• WisBusiness

Monday, February 28, 2011

Walker's UW-Madison plan would dismantle UW System

By Bernie Patterson
Wisconsin’s public universities are better together.

Better together to spur economic development across Wisconsin.

Better together to advance the Wisconsin Idea—that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.

Better together to provide world-class options in higher education to the citizens of Wisconsin within a university system that is the envy of the world.

In the nearly 40 years since the formation of the University of Wisconsin System, its 13 four-year institutions have developed a combined standard of excellence, while each created its own set of strengths that make a wonderfully diverse, relevant, and accessible set of options for the students we serve.

Here at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, for instance:

* Our undergraduate biology program is widely considered to be the finest in the UW System;

* Our College of Natural Resources is the largest, and best undergraduate program of its kind in the world;

* We produce more graduates who go on to earn research doctorates than any other regional UW university;

* We consistently lead the entire UW System, including Madison, in the percentage of our graduates who have studied abroad;

* Our fine arts programs are award-winning and nationally competitive;

* Our School of Education, the cornerstone of the university, is among the Midwest’s finest.

Similarly outstanding records have been built across the UW System since its formation in 1971. Is it any wonder that three of our universities, including UW-Stevens Point, are ranked in the U.S. News Top Ten Public Universities in the Midwest? The UW prestige that the UW comprehensive universities helped to build is known worldwide.

We have recently and urgently asked you to understand the differences between our institution and the fully funded state agencies with which we are wrongly bundled in your Budget Repair Bill and its surrounding restrictions on unionized employees (our faculty and academic staff members are non-union). We now ask you, in the strongest of terms, to understand the advantages we offer, and those that the other UW institutions offer to this state are not interchangeable commodities. Through the collaborations we build as system partners come efficiencies and enterprise. These will wither away, though, if we are divided as competitors vying for increasingly limited resources in ways that we do not today.

In the case of UW-Stevens Point alone, we

* Collaborate with UW-Madison to offer a clinical doctorate in audiology on our campus. This unique degree program would be at risk under your plan;

* Receive more than $1 million to operate several centers related to natural resources and science education, a tremendous resource for all of Wisconsin, but that funding comes through the UW-Extension, which would be jeopardized under your plan to dismantle the UW System;

* Provide benefit for the state and nation through our forestry research that is partially funded through UW-Madison under the principles of Land Grant education, principles your plan would severely damage.

This list, and the list that precedes it, could go on and on. Governor Walker, we have a record of success to build upon, and a story we would like you to get to know, much better, before you pursue your plans to dismantle the UW System.

Frankly, we believe that a key to our success over the past generation has come with our university’s first name. We also understand that your plan to spin-off UW-Madison will include allowing that university to take the UW identity with it. Although our proud history here at Stevens Point goes back to 1894, and has included various institutional identities, our best years, thus far, have been as UW-Stevens Point. We believe that even better years lie ahead.

To lose the UW brand and prestige—that we helped establish and build—in today’s highly competitive climate will cause irreparable harm. You are looking for ways to better administer UW-Madison in the 21st century, but you’ll be sending UW-Stevens Point back to the 19th century with the plan you have chosen.

Yes, we agree with you, Governor Walker, that a public authority is the answer. A public authority for the University of Wisconsin System. Not just a single institution. An innovative move like this, on your part, would lift us all from under a costly and restrictive bureaucracy. This would stamp your administration as one that made the right calls to move Wisconsin forward for years to come. Your legacy could take the UW System to even greater heights, or it could be marked by the relegation of public higher education to a second-class experience for our students.

We need you to take your current plan to dismantle the UW System out of your budget proposal and let it be addressed through legislative procedure that includes time for all voices to be heard. Time for our alumni, who report a 99 percent satisfaction rate with their alma mater, to be heard. And time for you, personally, to come to our university to hear our students as they tell you about the futures they see for themselves, the trails they want to blaze, and the concerns they now share under the specter of your proposal.

