DOA secretary calls for more UW autonomy

Changes recently approved by University of Wisconsin System officials are only part of the work needed to give more autonomy to UW institutions, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said in a Friday visit to UW-La Crosse.

Huebsch applauded Thursday actions by the UW Board of Regents to give more decision-making power to local colleges and universities.

And he called for even more flexibility.

“It’s baby steps,” he said.

Regents approved measures giving more power to local institutions and cutting 51 UW System administration positions because of a $2.5 million budget reduction required by the state. Regent Vice President Brent Smith of La Crosse called the change a departure from how the system has done business for the past 40 years.

The changes allow chancellors more freedom to choose how they spend money and what classes are offered at their colleges.

Giving more responsibilities to university leaders will help them cut administrative costs and keep up with the educational demands of a changing workforce, Huebsch said.

“Some of this flexibility was so we could find the savings,” he said.

Huebsch, a former state lawmaker from West Salem, is a top advisor to Gov. Scott Walker and oversees a state department that handles everything from the state financial management and personnel bureaus to the division of Capitol police.

The structural changes approved by the regents were the extent of what UW officials could do. Any additional flexibility would have to be granted by the Legislature, he said.

While chancellors say the need for more autonomy still exists, state officials have yet to fully examine solutions, Huebsch said. A legislative task force is charged with investigating some of those concerns.

“That question is exactly what needs to be asked,” Huebsch said. “How much autonomy do they need?”