Reframing the conversation about tuition.

March 12th, 2014

Chancellor Rebecca Blank has spoken recently of the desirability of raising out-of-state tuition to help make ends meet on the UW-Madison campus.  Her proposal offers one of the few potentially viable pathways to budget stability in a landscape dominated by declining state support and a freeze on in-state tuition imposed by the legislature in the wake of the supposed reserve scandal.  The Chancellor logically assumes that calls for higher tuition only on non-resident students will  be more palatable  to taxpayers and legislators than many alternative solutions might be. Read the rest of this entry »

Sifting and Winnowing goes dormant.

September 16th, 2012

Everyone is busy, and few are busier today than the small group of idealists who conceived of this site at a holiday party in 2007 and then nursed it along over the past several  years.   We are simply unable to put in the time anymore, so either someone else would have had to pick up the torch, or Sifting and Winnowing would have to go dormant.  By “dormant,” we mean no new postings, and when the commercial internet hosting contract expires in a year or so, the lights will go out completely.

An invitation was extended privately to several trusted individuals to take over management of S&W, the sole condition being that it would continue to serve as an open forum for anyone with an informed opinion about campus affairs, no matter what specific position they took.   Perhaps not surprisingly, no one else had the time either.  It’s not too late for someone to step up, but that no longer seems likely.

One long-time contributor suggested that S&W served its purpose during a particular moment in this University’s history, and “now it is time to lift the lid, toss it into the cybercloud and soon enough something else will fall out of the sky.”

We’ll all be watching for that “something else.”

Thanks for reading!

State-ordered study of the Wisconsin Retirement System recommends no changes.

July 2nd, 2012

Today, the much-anticipated (and, by some, much-feared) report on the Act 32-mandated study of the Wisconsin Retirement System was released.

The introduction to the Executive Summary reads as follows:

The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) is an efficient and sustainable retirement system. According to the analysis prepared by Gabriel, Roeder, and Smith (the independent consulting actuary for the WRS), the WRS is insulated from large swings in annual contribution rates or funding levels due to the plan’s cost-sharing and risk-sharing features. For example, since the market collapse of 2008, annuities have been reduced by almost $3.2 billion. As a result, the WRS was able to weather much of the financial storm. Read the rest of this entry »

The missing message about universities and society.

June 28th, 2012

The role of public higher education in a rapidly changing world rose to prominence  last week with two developments:  the University of Virginia’s governance debacle (see local commentary here) and the announcement of Gov. Scott Walker’s Flexible Online Degree initiative.

As noted in the previous article by another contributor, these two events have more in common than one might surmise from the above.  Both highlight the growing problem of affordability of four-year degrees, and both have their roots in the notion that the traditional model of university education has become outdated and inefficient.  In both cases, online education as a substitute for bricks-and-mortar lecture halls is/was touted as a solution. Read the rest of this entry »

A Charter School for the University of Wisconsin? Questions about the new UW Flexible Degree Program

June 28th, 2012

Two events, each with potentially great repercussions for public higher education, came out of the blue last week. While one – the ouster of the President of the University of Virginia – was closely followed nationally and on this campus, the other – the announcement of a “flexible degree” model offered through UW-System/ Extension that, in the words of the Governor’s office, “will transform higher education in Wisconsin” received somewhat less attention than one might expect.

And yet the similarities are striking.  In both cases, changes in education at a renowned public university are supposed to be implemented virtually overnight to fix a host of vaguely defined problems.  And in both cases, the magic cure is to be found in online teaching and in other unspecified educational technologies. Read the rest of this entry »

Urgent: Amendment to restrict government employee participation in scientific conferences

June 21st, 2012

The following disturbing message from the American Geophysical Union, a major professional organization, was passed on to S&W.   If you value the participation of government scientists in the broader scientific community and, especially, in scientific conferences, then you should not only read this message, you should contact your representatives in the Senate to make your opinion known, as government employees do not have the freedom to do so themselves.  (Links to the actual amendment language will be posted if and when they are made known to us.)