My candor reflects my responsibility to the people of UW-Stevens Point and my own conviction that we must be allowed to reach our full potential through the transformational power of higher education.

We are part of the SOLUTION. Please hear us. Please see us for yourself. Please take the time to understand the contributions our university and the entire University of Wisconsin System have made to our state, our potential to help lead us all to better days, and the urgency for you to put forth a plan to keep the UW System together.

-- Patterson is the chancellor of UW-Stevens Point.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin-led ‘IceCube’ project redefines astrophysics – and Big Science

By Tom Still
John Wiley, the former UW-Madison chancellor, is a physicist by training, and accustomed to his profession’s penchant to undersell its accomplishments to any audience – except other physicists.

So when Dr. Michael DuVernois described the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in low-key, even humble, terms to a recent Madison meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network, Wiley jolted the crowd with a description that left no doubt about how he felt about the project.

Wiley called the decade-long effort to build a giant sub-ice telescope in the Antarctic “heroic,” given the unrelentingly harsh conditions at the bottom of the world, and compared IceCube to engineering feats as renowned as the Pyramids of Giza and the Panama Canal.

Perhaps there’s a bit of hyperbole in Wiley’s remarks, given his long association with the UW-Madison and his pride in a project that exemplifies the university’s expertise in exploratory science. But when people turn a billion tons of pristine ice into a telescope searching for one of the most elusive particles in the universe, a certain amount of bragging is OK.

Completed about two months ago after 10 years of research, planning and construction, IceCube is the world’s largest neutrino observatory. It was built at a cost of $271 million, mostly from the National Science Foundation, to find extremely high-energy neutrinos – tiny subatomic particles –originating from supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts and black holes. Scientists believe it will dramatically expand knowledge of astrophysics and “dark matter,” which makes up much of the universe.

Unlike other large-scale science projects, IceCube began collecting data while construction was underway and has been recording particle events since early 2005. Each year, as the detector grew, more and higher-quality data made its way from the South Pole to UW-Madison and around the world. IceCube is now recording about 100 neutrino passages daily, a startling number given scientists once believed they would never actually “see” a neutrino.

Neutrinos are excellent cosmic messengers. With no electrical charge and almost no mass, they pass unscathed through most matter, moving through the universe in a direct path from their cosmic origins. IceCube can detect neutrinos and other subatomic particles thanks to 86 optical sensor strings sunk deep in the South Pole ice. How deep? About two kilometers, which means the 5,160 individual sensors on those strings are using 10,000-year-old ice as a three-dimensional telescope to see what otherwise cannot be seen.

The process of drilling into the ice below the NSF’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole station was an engineering marvel, made only more difficult by perpetually frigid temperatures (the record high is 7 degrees and the winter average approaches -100 degrees). Much of the work was coordinated through the UW-Madison, one of about three-dozen partners from nearly a dozen nations.

If IceCube sounds like a giant science project to keep a bunch of astrophysicists happily occupied in a search for the unknown, that’s true. That’s how a lot of science works. In fact, most practical applications of science over time were the coincidental or even accidental results of research done for the sake of discovery.

“In the end,” Wiley said, “our goal is to provide insights into the nature of neutrinos and the universe that might someday be used to make the science fiction of today the reality of tomorrow.”

DuVernois said some reality may be emerging. Commercial opportunities surrounding IceCube already includes innovation in drilling technologies, electronics, software and field techniques. The future may also yield breakthroughs in radio detection, phototube replacement, scintillation crystals, forecasting disruptive solar storms and more. On the pure exploratory side, early mapping of particle paths shows “currently unexplained patterns” about cosmic ray arrival directions.

Exploratory science doesn’t always pay off in a commercial sense right away. In fact, it rarely does. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is nonetheless an example of how “Big Science” can benefit everyone – and how researchers in Wisconsin have played a crucial role.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. -- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Capitol protests offer opportunity to rebrand Wisconsin –- for better or worse

By Tom Still
Is the new Wisconsin brand destined to become “We’re open for business” or “We’re at war with ourselves”?

