Tag Archives: University of Wisconsin System

UW Regents Vote to Merge Universities and Colleges

Whoa. This seems like it went from an idea being floated by Cross to a vote at lightening speed.

Wisconsin’s two-year UW Colleges are set to become branch campuses of nearby four-year universities by the start of the 2018 school year after the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a sweeping and controversial reorganization of the schools Thursday.

The Regents backed the proposal from System President Ray Cross over concerns from former UW Colleges officials, student and faculty groups, Democratic lawmakers and two board members that it lacks key details and was made with minimal input from those  affected by the mergers.

Cross and the plan’s supporters say it will change the unsustainable structure of the UW Colleges while ensuring the predominantly rural communities those institutions serve still have access to local higher education.

A motion to move forward with planning for the reorganization, which would also shift functions of UW Extension under UW-Madison and central System administration, was approved on a voice vote during Thursday’s Regents meeting in Madison.

I’m not a fan of this plan because it does not address the underlying problem. The problem is the demand for most the colleges is dramatically down. This is due to a variety of factors including demographics, the proliferation of online education, and cultural preferences. But instead of addressing the issue, the UW Regents are choosing to try to prop up an expensive and increasingly irrelevant campus infrastructure for the purpose of saving the campuses instead of serving the students.

Cross Floats Merging UW Colleges with Universities

I didn’t realize that demand had shrunk that much.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin System’s two-year schools would merge with its four-year campuses under a plan system President Ray Cross announced Wednesday in hopes of boosting flagging enrollment.

The plan calls for making the system’s 13 two-year schools open regional branches of the 13 four-year schools. Students would still be able to earn associate degrees but they would bear the name of the four-year school. Students would get a wider range of courses to choose from and be able to take third- and fourth-year courses at the branch campus.

For example, two-year school UW-Barron County would cease to exist. Its buildings, faculty and staff would become a branch of UW-Eau Claire. Students who attend the branch campus would earn associate degrees from UW-Eau Claire and could complete four-year degrees through UW-Eau Claire.

The plan is designed to combat declining enrollment at the two-year schools and keep them open. According to a news release from the university system announcing the plan, enrollment at the schools has dropped 32 percent since 2010, costing the schools tuition and fees.

What’s more, system officials fear the number of college-age students will shrink over the next 20 years as Wisconsin’s population ages. The number of people in the state ages 65 to 84 is expected to increase by more than 90 percent by 2040, according to projections from UW-Milwaukee.

[…]

“The dramatic demographic declines in this state are undeniable and we have been working hard to ensure the future viability and sustainability of our small campuses,” Cathy Sandeen, UW Colleges and Extension chancellor, said in the news release.

As a taxpayer-funded public institution, that seems like exactly the wrong focus. If demand is shrinking and the public is moving away from the colleges, then close them down and rein in spending. Especially in this age, it seems that fewer campuses and more online and “branch” style educational offerings would be more appropriate than looking for ways to prop up underused campuses.

UW Policy to Enforce Civil Protests

This policy looks good.

University of Wisconsin System leaders approved a policy Friday that calls for suspending and expelling students who disrupt campus speeches and presentations, saying students need to listen to all sides of issues and arguments.

The Board of Regents adopted the language on a voice vote during a meeting at UW-Stout in Menomonie.

The policy states that students found to have twice engaged in violence or other disorderly conduct that disrupts others’ free speech would be suspended. Students found to have disrupted others’ free expression three times would be expelled.

“Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a university is to teach students how to engage and listen to those with whom they differ,” system President Ray Cross told the regents. “If we don’t show students how to do this, who will? Without civil discourse and a willingness to listen and engage with different voices, all we are doing is reinforcing our existing values.”

That is an incredibly healthy and appropriate statement from Ray Cross. Good for him. Nobody is saying that students can’t protest or express their views. All they are saying is that they can’t bully others into silence without consequences. For the record, that’s how it works in the real world.

UW Officials Balk at Free Speech on Campus

Heh.

The proposed companion budget bill elaborates, stating among other things, that:

  • The UW Board of Regents and each college campus “shall guarantee all members of the system’s community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.”
  • “It is not the proper role of the board or any institution or college campus to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
  • Members of the system’s community are free to criticize and contest views expressed on campus and “speakers who are invited to express their views, (but) they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
  • “The board and each institution and college campus has a responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

Walker’s proposal is raising concern among some members of the UW-Madison campus community that it might, in fact, stifle speech.

