Monday, November 6, 2017

Merger, reliance on donors and top-down decisions set UW up to fail

November 2nd featured a couple of articles in UW-Madison's Daily Cardinal that gives a good insight into the fiscal state of things inside the state’s flagship institution, and the plans for the rest of the System. Neither story will do much to calm the nerves of those of us who don’t like the recent direction of things for the UW.

The first article is from Nina Bertelsen titled “The public university’s future in private funding.” Bertelsen gets to talk to UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank, and gets a startling but also unsurprising admission from her.
While UW will always maintain close ties to the legislature as a state agency, “state funding will never play the role in the future that it has in the past,” Blank said.

Many states in the upper Midwest lost economic ground in the past decade, meaning they have greater financial burdens in areas like corrections and transportation. That diverts state dollars away from funding higher education, which makes it difficult for campuses to keep pace with increasing costs.

“The financial management of public schools has become more similar to the financial management of private schools,” Blank said. “One needs to generate multiple sources of revenue.”

At UW-Madison, the largest source of income is national research grants given to professors, which account for about 30 percent of the total budget. Tuition is the second-largest source, at 19 percent, followed by private giving at 17 percent and state funding at 15 percent. About a fifth of the school’s revenue is from auxiliaries and operating receipts — like dorms and dining halls — a “money in, money out” business, according to the chancellor.
Interestingly, Bertelsen also talks to UW Foundation/Alumni Association President Michael Knetter, who mentions that UW-Madison is last in revenue growth among a group of 10 large public research schools they consider to be their peers.

This reality of lower state support and a large donor and research base is why I’ve called for several years to have UW-Madison be put into a different category from the rest of the System, and away from the overbearing actions of a GOP-ALEC crew at the Capitol that seems determined to make Madison a second-rate institution.

The other intriguing Cardinal article involves UW System President Ray Cross’s recently announced plans to merge the two-year UW Colleges with several four-year UW campuses. If you dig into Noah Habenstriet’s piece, you’ll find more evidence that Cross’s secrecy and insularity in putting this plan together is making it more disliked, and likely less effective.
Sheboygan city council members argue that the school should merge with UW-Milwaukee because the four-year school is “one of the leading economic drivers in the region.”

"I think the opportunities that UW-Milwaukee and their credentials — I think they're a better fit for Sheboygan than having those students going up to Green Bay," Jim Bohren, one of the city council members who drafted the resolution, told the Sheboygan Press.

The city officials, as well as some students, say it is counterintuitive for UW-Sheboygan to merge with UW-Green Bay when Milwaukee is logistically closer. Ian Goakey, vice president of UW-Sheboygan’s Student Government Association, said that personally, he would rather the school stay with UW-Green Bay because of his own “concerns with transferable credits,” but that as a student representative, the plan seems questionable.
In addition to somewhat arbitrary decisions being made by Cross and UW Administration as to which Colleges and campuses are matched (State Sen. Janet Bewley made a similar complaint with UW-Barron merging with Eau Claire instead of Superior), the merger seems to fly in the face of a recent curriculum changed that already matched up some Colleges with 4-year UW schools.
“There are a lot of unknowns which haven't been answered, particularly for the collaborative degree programs currently offered with UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh,” Sara Kroneck, a UW-Sheboygan student representative, said.

These collaborative programs are different at each school, but most allow two-year students to take classes in an analogous four-year school’s program and often create an easier transfer process for those students. UW-Washington County business program’s partnership with UW-Oshkosh is a good example.
What’s also disturbing about both of these articles is that an increasingly small and elite group of interests are driving finances and decision-making at the UW, with students and faculty being locked out. It seems quite ironic to hear righties complain about “out-of-touch academics in ivory towers”, when in fact the increasingly privatized Madison campus and pro-Walker Board of Regents are the ones carrying out orders that seem to have little to do with improving the quality and day-to-day operations of the schools.

But maybe that’s not surprising at all, since the real reason Republicans dislike an independent UW is that such an institution might produce inconvenient truths and opinions that lead more people to question the corporatist agenda that is running the state into the ground. The WisGOPs would rather invent their own reality than deal with the one outside, and so this is why they try to hamstring the UW and make it beholden to the interests of big money and the political hacks that make up most of the Regents these days.

I’ve got a better suggestion- why don’t we allow Madison to be freed of the influence of the dimwitted, resentment-driven trash in the Legislature in exchange for some of its state funding to be sent to the other 4-year campuses (who need the funding more)? The rest of the System can operate under the shared-governance system that worked so well for decades, instead of being held under the thumb of an increasingly anti-academic Board of Regents.

And the implementation of changes like Ray Cross’s proposed merger just might work out better, because they’d get input from the people most affected. Imagine that! A better product from the UW with more efficiency and better morale from the people that have to deal with the changes? Sounds like good business to me!


  1. I think most people would be astonished to see just how little the state puts into UW-Madison.

    It could well be argued that the state receives far more from Bucky than it gives. I would love to hear one of our Gov candidates make that argument and back it up forcefully.

    1. Agree. It's a helluva lot better investment than anything we'll get out of Foxconn, that's for sure.

  2. Something like this maybe -

    I wouldn't necessarily take his every word as gospel truth as he's certainly a "friendly" source; I might even call it more of an internal review, but it's good to see somebody make a strong case for the positive economic results of having a top shelf university in the state.