That question is on the minds of many in the business community, nationally as well as in Wisconsin, as the mass protests surrounding Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair legislation continue to capture national and even international attention.

From major newspapers and broadcast networks to countless Facebook pages; from Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Greta Van Susteren on the talk-show right to Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz on the talker left; the political drama playing out in Madison has focused public attention on what’s at stake in Wisconsin.

In part, it’s a national showcase on democracy in action in a state that prides itself on being politically engaged. Even Walker, who needs to plug a giant hole in Wisconsin’s budget and has confronted organized labor to help get there, said “the thousands of people who are storming the Capitol have every right to be heard…”

It’s also a rare, even unprecedented opportunity for people outside Wisconsin to learn about our civic fabric and our ability to solve problems. In short, it’s a chance for outsiders to see what makes us tick, other than the Green Bay Packers and plastic cheeseheads.

So far, the message being sent to the world isn’t all that encouraging. In the black-and-white world of talk-show journalism, Wisconsin is either an overtaxed haven for socialistic union goons or a state led by selfish “dictators” bent on crushing working people. (If you don’t believe the latter, take a look at the protest signs that compare first-term governor Walker to Mubarak, Mussolini or Hitler – after only 45 days in office!)

Consider what else people outside Wisconsin, especially business and investment professionals the state would like to attract, are seeing and hearing:

* They’re being told Wisconsin is a high-tax state, when in fact it has begun to slip out of the top 10 states by most measures and recently enacted new regulatory and business tax incentives.

* They’re learning that many Wisconsin public schools are closed because teachers are protesting, an image that undermines a key state brand – reliable, quality education.

* They’re seeing Democratic members of the state Senate flee to Illinois to avoid a quorum, a move that could signal Wisconsin’s political system is dysfunctional when, in fact, the Legislature often stands out as a model of decorum and professionalism among the 50 states.

Whether they are owned by companies, movie stars or states, valuable brands can be harmed by self-inflicted wounds – or reinforced when a serious challenge is reasonably and openly confronted.

That’s the branding task confronting Wisconsin now that people from outside the state are watching and, in many cases, defining our own brand for us. Wisconsin cannot afford to be seen as a circus in a snow globe, which would be the end result if the real and pressing issues surrounding Walker’s budget repair bill aren’t resolved in good time.

If those issues are resolved, however, Wisconsin will be seen as a state that peacefully came to grips with a redefined relationship between taxpayers, government and public employees.

That’s a brand that would go far beyond cheeseheads and the Packers. It would build upon the state’s historic reputation for public innovation and send a message, loud and clear, that Wisconsin is not only “open for business” but open to the many types of people and groups who help underpin a vibrant business climate.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why the business community should take notice of WEAC’s school reform plan

By Tom Still
It’s easy to be cynical about the plan for school reform offered by the statewide teachers’ union… almost too easy.

Yes, the proposal by the Wisconsin Education Association Council could have been floated at any time during the eight-year term of former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat the union supported.

Yes, WEAC could have put forward its ideas for improving teacher quality, rewarding top teachers and fixing Milwaukee Public Schools last year before the federal government rejected Wisconsin’s application for “Race to the Top” money.

And, yes, the leadership at WEAC certainly saw the handwriting on the chalkboard when Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated Legislature swept the November elections.

Everyone knows all of that, however, so it doesn’t take Prince Machiavelli to plot the obvious politics surrounding the WEAC plan. Simply put, the union is trying to stay ahead of the train.

But what really matters is that front-line educators have signaled they’re ready for school reform – changes that could build a smarter, better-prepared workforce for Wisconsin. It’s an offer that should not be shrugged off with an early dismissal bell.