Perhaps if UW officials actually respected and protected free speech on campus today, such requirements would not be necessary.

UW Fails Diversity Test

As I discussed in my column a few weeks ago, universities are increasingly monolithic in the thoughts they allow to be expressed on their campuses. Speaker Robin Vos illustrates one example of the lack of diversity in the UW system over on Right Wisconsin.

Our review found roughly $2.7 million was spent on guest speakers in 2015. UW-Milwaukee spent more on speakers than any other school. Not surprisingly, a large number were easily identifiable as being liberal. The same was true with smaller schools. The largest amount paid for a single speaker was at UW-Platteville. Kathy Ober , a former professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst and co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute spoke three times for a total of $45,000. Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, was one of the highest paid speakers for an individual speech at UW-La Crosse last December . The UW System schools have invited actors, writers, musicians and even a local farmer to speak to students, each with a varying price tag to taxpayers.

What is noticeably absent in the top paid speakers to the UW System were individuals with conservative, political or social, perspectives. Within the top 50 taxpayer-funded guest speakers, we identified less than a handful of conservatives. Sure, there could be a plethora of conservatives who refused to accept any honoraria, but I doubt it.

The data suggests that when UW System officials look to invest in an invited guest, more times than not, they’re looking for a liberal-minded individual to disperse information to the young, developing minds who pay them thousands of dollars for their education.

UW Withheld Budget Until Last Minute

It’s pretty amateurish to not check the metadata. I mean, c’mon…

The annual operating budget that University of Wisconsin System officials refused to release publicly until 90 minutes before the Board of Regents approved it was actually finalized last week, contrary to what a system spokesman implied while explaining the delay to reporters, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has learned.

The time stamp of the final modification to the budget document is contained in its meta data, which summarizes basic information about the document’s creation.The document was last modified June 3 at 2:07:58 p.m., and was released to the public six days later, at 1:58 p.m. on Thursday.

Within an hour of its public release, while the regents were actively discussing the budget in their meeting at UW-Milwaukee, an individual concerned about the way it was being handled opened a PDF of the document and traced the final modification through its meta data. That employee shared the information with Eric Sandgren, a professor in the UW-Madison Veterinary School.

Sandgren indepedently confirmed it, and so did the Journal Sentinel.

Tenure Not Needed for Academic Freedom

Except for the part about putting it into law, I agree with Chris Rickert.

Having a job for life might have been tenure’s allure for faculty. For citizens, tenure at a public university should be about the freedom to pursue knowledge even if that knowledge upsets the powerful.

You don’t need job-for-life tenure guarantees for that, though. You need rules like the ones in System policy andstate administrative code saying you can’t get fired for exercising academic freedom. A state law would be nice, too.

Otherwise, it’s only democratic that citizens, through their elected representatives, should have broad powers to shape state universities and their faculties.

If citizens change their minds, they can always elect new representatives. It’s not like the old ones have tenure.

No Confidence

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

The University of Wisconsin System is an integral part of the success of our state. It is not only a primary source of higher education for Wisconsin’s youth, but it is also an economic engine that impacts almost every area of the state. For these reasons, and many others, passions run high whenever changes happen within the system.

That passion is running high right now with the universities’ faculties, as many have passed, or are considering, resolutions expressing their lack of confidence in the leadership of the university system. It started with the faculty of UW-Madison. Then UW-Green Bay and UW-La Crosse followed suit. UW-Eau Claire and other universities are considering doing the same.

While these resolutions do not carry any legal or formal weight, they are an expression of the faculties of those universities. What sparked these resolutions was a change in state law regarding tenure for faculty and the fallout from that change, but the spark set flame to some tinder that has been drying for some time.

Up until a few months ago, Wisconsin was the only state in the union to enshrine tenure protection for UW faculty in the state’s statutes. The Legislature wrote those protections out of the statutes and tasked the UW System leadership with creating tenure protections as a matter of university policy. UW System President Ray Cross and the UW Board of Regents have done just that, but the faculties are not satisfied with the resulting policy. In creating the tenure policy, the UW faculty demanded that tenure protect faculty at all costs — even if their department was eliminated. The Board of Regents’ policy allows for universities to terminate tenured faculty if the university leadership decides to eliminate the position due to educational considerations, comparative costeffectiveness, budgetary concerns and other factors. The faculty wants the university to only consider educational considerations.

