Tuesday, November 22, 2016

FREE BUCKY! Before UW slides down the research rankings more

Late last week, there was another one of those annual reports that seem innocuous, but actually tell a lot. It listed the total amount of filled and authorized positions for each of the campuses and entities that make up the UW System, and it drove me to have an idea that I think would help all sides through the turbulence at the UW caused by Act 10, budget cuts and restrictions on intellectual freedom by the Wisconsin GOP.

If you look at this report, there is a major contrast between where UW-Madison and UW-Extension get their positions funded from in comparison to the rest of the UW System. State taxpayers (via General Purpose Revenue, or GPR) fund about 2/3 of the positions in the other 12 four-year campuses, UW Colleges and System Administration. But at Madison and Extension 2/3 of those positions are not funded by GPR, and are paid by other means, such as federal grants, self-supporting entities and user fees.

Percentage of filled positions funded by GPR
UW-Madison 35.7%
UW-Extension 31.6%
Rest of UW System 66.4%

However, a recent national report indicates that one of those non-GPR sources is being diminished at UW-Madison, and WisGOP's actions are a reason why. UW-Madison sent out a press release today discussing recent rankings from the National Science Foundation, and remarkably admitted that budget cuts in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan is hurting the ability of the university to compete with the elite.
It has been a challenging year for Wisconsin’s top research university, and the ability of the university to keep pace with the nation’s elite research institutions has been affected as the University of Wisconsin–Madison saw its ranking for research activity drop from fourth to sixth.

Data released Nov. 17, 2016, by the National Science Foundation (NSF) show the university remains a research powerhouse with just under $1.1 billion in annual expenditures for research across all fields.

“This is a highly competitive environment,” says UW–Madison Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick, the university’s top research officer. “The numbers show that our faculty and staff are highly successful, although continued disinvestment by the state is having an impact on our ability to compete."

For fiscal year 2015, the latest available figures compiled by NSF, UW–Madison ranked sixth among all U.S. universities, private and public, in the volume of research it conducts as measured by the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey, dropping two notches in the ranking of the more than 600 universities completing the survey. The only universities ranking ahead of UW–Madison were Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, San Diego.

UW-Madison has worked aggressively and, for the most part, successfully to retain faculty in the face of steep state budget cuts. However, the effort to keep top faculty has become more difficult as other states increase their contributions to public higher education and expand their faculty.

“We are extremely proud of our faculty, staff and students but if Wisconsin is to remain at the pinnacle of American research universities, the state will need to reinvest to be sure we have the faculty positions and conditions necessary to attract and retain the best researchers,” says Mailick.
And they certainly won't be able to stay at that pinnacle if the resentment-filled legislators and college dropout Governor continue to diminish funding and the ability to adequately compensate faculty in Madison.

So I’ve got a proposition to make for the WisGOP-run Wisconsin state government. Why don’t you segregate and block-grant the state funding for UW-Madison and UW-Extension (reducing it in the process), and largely leave those entities alone in what they teach and how they get the rest of their money? This would include giving Madison and Extension their own Board of Regents, and limiting influence of the Governor and Legislature on the appointments of those Boards of Regents. It also would allow UW-Madison to set their own tuition to better match market rates for costs, and instead the state could give vouchers of aid for in-state students deciding to go to school in Madison.

On the flip side, use the “savings” from spinning off Madison and Extension to boost state funding of the other UW campuses that don’t have the self-support, research funding and donor base that Madison and Extension have. This will allow Wisconsin’s flagship university to continue to excel in research and in attracting students worldwide without interference from redneck legislators outside of Madison, will allow the opportunity to even further localize UW-Extension, and allow the other UW campuses and organizations a better chance to remain adequately funded and high-quality.

Sure, some of you may find this a little Madison-centric to put Bucky into a different category than the other 4-year schools, and I admit, I am very biased toward the great university I got 2 degrees from. But I think this reiterates that the 40,000+-student flagship has a different mission than the rest of the UW, and whether we want to admit it or not, Madison has a different student and alumni base than the other UW campuses. I think splitting up those two segments (as was the case until the early 1970s) will benefit both sides at this point.

The budget cuts and handcuffing of the competitiveness of the UW System by regressive WisGOPs has exasperated me so much in recent years that if such a split or spin-off is part of the next budget proposal by Governor Walker (as it has been in the last 2), I’m at such a point that I’d say “Go for it.” The old ways of having a partnership between the Capitol and the entire UW System have broken down in the 21st Century due to austerity and anti-intellecutalism that has gripped the ruling GOP, and I think the best way forward is to break the bonds for Madison and Extension, while strengthening them in the other parts of the System located outside of Madtown. And doing so would largely fit the funding mix that already exists for all of those institutions, so the change shouldn’t be much of a disruption at all.

So how bout it, WisGOP? Instead of giving "Go Badgers" tweets on Game Day and screwing the UW every other day, how about FREEING BUCKY to be the best university UW-Madison and the rest of the System can be, so we win in the classroom as well as the playing field?

1 comment:

  1. Tough call, Jake, but I of course sympathize with the heart of it all. I have fears about such a separation, as the idea of a system, though symbolic, means a lot to me, and you can see the wolves already aligning for campus closures, which will come under the guise of performance metrics. Personally, I'd like to see central, as a whole, eliminated, including the president and all associated admin. We have chancellors at every campus who are hamstrung by marching orders from central, but maybe that's a different topic altogether.