For the first time, WEAC has endorsed reforms it previously opposed. Those include:

* Dropping a teacher pay schedule that rewarded longevity and advanced degrees but little else. The union now supports “merit pay” based on performance, national certification, leadership roles, and how teachers handle more difficult assignments such as bilingual or special education, or teaching in under-performing schools.

* Adopting student test results, a peer review panel, mentoring and other factors to root out ineffective teachers.

* Breaking up the state’s largest school district, Milwaukee Public Schools, into six smaller units within four years.

After WEAC’s announcement last week, Walker praised the proposal and even telephoned the union’s president, Mary Bell, to congratulate her. Then again, that olive branch was quickly followed by Walker’s budget adjustment bill proposals to dramatically limit the power of public employee unions – including the teachers’ union itself.

For now, let’s assume a foundation for constructive conversation still exists. What should be the role of public education’s ultimate consumers – businesses and the communities in which their employees live and work?

That role should be to support school reform, which is vital to Wisconsin’s economic prosperity.

Study after study has revealed that American schools aren’t producing enough students who can compete in the global economy. That’s true even in Wisconsin, which prides itself on above-average performance in college placement scores, high-school graduation rates and more.

Trouble is, students in other nations are pulling ahead of their American counterparts by most measures – especially in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called “STEM” disciplines. According to federal data, job openings requiring expertise in STEM fields will increase by 18.3 percent through 2014. Many of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing industries and its highest-demand jobs are in fields that require rigorous training in science, technology, engineering and math.

Unless Wisconsin can produce more high-school graduates who are proficient in those disciplines and more, state businesses won’t be able to fill critical jobs. Businesses that cannot find the workers they need close to home are often forced to expand elsewhere – hardly a formula for success. Poorly educated students rarely become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

That is particularly true in the Milwaukee area, where the state’s largest school district is failing to educate many children. The largest city in Wisconsin cannot prosper without good schools, which are necessary over the long haul if Milwaukee hopes to renew its economy and its civic life.

It’s easy to be cynical about WEAC’s new-found religion, but it’s also important to understand how the union works. Its leaders have been open to change for years, but have typically encountered stiff, behind-the-scenes opposition from old-school local bargaining units. On the other hand, about one-third of all WEAC members identify themselves as Republicans – a demographic that could back reform unless they feel backed into a corner.

The debate has begun over how to improve Wisconsin’s public schools. Late or otherwise, it’s a debate worth having.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

GreenBiz: La Crosse organic farming conference continues to grow

By Gregg Hoffmann
A “food revolution that is sweeping across the country” is what is feeding the continued growth of an annual organic farming conference in La Crosse.

“We might surpass 3,000 participants this year,” said Faye Jones, the director of MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) and co-director of the conference, scheduled for Feb. 24-26.

“Our numbers have continued to grow despite the economy. It’s really because of a food revolution that is sweeping the country. Many people agree that our food affects our health.

“It’s been a ripple effect that has led to growth in the local food movement, farm to school programs, farmer markets and many other things. Organic is very much part of that, and out conference continues to grow because of it.”

More than 70 workshops will be offered this year at the conference. Pre-conference courses, with slightly lower enrollments, will be held on Thursday, Feb. 24. Some of the workshops have become so popular that they get 200 or more attendees, but smaller groups are also available.

“All of our workshops are very hands-on. Farmers learning from farmers has been the heart of the conference. We have researchers coming in with farmer partners for some of our workshops. We also make sure that time is built in for the farmers to talk with each other. They learn from each other, not just in the workshops.”

Jones notes that organic farming is being fed in more recent years by a couple demographic groups that are not the traditional farmer looking to convert to organic practices.

“We’ve seen a growth in early retirees who decide they want to go into organic farming,” she said. “Some have no experience, or perhaps were raised on a farm but have not done farming for years.

“The young farmers also are a growing group. These are young people in their 20s, with virtually no experience, but a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We’ve incorporated things into the conference for these groups.”

A tract of breakout sessions, and even some of the entertainment, for the conference also are geared to young farmers, just starting out.

