Although Gov. Scott McCallum has slashed the state budget in response to projected state deficits of up to $1.3 billion, funding for research and instruction in the UW System has thus far remained largely intact.
Economic potential provided by the UW System may have played a significant role in the sparing of UW coffers from budget cuts, according to some university officials.
Last month, McCallum instituted a hiring freeze for state agencies, but excluded the UW System. And this Tuesday, the UW System's instructional and research budgets escaped a 3.5 percent budget cut for most state agencies.
According to Kevin Boatright, UW System assistant vice president to university relations, McCallum and the state Legislature see the need to spare UW from some budget cuts.
\The UW System and especially UW-Madison are viewed as a very important economic development asset for the state of Wisconsin,"" Boatright said. ""I think there is a strong desire on the part of the Board of Regents, governor and Legislature to see the university spared from the worst of the cuts that we're talking about in order to enable us to continue to be that economic development asset.""
Exempt from recent cuts are the research and instructional budgets for the UW System.
""Since research and instruction are so central to the university, if at all possible, we would like to spare those programs from significant budget reductions,"" Boatright said.
Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, associate dean in the College of Letters and Science, also noted the magnitude of the influence of the UW System on the state's economy.
""I think the University of Wisconsin is a major force in economic development for the state,"" Fitzpatrick said. ""The University of Wisconsin in Madison has been a leader in basic research and technology transfers.""
Often making national news, stem-cell and biotechnology research within the UW System have interested both McCallum and former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
""I think the previous governor was very interested in [biotech at UW-Madison],"" Fitzpatrick said. ""[Thompson] started to appreciate'certainly in his last term'the importance of the University of Wisconsin System.""
According to Boatright, McCallum sees biotechnology research as an economic asset.
""UW-Madison, through the stem-cell research that's been undertaken here, is clearly on the cutting edge nationally and internationally,"" Boatright said.
Boatright cited graduates of the UW System, research generated within it and grants from the federal government as contributions to the state's economy that may be critical to its recovery from the economic downturn.
""At a point when the rest of the state is suffering, it doesn't really make sense to reduce the one part of the state government, the university, that actually can make a significant difference in helping turn things around,"" Boatright said.