Essentially, the faculty wants guaranteed jobs for life, paid for by taxpayers and students, even if there is no longer any justification for their jobs, and even if that means sacrificing other budget priorities like new programs, facilities and safety. The faculty wants tenure to completely insulate them from anything else happening in the world. The Board of Regents wants tenure to protect academic freedom, but allow for universities to take a more holistic approach to staffing decisions.

But the underlying issue is much deeper than just the battle over tenure. At the core is friction over the role of the UW System and the growing frustration that UW has drifted too far from its responsibilities to the citizens of Wisconsin. For decades, the cost of attending UW System universities has risen far more quickly than inflation or the wages of Wisconsinites. At the same time, students and their families, myself included, witness incredible waste on campus in the form of extravagant facilities, required courses of dubious value and courses taught by teaching assistants while professors are unavailable.

While UW faculty are expressing their lack of confidence in their leadership, many citizens of the state they are supposed to serve have lost confidence in the UW System as a whole. Meanwhile, many UW faculty members want impregnable job protections while being paid by taxes and tuition from students and families who enjoy no such protections. If those students lose their jobs, they still have to pay their taxes. They still have to pay off their student loans.

The strength and success of the UW System is incredibly important to Wisconsin, but the definition of success is subject to debate. There is a balance that must be struck in striving for multiple objectives within the reasonable capacity of Wisconsinites to pay.

 

Committee Declines to Split Off UW

Good.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said Tuesday that his committee will not advance a proposal by Walker to split off the University of Wisconsin System and remake it as a public authority.

Fitz: $300 Million Cut to UW May Stay

It is somewhat gratifying to see bureaucratic machinations come back to bite the bureaucrats.

MADISON (WKOW) — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) made it clear to 27 News Thursday that it is very unlikely the state legislature will go out of its way to restore much of the $300 million cut to the UW System proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget.

[…]

“I think with the out-of-state and the graduate student tuition increases that the Regents implemented there probably seems to be even less of a commitment to backfill that,” said Sen. Fitzgerald.

[…]

“I always say put it in context,” said Sen. Fitzgerald. “About a year and a half ago we were all sitting around wondering why the UW System had such a surplus and after we dug into it a little bit further it was more of a campus by campus thing, but I think because of that there are some legislators who still have kind of a bitter taste in their mouth about what do the UW’s finances look like and how solvent are they right now.”

So after hiding hundreds of millions of dollars while crying poor; and jacking up tuition by $6k for out-of-state kids; and failing to advance any real efficiency reforms; there is very little sympathy left in the legislature for UW’s complaints about the governor’s proposed funding cut.

UW regents vote to increase tuition

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents took action last week to jack up tuition by $6,000 over the next two years, and left the door open to even more increases after that. Don’t worry, though — the increase will not affect Wisconsinites … yet.

In Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, he offered to grant the UW system much more autonomy in exchange for a $300 million cut in state funding. That proposal is already meeting an icy reception in the Legislature with members opposing both the size of the cut and the plan for more autonomy.

In reaction to the prospect of a possible reduction in state funding by some yet-to-be-determined amount, the leaders of UW have two choices: They could either find a way to reduce costs, or they could increase revenue. Naturally, they chose to increase revenue.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank proposed increasing revenue in one of the few places she can. Given that the Legislature wisely imposed a freeze on in-state tuition, she proposed a 35 percent increase on tuition for out-of-state students over four years. Her proposal was for a full $10,000 increase that would have made out-of-state tuition $35,523 per year.

With lightning speed and no meaningful debate, the UW regents approved the first half of Blank’s proposal in a voice vote. Tuition for outof- state students at UW-Madison will increase by $6,000 per year by 2016 — far more than the actual cost of education. The immediate and instinctive reaction by UW’s leadership is concerning on a number of levels.

Philosophically, the automatic turn to a tuition increase instead of looking for efficiencies and cost reductions is troubling. For decades, the cost of higher education has increased much faster than the rate of inflation. It is the climbing cost of higher education that is driving rampant student debt and making it more difficult for the middle class to afford a college education. But while the price of higher education in Wisconsin has increased faster than people’s ability to pay, the quality of that education has not measurably improved at the same pace. It just costs more for the same product.

While it makes sense for some costs, like new technology, to increase faster than inflation, it is difficult to explain why the cost of a professor imparting knowledge to a class full of students has increased so quickly. When one digs deeper into the enormous building projects and bloated administrative staff, the reasons for the cost increases become much clearer.

