Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that University of Wisconsin System faculty and staff could increase their workload to reduce the impact of his proposed $300 million budget cut.

Walker announced this week that the proposed cuts, along with a two-year tuition freeze, would be part of his two-year budget proposal to be delivered to the Legislature on Tuesday. In return, the UW System would be converted into a public authority with more autonomy, though it’s unclear how much money that would save.

University officials have said they might have to lay off employees in the short term, and then raise tuition starting in 2017.

UW System President Ray Cross sent a memo to his administration employees Wednesday saying the proposed cuts would require cost-containment measures, beginning immediately with a hiring freeze on non-essential state-funded positions, a moratorium on out-of-state travel and a halt to any salary adjustments or promotions until further notice.

Walker said UW campuses might be able to tap into their reserves to offset the cuts, but he emphasized “it will make them do things that they have not traditionally done.”

“They might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class per semester,” Walker told reporters Wednesday in Madison. “Things like that could have a tremendous impact on making sure that we preserve an affordable education for all of our UW campuses, and at the same time we maintain a high-quality education.”

Vince Sweeney, vice chancellor for university relations at UW-Madison, said the most recent survey data found UW-Madison faculty spend 50 to 70 hours per week teaching and supporting students, participating in research and other activities.

“It should be noted that many also bring in millions of dollars in grant funding that is a direct boost to the Wisconsin economy,” Sweeney said. “Many create their own companies, which go on to create state jobs. We value their work greatly.”

Grant Petty, president of PROFS Inc., the professional group representing UW-Madison professors, said he doesn’t know any UW faculty who don’t already spend 50 hours a week or more doing what are considered the “essential duties” of their job.

“As Governor Walker knows from his own family background, a pastor’s job doesn’t start and stop with the Sunday sermon,” Petty said. “The same is true of university professors and the classroom.”

Petty, a meteorology professor, said a three-credit course typically requires 10 to 15 hours per week of preparation, grading and meeting with students to help them understand the material. He teaches two classes, and also works one-on-one with graduate students, often competing for federal grants to help support those students. He also is expected to stay current with issues and publish in the fields of his expertise.

“I was not able to tell from the governor’s statement which of these things he thought we should do less of to make room for more of something else,” Petty said.

System officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Walker reiterated that his proposal — which amounts to a 13 percent cut in state support for the state’s 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges plus another two-year tuition freeze — is effectively “Act 10 for the UW System,” a reference to the 2011 law that largely eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees.

He said concerns raised by university leaders about potential layoffs are the same complaints that school boards and superintendents made four years ago, when Walker made historic cuts to K-12 education. Those were largely absorbed by teachers and other K-12 staff paying more toward pension and health insurance premiums.

But Walker has argued the elimination of union contracts that dictated hiring and firing and other workplace rules has given school districts the flexibility to control their budgets more like a private business.

Schools, vouchers, rural issues

Asked about his plans for K-12 funding in his upcoming biennial budget proposal, Walker said, “We’re going to try and keep them largely intact.”

Walker told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night that he plans to expand school choice. Asked about it Wednesday, he said he won’t divulge more details until his budget address next Tuesday.

Also at an annual meeting of Chippewa Valley business and community leaders in Madison, Walker unveiled how his budget will address rural issues, including:

• An additional $8.4 million in sparsity aid over the biennium, an extra $5 million for the high-cost pupil transportation categorical aid program and an increase in the reimbursement rate for districts transporting students more than 12 miles from $275 to $300 per pupil, all of which was requested by DPI.

• Allowing school districts to enter into whole grade-sharing agreements and consolidate individual grades offered at multiple school sites into one educational program for the grade.

• $55 million in 2017 plus the diversion of $60 million in existing Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. funds to regional revolving loan funds for rural economic development.

• $24 million to reduce water pollution through increased nutrient and runoff management planning, contaminated sediment removal and other pollution abatement practices.

• $6 million from the Universal Service Fund for broadband expansion, plus up to $25 million from an E-rate fund to expand broadband access in schools.

• More than $9 million to fund the 4 percent increase for general transportation aids approved in the 2013-15 budget.

• $4 million for dam repair, reconstruction and removal projects.

• $3 million over the biennium for certain new job programs.

• Seeking a Medicaid waiver for a three-county demonstration pilot project for certain dental procedures.

• $2 million in the second year of biennium to increase services for child sex trafficking victims in rural areas.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.