To put these restrictions into perspective, some of the most visible and respected scientists in the area of global climate change are NASA employees, and they could be limited in their ability to continue participating in important non-governmental scientific conferences related to this subject matter.  Similar things can undoubtedly be said about scientists from other government organizations involved in health, environmental science, or technology.

Note that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is one of the co-sponsors of the amendment in question.  - Editor Read the rest of this entry »

Some observations on the UVA debacle.

June 20th, 2012

The following was written by Judith Burstyn, professor of chemistry and former chair of the University Committee at UW-Madison. An abbreviated version appeared in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education.  The full piece is reprinted here (and also at EduOptimists) in its entirety with her permission.

Apparently, at today’s University of Virginia, business values trump all. There is a troubling recent trend toward viewing all public institutions in market terms, where value is measured by dollars produced. In recent years, UW-Madison has felt this too, as some of our leaders focus on efficiency via new “flexibilities.” But universities are not businesses. The proper role of universities is the creation of knowledge for the public good, and education of the new generations of citizens and leaders for civil society. Business management approaches are ill suited to nurture the intellectual expansiveness that underlies great scholarship and deep learning. Reliance on narrow, industry-driven curricula simply won’t do. Great universities encompass a wide variety of disciplines, methods and perspectives, irrespective of the marketability of the knowledge they create. Nourishment of the young minds of our future leaders is invaluable to our country, and the University of Virginia and UW-Madison are shining examples of excellence in this regard. I worry that this excellence is at risk. Read the rest of this entry »

Recommendations from the Academic Staff Executive Committee for the HR Design Phase I Work Groups

May 4th, 2012

The Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC) has provided S&W with a document with the following title: Recommendations from the Academic Staff Executive Committee for the HR Design Phase I Work Groups, dated  April 27, 2012.   The original PDF document is here.   The content has been transcribed below for the convenience of S&W readers.  Transcription errors are possible.  In case of doubt, please refer to the original document.  – Ed.


The Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC) has spent the recent weeks reviewing the Preliminary Recommendations of the HR Design Phase I work groups. For the purpose of this review, we primarily concentrated on issues that would affect academic staff but also commented on other issues that we found in the documents. Before we go into individual work team recommendations, we have some overarching comments. These concern the lack of data upon which recommendations were based, the considerable investment of money and other resources that implementation of the recommendations would take, and the effects of the recommendations on academic staff. Read the rest of this entry »

The continued marketization of UW-Madison.

May 3rd, 2012

This article has been cross-posted from the The Education Optimists at the request of the author. – Ed.

Last year, I wrote extensively about efforts led by former Chancellor Biddy Martin and her administration, donors, and alumni to privatize (or at least semi-privatize) the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  That effort was partially successful, for while Martin and colleagues failed to separate Madison from the rest of the UW System, or gain authority over tuition setting, they did succeed in getting Madison the authority to redesign its human resources system.  This new “flexibility” was praised by many on campus, including staff, faculty, and students, who recognize that the current bureaucracy is not working, especially for those outside of administration.

So, this year the Human Resource Design Project has been advertised as a tremendous opportunity, hard won, and far better than the alternative — the status quo.  Perhaps.  But few reforms are without consequence, and the recommendations recently offered by the working teams in HR Design suggest this case is no exception.   Read the rest of this entry »

Keep collective bargaining and the civil service system at UW-Madison.

May 3rd, 2012

A year ago, thousands of UW-Madison students, faculty, and staff marched to the Capitol to oppose Governor Walker’s radical attempts to destroy Wisconsin’s 50-year tradition of collective bargaining. Today, the Governor faces a recall, and a federal court has struck down some of the most onerous parts of Act 10. Yet UW-Madison may be on the verge of realizing the Governor’s anti-worker vision on campus. Read the rest of this entry »