When faced with a slight reduction in revenue (less than 5 percent with Walker’s full cut), UW was unable to even consider any significant cuts to keep tuition affordable. Since the tuition increase, Blank has announced a reduction of 400 jobs, but it has since been learned that the vast majority of those jobs are already vacant and unnecessary. It was window dressing designed to encourage students, staff and alumni to activism rather than a serious executive looking to seriously manage a revenue shortfall.

The UW regents are raising tuition on out-of-state students for obvious reasons. They can; and they think, probably correctly, that Wisconsinites will not be too upset at it because it does not impact tuition for them. But the increasing imbalance between in-state and out-of-state tuition adds political pressure to eventually raise in-state tuition too. After all, they will argue, is it fair to make out-of-state kids subsidize the education of Wisconsin’s kids?

The tuition increase also affirms what many legislators have been saying in regards to UW: They cannot be trusted with more autonomy and they cannot be allowed unfettered power over tuition. They have not demonstrated the slightest willingness, much less an ability, to control costs.

UW-Madison’s chancellor and the regents have gotten their tuition increase and a slight reprieve from having to make difficult decisions, but in doing so they have demonstrated why they must be actively managed by the state’s elected leaders. (Owen Robinson is a blogger at bootsandsabers.com and a resident of West Bend.)

Tying Tuition to Inflation

Eh

Walker’s budget calls for cutting $300 million from the system and extending a freeze on resident undergraduate tuition to July 1, 2017. In exchange the system would be free of state oversight starting in July 2016.

The plan has left students and legislators worried that the Board of Regents could dramatically increase tuition when the freeze ends.

Walker’s administration sent a letter to the leaders of the Legislature’sfinance committee on Monday saying the governor was modifying his proposal to limit post-freeze tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Walker has hinted since February he may impose tuition caps.

What I don’t like about this proposal is that it assumes that the current tuition is appropriate compared to the average Wisconsinite’s other relative costs. Is it? Could it cost less and still provide the same or better education? Just because a family’s other expenses increase, does that automatically mean that tuition should go up by the same amount? Why? Why shouldn’t the legislature’s efforts go into driving down the price of tuition relative to a family’s overall expenditures as a tuition freeze does over time? Wouldn’t that be preferable to locking in automatic tuition increases every year? And yes… I assume that if this is in place that UW would jack up tuition by the rate of inflation every year if they were able to.

UW Regents Approve Tuition Hike

There’s so much to say about this that perhaps I’ll make a column out of it.

MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System regents have approved raising tuition for out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students at most of the system’s four-year schools starting next year.

The regents approved the increases during a meeting at UW-Waukesha on Friday. Plans call for raising tuition by hundreds of dollars at schools in La Crosse, Milwaukee, Parkside, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point, Stout and Whitewater this fall. Tuition for nonresident students and graduate students in a number of programs at UW-Madison by thousands of dollars by 2016.

Quick hits since I only have a few minutes…

  • In the face of a cut that hasn’t happened yet, UW’s first reaction is to jack up tuition where they could. That’s telling and exactly why the legislature should neither lift the resident tuition cap nor give them more autonomy.
  • This happened very quickly… in less than a week from proposal to passage. The Board of Regents acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp. It was an incredible display of intellectual laziness that undermines the justification for having a Board of Regents in the first place. If they are just going to rubber stamp what the administrators want, then why bother with the charade of governance?
  • Speaking of the regents, where is Governor Walker commenting on the action by the regents he appointed to jack up tuition? Specifically, what the heck is wrong with Margaret Farrow?
  • This whole episode shows that UW’s leadership is completely out of touch with the real problems facing the middle class. The cost of higher education is ridiculously inflated to the point that middle class families can’t afford it without taking on massive amounts of debt, but instead of addressing the cost of education, they just go after more cash from those same middle class families.
  • Whenever a cut to UW is proposed, they react by saying that the decrease in funding will result in degrading the quality of education. If the quality of education has a linear relationship with the dollars spent, then can the UW leaders show how these out-of-state kids will get a better education for a 35% hike in tuition? If 35% more money doesn’t equal 35% better education, is the inverse true too? Can we cut UW by 35% and provide the same quality of education? I bet we could.

Cut to UW State Aid in Dispute

It’s odd to see the Senate being firmer on this, but it’s a good sign.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to grant the University of Wisconsin System autonomy from state oversight and laws appears to be on “life support,” although his proposed $300 million cut is unlikely to change, key Republican lawmakers said Tuesday.

Sustaining the full cut – which amounts to 13 percent of state aid the university currently receives – without getting the freedom from state oversight that UW has been seeking for years would be a worst-case scenario for university leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he didn’t see the $300 million cut changing much, putting him at odds with his fellow Republican, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and others who have said they hope to see it lowered to $200 million or less.

“I don’t see it being reduced at all where we are right now,” Fitzgerald said.

I’m still not convinced that $300 million is the right number, but I am more convinced that granting UW more autonomy is not the right way to go. It is good to see a serious debate about taxpayer funding, autonomy, tuition, and the appropriate role of the university system.

Mindset of a Regent

This little part of a story about the UW regents meeting about the proposed state budget was revealing.

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow said he’s committed to avoiding layoffs, noting his employees were not responsible for the budget shortfall that prompted the cuts and shouldn’t lose jobs because of it. He said other cost-saving measures could include outsourcing campus maintenance and getting by with 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,” he said.

Let’s break this down into segments. First:

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow said he’s committed to avoiding layoffs, noting his employees were not responsible for the budget shortfall that prompted the cuts and shouldn’t lose jobs because of it.

Notice that the priority is to protect the employees as if the primary function of the university is to provide jobs. It is not. Even the so-called “Wisconsin Idea” doesn’t mention job creation as a goal of the university system. Yet, Chancellor Gow’s first priority is not to protect student services, education, research, etc., it is to protect the employees from being impacted by the budget.

Second:

He said other cost-saving measures could include outsourcing campus maintenance and getting by with fewer janitors.

Notice how when Gow talks about “employees,” he doesn’t apparently mean maintenance or janitorial staff. Who is included in Gow’s definition of “employees” who are worthy of such rigid protection? He doesn’t elaborate, but we know that maintenance staff aren’t in that protected class.

Third:

But students will feel the cuts, he said.

And the inevitable threat. So while Gow is hellbent on protecting employees, he is promising that students will be impacted. Apparently he is no capable of managing a 2.5% system funding cut without negatively impacting the core mission of the university – educating kids.

Fourth:

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

While I don’t automatically accept, as fact, the 1998 comparison, notice the assumption that spending MUST increase. In an era when technology is enabling incredible efficiencies in the service delivery, the university is apparently immune from those forces. Perhaps if 21st century higher education leveraged 21st century tools effectively, they could deliver the same or better service with 1988 funding levels.

Unfortunately, Gow’s mindset reveals a remarkable amount of rigidity and a lack of innovation that does not lend itself well to the active management of a complex budget. More unfortunately, I don’t believe that Gow’s mindset is unique on the Board of Regents.

 

Funding UW

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

“The Legislature finds it in the public interest to provide a system of higher education which enables students of all ages, backgrounds and levels of income to participate in the search for knowledge and individual development; which stresses undergraduate teaching as its main priority … .”

That is how chapter 36 of Wisconsin’s state statutes begins in establishing the University of Wisconsin System. The relationship between the state and UW is clear. The state founded and financed UW primarily for the purpose of educating Wisconsin’s kids. UW has many subordinate missions and is a major engine for economic development in the state, but its primary purpose is, and has always been, to provide an affordable higher education for Wisconsin’s kids.

The statute does not, however, say how much the state taxpayers should spend on UW. That is a question that is answered every budget cycle.

Many taxpayers have become frustrated with UW because its spending priorities appear to be out of alignment with its primary mission. Before Gov. Scott Walker imposed a freeze, tuition had been rising much faster than inflation.

Meanwhile, professors are regularly replaced in the classroom with graduate students or adjunct staff, students are required to pay for seemingly useless courses and the money seems to be spent on just about everything except improving education for a reasonable cost. Taxpayers rightfully wonder why they must keep spending more of their tax dollars on a system that is becoming increasingly unaffordable while skimping on actual education.

This debate over the appropriate level of taxpayer funding for UW is the backdrop for Walker’s recent proposal to substantially cut that funding.

Walker’s proposal is to cut UW taxpayer funding by $300 million, or about 13 percent, in the next budget. Walker would also continue to impose the tuition freeze for the next two years. In exchange, the state would convert the UW system into a public authority, which would give UW much more autonomy, and fund UW with a block grant that would be indexed to inflation.

All things considered, Walker’s full proposal should not be passed into law.

In the short term, Walker’s proposal to cut funding and maintain the tuition freeze is a good idea. The $300 million is not chump change, but it is only 5 percent of UW’s budget.

