Chapter Eighteen: 1986
“David Outcalt is a proven academician, administrator and leader. He has been involved on the cutting edge of curricular reform and academic planning. He is community oriented and will bring to the Green Bay area the same high level of community commitment as is clearly evident in his past accomplishments and current assignment. - Kenneth Shaw, UW System president, Green Bay Press-Gazette , June 7, 1986
"I remember driving down the highway, looking back at those buildings, and I couldn't imagine how anything would be ready in time. There was so much to be done, and I was leaving on vacation. But it happened. I don't know how, but when I came back the furniture was in and classes had started. I had left half-empty buildings and come back to a university in session, alive and bustling."
-Marjorie Conway Fermanich, secretary and administrative assistant to the chancellor, 1967-1987
Early on the afternoon of June 6, 1986, the UW System Board of Regents by unanimous vote confirmed President Kenneth Shaw's choice of David L. Outcalt as the second chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Members of the University community were informed immediately. In mid-afternoon Outcalt and his wife Marcia arrived in Green Bay from Madison for a news conference and a quick tour of the campus. Press-Gazette readers learned of the appointment in a front-page story that evening.
Outcalt had been chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, for five years after serving at Anchorage for a year as vice chancellor of academic affairs. A mathematician, Outcalt held a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He had previously been chairman of the mathematics department and dean of instructional development during a 16-year career at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Praised by colleagues at Anchorage for his intellectual power and administrative skill, Outcalt would begin his career at UW-Green Bay under circumstances that could test those attributes to the limit. For the “good news” generated locally by increasing enrollments and a successful capital campaign was overshadowed by “bad news” from Madison—a fiscal emergency that had already forced drastic budget reductions at every campus in the state.
The crisis had developed quickly during Weidner's final year.
The biennial budget passed by the Legislature in June 1985 projected a budget surplus by mid-1987 of $58.5 million on top of a required $102 million cushion. But a slower-than-expected economic recovery—with unemployment in Wisconsin hovering stubbornly around 7.2 percent—drastically reduced state income. Adding to the problem was the prospect of a serious crimp in federal aid: The first cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction bill loomed just ahead. By December 1985, with tax collections running behind estimates, Gov. Anthony Earl was ready to take a scalpel to the state budget. Citing a deficit of at least $200 million, the governor ordered state agencies to plan for $33 million in budget cuts over the remainder of the biennium. Half the cuts would come from the UW System budget, the Department of Administration decreed. Spending by UW units would be reduced by $15.6 million during the 18 months beginning in January. But the immediate cuts would not signal the end of the matter, Earl warned. The total shortfall might be higher by $100 million. Earl promised to present a more accurate picture of the crisis after revenue figures could be updated.
With new statistics in hand early in January, Earl confirmed his fears: By June of 1987, without new taxes, the state's budget deficit would stand at $340 million. And in 1986, an election year, new taxes were out of the question.
On Jan. 27, 1986, when Kenneth Shaw had been on the job just four days as the 18th president of the UW System, the Legislature convened in special session to consider Earl's budget repair bill. The legislation passed both houses in less than a week.
System officials still struggling to cut budgets by 1.3 percent to meet earlier Department of Administration goals were confronted with the need to lop off another 2 percent. The University of Wisconsin budget sustained a slash, overall, of $33 million. The bill proposed that almost a third be offset by a 12.4 percent increase in resident tuition for 1986-87—on top of an already scheduled hike averaging $97 to $125, and following a fall 1985 increase of almost 10 percent. The remainder of the giveback would be allocated among the campuses.
At every unit of the 26-campus system, administrators acted to reduce the number of course sections and increase the size of some classes, reduce library hours and purchases, cut back on building maintenance and find other savings in utilities and general operations. UW-Milwaukee, faced with the loss of $1.75 million, announced plans to trim fall semester enrollment by 1,500 students. UW-Oshkosh imposed an immediate freeze on hiring; UW-Parkside fired a number of part-time employees. UW-Stout closed enrollment in several popular majors.
At UW-Green Bay the anticipated deficit stood at $380,000 as the spring semester began. Weidner responded by closing the Office of Educational Research and Development, effective July 1, 1986. The office employed eight persons and operated on a $200,000 annual budget. Some of the unit's duties would be transferred to the registrar and placement offices. But the move also eliminated the Wisconsin Assessment Center, housed in the office. For 10 years center staff members had provided statewide services of academic testing and evaluation that were unduplicated in the UW System.
