- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Regents and chancellors in the University of Wisconsin System vowed Thursday to push back against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts to higher education.

The regents spent hours discussing how to respond to state lawmakers about Walker’s proposal to cut the system’s funding by $300 million in the next two years, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The Republican governor also is proposing giving the system more autonomy - something its leaders have been seeking for years.

Regents eventually approved a resolution that asks lawmakers to substantially reduce the proposed cut.

“It’s time we step forward and send a message to the people of Wisconsin that this is wrong, it’s bad for Wisconsin and it’s not who we are,” Regent David Walsh of Madison said.

The proposed funding cut follows major cuts to the system in five of the last six budget cycles spanning Democratic and Republican administrations.

“It’s been cut, cut, cut and now this enormous hatchet job,” said Regent Margaret Farrow, a former lawmaker and lieutenant governor.

UW System President Ray Cross told his colleagues that the “vast majority” of legislators have acknowledged the cuts are too big and will work with system leaders to reduce them.

Chancellors from throughout the 26-campus system said the cuts would mean job losses. UW-Milwaukee chancellor Mark Mone said his campus would lose 200 to 300 positions.

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow said he’s committed to avoiding layoffs as his employees did nothing to create the budget shortfall behind the cuts and shouldn’t lose jobs because of it.

Gow said other cost-saving measures could include outsourcing campus maintenance and getting by with far fewer janitors. But students will feel the cuts, he said.

“I don’t know how we do a 21st-century higher education system with 1998 funding levels,” Gow said.

Walker also wants to make the university system a public authority detached from state oversight and laws starting in July 2016. Under that structure, the Board of Regents would set nearly all the policies - including sexual assault reporting - that are currently mandated under state law.

The resolution the regents approved asks the legislature to grant more flexibility to the system either “through an agreed-upon public authority” or by amending state statute, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

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