20 years. The students right now are paying $236 – this would be phased in over a three year period of time to get up to $444 per student. And so, I’m real pleased that they made that decision, they made that commitment. But there are no state tax dollars at all. So, the primary funding, of course, is through every single student paying a seg. fee. Dining service also pays rent to us. We also get a commission from the UW-Stout bookstore, and then we charge non-university users a facility fee. So we are self-sustaining. We need to make every single dollar to be able to open the doors.

Sorensen: And Doug, you’ll help. Your son’s coming in this fall as a freshman.

(Laughing)

Mell: And I’m, Chancellor, I’m more than happy.

Sorensen: Thank you very much.

Mell: You’re welcome. I’m more than happy to play my part. Okay, so the Stout Student Association has approved – and that was a big deal in October. We’re not out of the woods yet, correct?

Nicolai: That’s correct.

Mell: We’re going to the Board of Regents on Friday, well Thursday and Friday, but we’re still not out of the woods yet.

Nicolai: Then there is the building commission and then joint finance committee. So, we need to get it into the 2009-11--.

Mell: And it has to be passed by the legislature, and actually the governor has to sign it too. And this is pretty much where you take over, right? Your advocacy skills.

Sorensen: That’s right, exactly.

Mell: But this is a process that we’ve done in the past.

Sorensen: It’s a great investment and, you know, more than expense, because it does enhance the campus; it will attract students to the campus, and that’s what we’re all about.

Mell: Talk to me a little bit about, Lucy, about the kind of benefit this will have for students. You talked before about dining options, for example. Let’s concentrate on that. How is that all going to change?

Nicolai: Right now we have three different dining services and that will be combined into two main dining services, so the Heritage Café will be a little bit different than how we know it today.

Sorensen: That’s too bad.

Nicolai: Yeah. But in the next phase we’ll be talking about menu options, and so, hopefully that will continue. But the other big benefit, I think, is we want our students to be involved, and moving the student organizations on the main thoroughfare in the Student Center is going to give them a lot of visibility and accessibility. We talked about sustainability a little bit ago, and there’s a possibility that we could qualify for LEED silver certification, and just by using our existing building, that gives us points toward the LEED, LEED award, if you will.

Sorensen: I think, too, what will happen – this will be done around 2012 or so?

Nicolai: 2011

Sorensen: ’11, alright. That you’ll have the logos of campus shift to the center – back to the Student Center and to Jarvis. Because now north campus and it’ll shift to the center – that’s very healthy, I think, because it’s the heart of who we are physically and it will be now for the student body as well that we hear.

Mell: Right. As far as – you have some concept drawings and will show them onscreen – but as far as what happens after it is approved, how does that process work? Do you – that’s not it. I mean, you actually need the architectural drawings. What kind of student will there be in that, and because after all, it is their money.

Nicolai: We want student participation because it is the students’ building, so we will involve them in every step of the way, and actually the next phase is the exciting part; it’s the design part. A lot of students stayed with us through the planning and it was hard not to design, but in this next phase we will have students definitely involved with all of our staff.

Mell: What’s going to happen to the Memorial Student Center during the renovation, and is it going to have to close?

Nicolai: That is yet to be decided once we hire the architect. There’s a possibility that it could be phased in, but I know from other institutions, it costs a lot more to phase in a project than it is to close the building. Business won’t be as usual, but that allows us to be much more creative in our programming.

Mell: Yeah, and we do have space – Jarvis will be open, for example, and Price Commons will be renovated by then, so…

Nicolai: That’s right. And Harvey Hall auditorium may be renovated as well, so we could use that as programming space. We could take the programs to the residence halls. Some of our sister institutions have pitched a tent and held large events out there – during the nice weather, of course. And so, that’s been affective too. So, we will definitely continue with the programming and the essential services, like you mentioned. Dining service, there could be expanded menu items at the food cart, and of course we have the bookstore to move, too.

Mell: We’ve had a lot of construction either approved or proposed on campus. Is this the final, or is there something else that we’ll…

Sorensen: Well, we want Harvey --.

Mell: Final for a while.

Sorensen: For a while. Harvey’s one of the next --.

Mell: That’s coming.

Sorensen: That’s coming, but right now – but for small renovation projects, these will be the big projects, although the queue is building up again for longer-term renovation. It just shows how dynamic campuses are though, and you have to be in continual planning mode if you’re going to maintain a modern campus, and this reflects what we’ve done here.

Mell: But this is one of many projects that we’ve got going on campus.

Sorensen: Oh, it is. I enjoy derricks in the sky.

Mell: You like cranes.

Sorensen: I like cranes, right.

Mell: Any final words as far as how you think this is going to benefit our students. I mean, when all is said and done, the dust is cleared, everybody’s moved in, what’s going to be the final benefit for our students do you think?

Nicolai: We’ve always tried to create that welcoming, gathering place. We’re a community building but we’re also building a community, so we want every student to feel comfortable there, welcomed – before classes, after classes, in their free time. We want them to come into the Student Center.

Mell: I want to thank you very much for joining us, Lucy.

Nicolai: Thank you.

Mell: And I’d like to thank the chancellor for joining us for another edition of About Stout. We’re going to be back in the new year with another show. Thank you very much.