“They’re the future of organic and sustainable farming,” Jones said. “We want to encourage and help them.”

One of the Organic University sessions features Paul and Sandy Arnold, who have tips for new farmers -- young and old -- on how to get started in market farming. The Arnolds have spent 22 years building their farm from bare land to a thriving organic vegetable and fruit enterprise.

Keynote speakers include Urvashi Rangan, director of Technical Policy for Consumers Union. She has developed a ratings system, database and web site for evaluating environmental labels. She continues to decode the meaning of “eco-labels” for consumers and advocates for credible labeling in the marketplace.

“Organic, natural, sustainable labels can be rather confusing and misleading for the public consumer,” Jones said. “Urvashi has done much to bring credibility to rating these labels and products.”

Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds, will present another keynote address titled “What Are We Waiting For? Now Is The Time to Rebuild Our Healthy Food System.” Stearns will focus on local food system development in Hardwick, Vermont, and the collaborative work among farmers, businesses and the community.

“One of the themes running through this year’s conference has been the link between organic foods and health,” Jones said. “Many consumers of organic foods say they buy the products because of their concerns about health.”

One specialized area that is drawing quite a bit of interest this season is growing mushrooms. Sessions look at the growing of oyster and shitake mushrooms, as well as other more exotic varieties. Mushrooms are being grown as value-added additions to CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and as stand-alone businesses.

The annual conference is a boon to the La Crosse area convention and tourism business during a winter month. It is a natural for the area, with Organic Valley dairy cooperative located in nearby La Farge, the preponderance of organic farms in neighboring Vernon County and other counties, and the proximity of Spring Valley, where MOSES is headquartered.

Mail registrations for the conference must be postmarked by Feb. 11. More information can be found at http://www.mosesorganic.org. Registration can be done at that web site until Feb. 16.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes the GreenBiz column monthly.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Packers win! Now, can the Wisconsin economy aspire to its own Super Bowl?

By Tom Still
The Green Bay Packers have just proven that a team from professional football’s smallest market can rebuild from within, overcome adversity and win when it matters. Let’s hope the still-struggling Wisconsin economy has the potential to do the same.

While the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is nearly 2 percentage points lower than the national jobless rate of 9.4 percent, other indicators continue to signal Wisconsin is far from out of the woods. Bankruptcy filings climbed in 2010 for the fourth straight year, per capita wages and average wages remain well below the U.S. average, and the state’s Gross Domestic Product as a share of the U.S. total continues to slide.

The turnaround may well be coming, but in the competition to win its own “Super Bowl” of economic prosperity, Wisconsin begins the game down on the scoreboard.

Recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show the recent recession didn’t hit all regions of the nation with equal force – in fact, it struck the Great Lakes states harder. Real domestic growth in the five-state region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin fell 3.4 percent between 2008 and 2009, the most of any region tracked by the federal government. That decline was about three times larger than the drop in the Plains states (1.2 percent) for the same period.

According to a report from the Midwestern office of the Council of State Governments, the decline in the durable goods manufacturing sector stood out the most. Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin posted the highest percentage-point declines in that sector among the 50 states. Since March 2000, the peak month for manufacturing employment in Wisconsin, the state has lost about 160,000 jobs.

It wasn’t just a recession-only phenomenon. For at least a decade before the recession, GDP growth in the Great Lakes states was lagging the nation and virtually every other region. From 1998 to 2002, the Great Lakes states showed GDP growth of 1.7 percent while the nation stood at 3 percent. The region’s growth fell to 1 percent in 2003 through 2007, declined by 0.6 percent in 2007-2008 before tumbling 3.4 percent in 2008-2009.

In contrast, the seven Plains states grew at nearly the U.S. average from 1998 to 2007 and leaped ahead in 2007-2008. The Plains states’ GDP decline in 2008-2009 was about half of the national average. The comparison is justified because those seven states – Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska – aren’t all that different in culture, geography and economic mix.

