Chancellor Ray Cross statement to Regents concerning Biddy proposal

S&W has obtained a copy of an email sent to numerous recipients by Chancellor Ray Cross (UW Colleges and UW-Extension).  It is reprinted here in its entirety.

Dear Colleagues:

Below are the remarks I delivered to the UW System Board of Regents today when they took up the topic of UW-Madison’s possible separation from the UW System. UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin addressed the Regents, took questions for about an hour, and then each chancellor addressed the Regents. No resolutions or actions were taken.

Chancellor Ray Cross statement to Regents Feb. 25, 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Board of Regents on this important issue.

First, the UW Colleges and UW-Extension very much appreciate the governor’s interest in providing more flexibility to public higher education in Wisconsin.

The primary focus of our two statewide institutions with a presence in all 72 counties is to make sure we are meeting the needs of the people, the businesses and the communities throughout this state. We live the Wisconsin Idea daily. Indeed, we bring the resources of the UW System to people across Wisconsin. Thus, we approach the possible separation of our outstanding flagship institution from the UW System from this perspective: Would it help us better serve the citizens, businesses and communities of Wisconsin?

Given our statewide presence, we just might be uniquely positioned to answer that question.

While I have only been in Wisconsin for a few weeks, I believe that my experience in other states might be helpful in understanding the issues we are discussing today. I have worked in public universities in Michigan (14 years), Minnesota (six years) and most recently New York (13 years).

There are two observations from my Michigan experience that might be relevant to the proposed separation of the Madison campus from the UW System.

The University of Michigan is very similar to the UW-Madison. It is a big, prestigious research university that is important to the state, nation, and the world. The University of Michigan is a constitutional university — and represents, in a sense, a fourth and independent branch of government. As such it has a great deal of independence. This is similar to the type of independence that the governor is considering for the UW-Madison.

There are serious consequences to this independence, and they are not all positive.

First, most legislators and most people in the state of Michigan do not believe that the University of Michigan always acts in the best interests of the state. There have been multiple calls in Michigan for the creation of a statewide system in the many years since their constitution gave them independent status. Their independence allows them to pursue their own agenda or priorities; in practice, they function like a state-subsidized private university. Ironically, the Business Leaders of Michigan group is now calling for the creation of a system to reduce duplication, increase collaboration and to engage the universities more directly in their problems.

The University of Michigan doesn’t share the same priorities or feel obligated to help the state because…well, that is Michigan State’s job or one of the other state universities. After all, Michigan State is the land grant institution. Unlike the University of Michigan, the Madison campus serves both as the major research university and as the land grant institution in Wisconsin. Thus, we fear that the separation of the Madison campus from the UW System would change the priorities of the campus and distract it from serving the statewide needs of Wisconsin.

Will its priorities be in concert with the priorities or needs of the state?

Secondly, the competition for institutional funding in Michigan occurs in the “political arena” — not within a system that understands the needs of academia. There is no system in Michigan. All universities are independent. This means institutions located in the districts of powerful legislators or with stronger political connections secure more resources. Public university funding should be based on outcomes related to public needs and goals — not according to which legislator chairs or serves on the higher education appropriations committee.

In 1971 (Wisconsin) Governor Lucey said something that I think is relevant to this discussion. He said, ” …you don’t need three citizen boards wrangling over higher education and a matching staff for each of them. But the big savings in merger is not the administrative costs but the elimination of rivalry between the two systems and the educational trade-offs. We just can’t afford any more of that foolishness.” 1

Wrangling, to use Governor Lucey’s word, conducted in the political arena as opposed to the academic or system arena, consumes more energy, more resources and too often would distract us from focusing on statewide needs.

In New York, a state with 583 independent public authorities often referred to by legislators as “New York’s Secret Government,” there is a growing concern about their proliferation and their lack of accountability to the state.

Governor Walker has indicated that he intends to recommend the creation of three separate higher education public authorities for the governance of what is now the one University of Wisconsin System. This concerns me because in New York there is a movement to consolidate the number of public authorities and to increase their accountability to the state. Some government leaders have even called for the creation of a public authority to oversee and control all of the other public authorities.

Therefore, instead of a public authority for one institution (UW-Madison) and the creation of additional public authorities (UW-Milwaukee and the remaining institutions), I would suggest the creation of one public authority for the whole UW System. Such a governance structure would give all of us the flexibility we seek, reduce duplication and competition for scarce resources, and give each campus the ability to excel within its mission, all while maintaining our commitment and accountability to the wonderful people of this state by helping to meet the needs of all Wisconsinites.

Therefore, after detailed and numerous discussions with the deans, directors and senior leadership of the UW-Extension and UW Colleges about this issue, we have determined that we cannot support the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System. We do not believe such action would be in the best interest of this state.

One final comment — I have not been in Wisconsin very long, but I have been here long enough to know that the citizens of this state have a deep affection for UW-Madison.

This affection goes back to 1848. It is a bond that should not be put at risk, especially during a period in the history of the state that is perhaps the most contentious and partisan in the memory of anyone in this room.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

Chancellor Ray Cross
University of Wisconsin Colleges and
University of Wisconsin-Extension

1 “Lucey Riding Herd on Budget, Merger,” Milwaukee Journal, April 19, 1971

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2 Responses to Chancellor Ray Cross statement to Regents concerning Biddy proposal

  1. Sarah says:

    Speaking of foolishness, who hired Cross to be Chancellor? A search of public records shows he left NY before the Court of Appeals ruled on a wrongful termination suit filed by James Hastie, Cross’s VP of development from 2001 to 2009. No wonder NY is calling for increased accountability, take a look at Hastie’s complaint. No due diligence here I’m afraid…

  2. Pingback: Task Force Named to Rethink UW System | The EduOptimists

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