Given how many Wisconsin families and businesses have had to trim back at least 5 percent of their budgets, it is not too much to ask for UW to do the same. Also, the continuation of the tuition freeze is good for Wisconsin families and helps to keep higher education more affordable.

The problem with Walker’s plan is in the long term. Making UW a public authority would make it much less accountable to the taxpayers.

The Legislature would no longer have the authority over most of UW’s decisions — including setting tuition. That would mean that UW’s unelected regents would have almost complete autonomy in spending over a billion dollars of state tax dollars every year — not to mention over the massive amount of state land and resources that UW possesses. The immediate threat would be a massive tuition hike in three years, but that could be just the start for an autonomous system spending taxpayer money.

It is in the taxpayer funding that the second major flaw lies. Walker is proposing to fund UW with a block grant that would be indexed to inflation. In other words, it would be a fixed pile of spending that goes up every budget over without the legislature having the power to change it. It would set the funding for UW outside of the normal budget debates as an entitlement that forever increases.

The two provisions combined would mean a virtually independent, unelected, organization would get to spend billions of taxpayer dollars without the taxpayers having input into the level of taxpayer funding, or the management of that funding, through their elected representatives.

That is not an idea that is good for the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

The Legislature should pass the first half of Walker’s proposal and toss out the second half. They should cut spending and maintain the tuition freeze, but maintain legislative control of UW and their funding.

Yes, it will mean that elected officials will have to continue debate the relationship between UW and the citizens of Wisconsin and, yes, it will mean that tough choices will have to be made. That is what we elect them to do.

(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)

Walker Proposed $400 Million Cut to UW System

In exchange for more autonomy for the university system.

As part of the UW plan, Walker would turn the system into a public authority. Walker will call in his budget for another two-year freeze on tuition for undergraduates who hail from Wisconsin. After that, the system will have the authority to increase tuition on its own.

UW President Ray Cross said the cuts are “substantial.” Still, he said the public authority status, similar to the relationship UW Hospital has with the state, would give the system the ability to manage on its own things like procurement and some building projects.

“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families.”

We have had this ongoing debate in Wisconsin about the relationship between the taxpayers and the university system. There is no question that the state university is a tremendous value for the state both in terms of educating the population and economic development. It is a critical piece of Wisconsin’s puzzle.

The taxpayers get frustrated when they see tuition rising sharply for their kids while they see the universities spending money on things seemingly unrelated to education. The taxpayers rightfully wonder why they are spending so much of the state’s resources on the universities if they are not using that money to fulfill a primary function of the system – to educate the kids of Wisconsin.

On the other side, the university wants more independence to make decisions without the oversight of the taxpayers. They argue that the university has many missions, including education, that they can better fulfill without state management.

Walker’s proposal seeks to meet some of both demands. It would give the university system more of the independence it wants while reducing the exposure of the taxpayers for those decisions.

One thing I don’t like about the plan is that it turns the funding for the university into a block grant that is indexed to inflation. This makes the funding more automatic to give certainty to the university officials, but it also makes the funding much more inaccessible to the legislature to change. One thing we don’t need in Wisconsin is another huge part of the state budget that is set aside to automatically increase without the active control of the legislature.

We will have to see more details of the plan as it unfolds. How much independence are we talking about? How will the cuts be spread out? We’ll have to see.

 

 

UW’s Tin Ear

John Torinus has an excellent column regarding the organization of the UW System. Read the whole thing.

Credit UW – Madison for also having a tin ear.

Economic development in Wisconsin is largely happening at the regional level. The regions are smart enough to know that it is engineers who are the fulcrum for business expansions, innovations and startups in their parts of the state. They know those three ingredients are the basis for new jobs, better wages and prosperity. The state could use a lot more engineers.

So why doesn’t Chancellor Blank listen to the leaders in those regions? The University was founded on the bedrock of the Wisconsin Idea, which says that the boundaries of the university (including the flagship campus) are the boundaries of the state.

We Badgers all love our world-class University of Wisconsin – Madison and what it does for the world. But it needs to be global-local. It needs do break-through research, turn out national leaders, but also tend to the needs of the state. It needs to multi-task. It should assist rather than thwart the engineering consortium, which will inevitably become a source of transfers and graduate engineering students for the high-end Madison campus.

Regents, take note: a lot of good students can’t get into Madison out of high school. A lot of them can’t afford to go UW – Madison; they need to live at home and start their college careers locally. They are place-bound for one reason or another.

Part of the erosion of the Wisconsin Idea is structural; part is cultural; part is financial.