How can Wisconsin begin the process of rebuilding its economy? There’s no single answer, of course, but many suggestions can be found in the goals of “Be Bold: The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy,” a report issued late last year by the conveners of the Wisconsin Economic Summit.

A leaner, more efficient government is part of the mix, as Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature certainly know as they confront a $136.7 million deficit for the remainder of this budget year ending June 30 and a $3.6 billion gap for the following two years.

The other side of the equation is stimulating growth, which Walker and the Legislature have tried to do with some of the tax and regulatory relief bills passed so far this year. It cannot stop there, however. The strategy must also include building on the state’s research and development foundation; encouraging exports from leading industry clusters; creating an environment that nurtures entrepreneurs and early stage companies; and making sure Wisconsin is educating, retaining and attracting the right workforce.

Just like the Packers’ Super Bowl team was rebuilt one player at a time over many seasons, the state’s economy must be retooled through strategies designed to attract talent, capital and ideas. Wisconsin has demonstrated in can build a championship team in football – it can do the same when it comes to jobs and the economy.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He was a co-author of “Be Bold: The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy,” which can be found at http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/newsroom


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book review: “7: The Number for Happiness, Love, and Success”

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
by Jacqueline Leo
c.2009, TwelveBooks $23.99 / $28.99 Canada 261 pages, includes index

Every night when you get ready for bed, you empty your pockets.

You’ll have a few coins. Lint, and a scrunched dollar bill. And dozens of scraps of paper, each with something scrawled on it; a phone number, an address, a to-do list.

Why is it that you can’t remember anything any more? Is your brain overloaded that much? It shouldn’t be so hard to remember a client’s information ... should it? Until you learn the answer to that, you live by scrap of paper.

Maybe you’re trying to remember too much, says author Jacqueline Leo. For centuries, scientists, thinkers, and philosophers have believed that your mind has a set point, and in the new book “7: The Number for Happiness, Love and Success”, you’ll find out where it lies.

Seven-Card Stud. Send your daughter to a Seven Sisters college. Read “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” or the seven Harry Potter books. Sail the Seven Seas. Seventh-inning stretch and seven-layer cake. The Chicago Seven and Seven Dwarfs. Seven colors in a rainbow. Roll the dice for a Lucky 7.

And your phone number – seven, sans area code.

The point is that the number 7 shows up in a surprising number of places in literature, pop culture, philosophy, ancient cultures, nature, and more – and it’s been showing up for as long as mankind has been recording information: Greek philosophers said that there are seven kinds of love. Confucius taught seven ways to a good life. Mesopotamians divided the earth and heaven into seven zones. And when God created Earth, there were seven divine commands, one for each of the seven days.

Fine - but what does this have to do with you and your inability to remember? Leo says that the number 7 is “a gift”, inherent in our humanness. To make life easier and more productive, she says, take advantage of seven by breaking down your tasks into seven steps or focusing on seven to-dos for the day. Embrace the seven words that can lead to “a smarter, simpler life”: Yes, No, Stop, Go, Start, End, and Be. Look for opportunities to use seven in your day-to-day existence.

And if you still aren’t convinced, you’ve got a hole in your head – seven of them, to be exact.

Quirky but impossible to put down, “7: The Number for Happiness, Love, and Success” almost defies categorization. It’s part new-age, part Book of Lists, part history and philosophy, mixed with motivational information and life-lessons, as well as lots of amazing I-never-noticed-that trivia. And it’s very enjoyable.

Broken down in (what else?) seven general chapters, author Jacqueline Leo shows how we’ve naturally embraced a simple number in many different areas of life - a number, incidentally, that most people claim when asked to choose. She also borrows from experts in business, science, mathematics, and history to offer tips and hints that are useful to anyone, 24/7.

Businesspeople, students, historians, numerologists, and the curious will get a kick out of this eclectic, easy-to-browse, fun-to-read book. For them, “7” is a solid 9 out of 10.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.


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