In April Weidner sent UW budget planners his recommendations for cuts totaling $260,000 for 1986-87. Savings would come from eight areas. The most serious reductions were in budgets for capital and supplies and expense for program development, he said. In a letter accompanying his list, Weidner called the loss of capital “a serious blow to our program of keeping equipment for science and the arts current.” Major cuts would also be absorbed by the administrative budget, facilities management and admissions activities; educational communications and academic programs would suffer smaller losses. Some UW-Green Bay positions would be eliminated. But because of resignations and transfers, only three of the eight people in the educational research unit would be unemployed. A freeze on hiring, including faculty, would remain in effect, said David Jowett, acting vice chancellor for academic affairs. But there would be no further layoffs through the end of the fiscal year, Jowett promised.
In June the regents formally adopted a three-tier system of tuition increases. Resident undergraduates at UW-Green Bay and other “comprehensive” campuses would be hit with an 11.6 percent increase to $1,202 for 1986-87, plus activity fees. Tuition would be higher at the two doctoral campuses, lower at the two-year centers. On the average, UW resident undergraduates would be paying 34 percent of the cost of their education. The bill for nonresidents would soar to nearly $5,000 a year, 105 percent of the cost.
And in June the regents also launched a policy balloon that would drastically change the character of public higher education in Wisconsin.
For six months the board had been peering beyond the fiscal crisis to the decades ahead and asking questions. What should the University of Wisconsin be doing in the year 2000? How can further increases in enrollment—projected at between 3,000 and 15,000 students—be reconciledwith resources without affecting program quality? If student access must be limited to match budget support, what's the best way to do it? Can we improve the transfer of credits among the universities and the two-year centers? How can the universities and the technical colleges work together to avoid duplication of programs and costs?
By June the regents had completed only part of their work toward a long-range strategy, but they were ready to limit enrollment. As of fall 1986, according to the preliminary plan, 3,000 students would be cut from UW rolls. The largest reduction would be at Madison, 2,860 students out of 45,000. Smaller cuts would take place at other four-year campuses like UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stevens Point. The two-year campuses would seek to increase total enrollment by 22 percent, and Green Bay would be expected to grow by 39 students.
The regents' conclusions were not unexpected. The board, in fact, had been somewhat tardy in joining a discussion that for more than a year had enlivened the atmosphere of legislative chambers, business boardrooms and editorial offices. By the time the regents put together their own study panel in November 1985, they were months behind other groups examining the issues. (“It was getting to the point that everybody was talking about our problems except us,” Regent Paul Schilling commented.)
A Select Committee on the Future of the UW System, organized by the Legislature, had begun its work the previous February under the leadership of Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus. Before the committee embarked on March fact-finding visits to six UW campuses, Loftus told a Capital Times reporter, “I think quality is suffering because of quantity. ... I do not think the university can educate everyone who shows up at the door in the manner we would like.” Already off and running, too, was a nine-member citizen group appointed by Gov. Tony Earl as a Governor's Expenditure Commission. Named in May 1985 on the advice of the Wisconsin State Development Committee, the group was conducting a 15-month assessment of expenditures for “big ticket” items. Among the questions it was asking: Does the UW System command too large a share of the state budget?
The future prospects for UW-Green Bay, whether of emergency cutbacks or long-range retrenchment, were viewed with apparent equanimity by the new chancellor. He was familiar with state-ordered budget adjustments, Outcalt assured a Press-Gazettereporter on the day of his appointment. At Anchorage, Outcalt explained, he had already coped with a 22 percent reduction in resources during his previous two years on the job
“I think budget cuts are part of the life of any university from time to time, and this University (UW-Green Bay) handles them well,” he said.
After his appointment in June 1986 Outcalt returned to Alaska to wind up his duties there, while Associate Chancellor Harden filled in as acting chancellor at UW-Green Bay. By the time Outcalt arrived in Green Bay to stay, in early September, his budget-slashing skills had been honed razor sharp: As a result of plummeting prices for oil, Alaska's principal source of tax revenue, the University of Alaska System had lost $50 million in funding in 14 months. When Outcalt left the Anchorage campus for good, he had trimmed its budget by 30 percent.