• WisBusiness

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do: The Great Uncoupling of the UW System


By Tom Still
Members of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee have signaled they’re approaching information overload when it comes to the proposed separation of the UW-Madison from the rest of the UW System. Is there a way, key lawmakers have asked, to construct a phased plan for giving the university more freedom to run its own affairs?

The answer should be “yes,” because the costs of limping along with the status quo are too high.

Leaders at UW-Madison and throughout the UW System have contended for years – almost before the ink was dry on the 1971 merger of the University of Wisconsin with the Wisconsin State University system – that the university needed more independence from state regulations. These rules cover everything from hiring to purchasing to construction, often adding time and cost to any process.

That’s particularly true at the UW-Madison, a 42,000-student campus that competes with the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT when it comes to landing research dollars, star faculty and world-class students.
But the UW-Madison is treated much like any other campus – or any other state agency, for that matter – when it comes to red tape. Perhaps that’s the price of being a public land-grant university, but it has become a death of a thousand paper cuts in an era when other leading research universities are free to compete.

Gov. Scott Walker, in his two-year budget bill, accepted the detailed advice of Chancellor Biddy Martin and proposed putting the UW-Madison on a separate track. While the UW-Madison would receive less financial support from the state, the Madison campus would gain freedom to manage its own affairs under the leadership of a new public-private authority.

Most UW System officials and chancellors believe a separate UW-Madison is an awful idea, mainly because they fear what might happen if two governing bodies (a new Madison authority and the Board of Regents) compete over scarce resources.

But state dollars are already scarce, with or without autonomy, so the issue becomes how to make lemon out of some particularly bitter lemons. Here are some possibilities for a tiered or phased approach:

* Allow the UW System’s two doctoral campuses – Madison and Milwaukee – immediate freedom to run their respective graduate and research programs as they see fit. Undergraduate programs, while connected in many seen and unseen ways, could wait.

* Lay out a schedule for autonomy, with doctoral campuses followed by other four-year comprehensive campuses and, finally, the two-year system. It need not happen all in one year or even one budget cycle.

* Continue existing student transfer agreements, research collaborations and other campus-to-campus programs. For example, the WiSys Technology Foundation is helping build the research-to-jobs capacity of campuses outside of Madison, but likely wouldn’t exist without the support of UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. If such mechanisms remain in place, it builds confidence that greater autonomy can work.

* Make the UW System more of a facilitator and less of a “middle man.” Some campus leaders in Madison insist it’s easier to build joint programs with private universities in Wisconsin than with other UW System campuses – and not because those campuses resist.

It’s possible that Martin and the UW System’s leadership are firmly entrenched on the issue of autonomy. But that hasn’t been the case with Walker, who has repeatedly said he would listen to alternatives that preserve the value of higher education for students, the state and its economy.

Leaders of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee also appear ready to hear other ideas on how to handle the Grand De-Merger. The right solution could help the UW-Madison as well as other UW campuses attract and retain key faculty, enhance research spending and promote job growth. Most important, it could also ensure that Wisconsin continues to produce graduates who can compete in the 21st century workforce.

Whether it’s a savvy Ph.D. researcher on the Madison campus or an uncertain freshman at UW-Barron County, everyone can gain from more flexible management of public higher education in Wisconsin. Lawmakers should use this opportunity to begin the process of achieving that goal – or risk forever losing the chance.

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

Labels:


Comments: 0

Post a Comment

Back to BizOpinion main page

: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors

ARCHIVE

· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
· November 2014
· December 2014
· January 2015
· February 2015
· March 2015
· April 2015
· May 2015
· June 2015
· July 2015
· August 2015
· September 2015
· October 2015
· November 2015
· December 2015
· January 2016
· February 2016
· March 2016
· April 2016
· May 2016
· July 2016
· August 2016
· October 2016
· December 2016
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications