And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow*

I do not remember many times in my life when I have been more ashamed. On Monday, the faculty of the great state University of Wisconsin voted to no longer be the great state University of Wisconsin. Instead we chose to become a private university, absolving the taxpayers of Wisconsin of any responsibility to support public higher education.  Make no mistake – this is what the senate voted to do.

How did this happen? Was it due to greed? Frustration due to the lack of pay plans?  Sure, we are still in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, with high levels of unemployment, but no matter, we didn’t get ours. Or perhaps more charitably, the senators were simply confused by the smoke and mirrors manipulated by the Bascom Hall and Badger Advocates PR machine (how much and whose money are they spending?!).

On July 2, 1862, in a profoundly democratic moment, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act creating public universities ‘to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes’. This act was perhaps the single greatest engine of income redistribution and creation of the American middle class until the New Deal.  On May 2, 2011, in a profoundly undemocratic act the faculty senate of UW-Madison turned its back on the aspirations and dreams of the poor, working- and middle classes of Wisconsin.  I am ashamed.

*John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

This entry was posted in Shared governance, State-University Relations, The University Budget, The University System, The UW-Madison Campus. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow*

  1. Grant says:

    In my conversations with some who support the public authority, a recurring theme has been, “What did the UW System ever do for UW-Madison?” At the Faculty Senate meeting, I am told Provost DeLuca went on about how much better off UW-Madison was before it merged with the System. And other commenters here and elsewhere have griped about how the System has been a drain on UW-Madison’s financial resources.

    In short, the clear pattern seems to be that faculty supporters of the PA place a premium on what’s good for UW-Madison, whereas the outnumbered opponents are far more concerned with what’s good for public higher education throughout Wisconsin.

    A related argument I’ve heard is, “It’s the the State of Wisconsin, not us, that is abandoning its commitment to public higher education. In light of that political reality, why should UW-Madison be the one that keeps the System afloat? It’s time for us to cut ourselves free from the sinking ship and look out for ourselves.”

    It’s perhaps understandable that the first loyalties of the faculty, most of whom, I assume, were recruited here from out of state, would be to this campus and to their research enterprise.

    But even if one accepts the different priorities, the weakest aspect of the pro-PA position, in my opinion, is the assumption that the PA in its present form will be good even for UW-Madison. To settle that particular question requires a far more nuanced and balanced discussion than I’ve been seeing, and a lot of informed skeptics have gone unanswered.

  2. Crazy Harry says:

    You folks are nuts. This is good for the Madison campus and its even good for the folks at UW-Superior. The brand depends on the Madison campus being a world-class institution. With state support shrinking to pennies on the dollar, we’re on a path to mediocrity. The merger lifted up the other campuses because it enabled them to take our name. Under the NBP, they keep the names. The name means nothing without a strong Madison campus.

    The people who say that the NBP will cause Madison to not work with or care about the other campuses are fools as well. We need them as much as they need us. This is because the other state schools will continue to supply graduate and professional school students and we will continue to feed them newly-minted instructors. (To think that a highly-qualified UW-Stevens Point graduate destined for medical school will choose Illinois over Wisconsin ignores the fact that in-state tuition will continue to lure the best and the brightest from outstate to Madison.)

    Get over it, folks. Something like the NBP is going to come in the Budget bill. The only question is if the outstate schools get something like it as well.

    The UW System is a bloated, self-protecting bureaucracy. It long ago ceased to be of any real benefit to the Madison campus.

  3. JS says:

    “Something like the NBP is going to come in the Budget bill.” No. The chances of public authority are almost nil at this point.

  4. Frank says:

    Yes, what are the benefits to UW Madison for staying with the sinking ship tyhat is the UW System? The System has only used Madison to generate funds to prop up the other schools and the System Admin. Wihtout a stronger Madison campus there is NO value in the UW name for the others to cling to. The only positive future for UW Madison is to follow the paths of Michigan and Virginia and leverage its unique status in obtaining external support to remain competitive with the best. This absolutely will not happen if the UW continues to rely on the good graces of the state of Wisconsin funding. It is not there, it will not be there in the future and to deny that fact is ignoring reality.
    So all the the skeptics I say–where and how are you going to get the funding needed to keep Madison competitive at the highest level and not just devolving into a larger verson of UW Oshkosh attracting only instate students of average ability and goals?

  5. A badger not a weasel says:

    Where exactly does public authority generate significant amounts of funding for Madison, aside from creating the possibility of jacking tuition through the roof?

    And do you know the actual fiscal flow between Madison and System, e.g. with regard to tuition? Check into it … you might be surprised.

  6. Crazy Harry says:

    Weasel — System scoops up the extra cash which the Madison campus generates over what was in the budget and “shares the wealth” with the outstaters. System controls everything.

    There is an Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs who has something like 100 people working for her. And what does she do? She “supervises” everything going on at the various campuses who have to generate reports to submit to her. When the System was conceived 40 years ago (as part of the shot-gun) marriage, no one contemplated that a Czarina would amass a staff of 100 to tell the various schools what to do.

    The System is a bloated mass which has long outlived its usefulness.

    Watch carefully over the next few weeks, folks as:

    1. Walker appoints three new Regents. The folks who have been demagoging against the NBP will be shocked, shocked to find out that the people he appoints don’t have horns.

    2. The new Regents show up and start asking questions. At long last there can be an honest and open discussion at the System level, where the other Chancellors are not browbeaten into silence.

    3. Kevin Reilly has a “come to Jesus” moment and sees the light. Trust me. He’s a smart guy and he will begin to read the teal leaves.

  7. Crazy Harry says:

    Those would be the tea leaves, not feathers from a duck, please!

  8. A badger not a weasel says:

    Actually, I was thinking ‘teal leaves’ might be cool.

    There’s no question that System needs improvement. But you need to give us some actual data on money flow. I don’t know what the bottom line is, but it’s not like we’re funding System from the data I’ve seen. You’re making big assertions and having actual data for the point would be helpful.

    More importantly, you actually think that chancellors are being beaten into silence? Any evidence for that? Or that Reilly will become a fan of public authority?

    And that’s BADGER, not WEASEL.

  9. Crazy Harry says:

    OK, Weasel, check out the story run a weekend ago in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram wherein Stout Chancellor Chuck Sorenson basically said that his campus could “go it alone” like Madison and that he has nothing to fear from Madison splitting.

    Most of the really goofy comments have been made by the Chancellors who were the last to be hired. Go back and listen to the special Board of Regents meeting called on a Friday in February (the purpose of which was to flog Biddy, which backfired spectacularly!). In the afternoon, the non-Madison Chancellors each spoke, and few of them took the hardline approach which was since dictated to them.

    You want evidence they were smashed into submission? Listen to soon-to-be-gone Regent Tom Loftus lay into them at the meeting in Platteville. It’s all on tape. Go to and look for the archived tapes. Regent Tom told them to sit down and shut up! (He phrased it a bit more delicately, of course, but the direction is unmistakable!)

    It’s all about the power — and preserving the threadbare Doyle legacy. These people are all “Doylies” and they provided cover for Diamond Jim as he took from the System in four consecutive Budgets. Did they protest? Heavens no! “Hit us again, Governor!” was the mantra.

  10. Harry,

    The purpose of governing systems is to ensure (a) minimal standards of quality, (b) appropriate academic coverage for the needs of the economy and state, and (c) assurance of access for those of high ability and motivation, from families otherwise unable to pay. Higher education scholar Bruce Johnstone has written time and again about the unique capacity of systems to meet these needs (read his World Bank paper here: )

    I’m not surprised you don’t see the benefits of System since you seem entirely focused on other purposes. It sounds to me like you’ve never met a bureaucracy you DID like. You aren’t evaluating cost-effectiveness in your argument but instead are making claims without any data or support. Can you suggest that splintering System will improve our ability to meet all three goals above at all UW campuses?

    Finally, I have to add your characterization of Rebecca Martin (the UWSA VP you refer to) is downright offensive. Have you ever tried to coordinate the work of 26 campuses? I don’t think so. She’s a good, thoughtful administrator– and unlike so many around here, she listens to both sides and doesn’t alienate those who disagree.

    Stop the name-calling and start making arguments using facts and evidence. And for pete’s sake, consider having the guts to sign your real name. You’re WITH the administration, after all.

  11. In case anyone seeks actual hard data on UW System, here’s a start:

  12. Frank you might want to read Chancellor Martin’s statement about the kinds of claims you are making– that System is taking Madison’s resources.

    From her own website:

    Myth: UW-Madison receives more — or less — in tuition funds from UW System than it contributes to the system.
    Fact: UW-Madison gets back the tuition dollars it generates — about $400 million a year — nothing more, nothing less.

  13. Frank says:

    I was told by a dean that they did not pursue expanding classes on-line and other new markets because the tuition money did not stay at UW Madison and went to the System for allocation. But thanks for that clarification as obviously many had heard that.
    But your post on the budget on your website is HIGHLY misleading. You lump all income sources together and then show that Madison takes nearly half without mentioning that most of that is in the form of research grants from outside sources for performing tasks outside classroom work. None of the other campuses get substantial research money. Another $100 Million is for athletics that are also self-funded and not similar to any other campus. Then ther is the larger dorm capacity that also self-funds and goes into that number. Finally you have a much larger amount supplied through fund-raising from UW alumni. Basically comparing apples and oranges.

    The fact that the System only gets $15 million is really not important. You can impose many rules and create many problems for very little money. It only takes the authority and a word processor. One example is the fund that was given for retention of star faculty. That fund was created in response to faculty losses at Madison. But when the System implemented the money it did not attempt to give it where it was intended but instead took half to give to the other schools who had not even raised the issue. No priortization by need or facts. That is not managing–that is doing arithmetic.

  14. Pingback: Just the Facts on UW System (Part 1) | The EduOptimists

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