State Journal guest editorial: NBP arguments “vague”, “elitist”.

Daniel Bush, an alumnus of both UW-Madison and UW-Oshkosh, has written a guest editorial for today’s issue of the Wisconsin State Journal:

Vague argument, elitist attitude hurt UW-Madison autonomy plan

It seems unlikely that Mr. Bush reads Sifting and Winnowing, yet he concisely and  eloquently raises many of the same concerns about both the goals of the NBP, and the process by which it is being sold, that have been voiced by a variety of  contributors to this page  and elsewhere (e.g., Education Optimists) over the past few weeks.

In his closing remarks, he appropriately takes NBP advocates/salespersons/lobbyists to task for both their politically tone-deaf elitism and their failure to promote a healthier and more balanced discussion of UW-Madison’s options:

Why do they think so many legislators of the governor’s own party have turned against one of his major proposals? Do they really believe arguing that the other UW campuses drag Madison down is an effective message for winning statewide support?

Wisconsin needs a serious debate over the future of higher education. It involves consideration of all the options. It requires credible leaders articulating a statewide vision. And it deserves at least as much consideration as the UW System merger had four decades ago.

Unfortunately, the debate over the public authority proposal has none of these qualities.

Amen to all of the above.



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

21 Responses to State Journal guest editorial: NBP arguments “vague”, “elitist”.

  1. Frank says:

    People in Wisconsin need to learn the difference between elite and elitism. UW Madison strives to be elite and in higher education that is a worthy goal and brings with it many benefits. Elitism is a term the not so able use to try to handicap those with more ability and accomplishments. This is essentially the argument the anti UW Madison group is making. A bigger version of UW Oshkosh is what they want open to all and benefitting nobody. It would not attract the best students and professors to Wisconsin as the UW Madison does now. Now will it attract companies that desire proximity to a top university. It would just be another nail in the coffin for the state of Wisconsin as a growing economic state.

  2. Frank says:

    If you, Sara have the magic bullet to maintian quality while keeping costs down I’d like to hear it. The teaching loads are set by the competition from other top universities as is pay to a large extent. UW is already as low on pay as you could be and still stay competitive to at least some extent. That’s the bulk of expenses right there. They have done much to reduce other operating costs as the now less well maintained campus makes obvious. UW’s admin level is not out of line with others and tends to the lower end of the range there too. Basically UW has been providing a Cadillac at Chevy costs for decades. Most others at their level spend FAR more per student on direct educational expenses. Look it up.
    So what’s the magic idea you have??
    I am in the camp that when choosing between quality and “access” I want quality first. There are many more institution in the country that can provide a good education to any deserving bright but poor kid from Wisconsin. And they have more money to do that–see Harvard and their need-blind admission and $30 Billion endowment.
    UW has limited resources and its first priority it to be the elite quality research university for Wisconsin. If money is limited the choice is clear. Wisconsin needs a high quality university to function as a competitive state. All the rest is nice but not necessary.

  3. Daniel Bush says:

    “There are many more institution in the country that can provide a good education to any deserving bright but poor kid from Wisconsin…UW has limited resources and its first priority it to be the elite quality research university for Wisconsin.”

    I have to say I appreciate that you’re willing to articulate a specific vision of what UW-Madison should be. I don’t agree with it at all – moving to a Stanford- or Johns Hopkins-type institution involves far too many tradeoffs and too much disconnect from the people of Wisconsin – but I wish more NBP supporters were willing to be this forthright.

  4. SAA says:

    Well, I just got a recorded phone message from Biddy inviting us to a ‘town hall’ meeting on the Public Authority – and at the end she said it was supported by the UW Alumni Foundation. I think this political phone message has crossed a line, as I can’t image the town hall will fairly present both sides. What is next with this PR campaign?

    Perhaps she wouldn’t be in this pickle if she followed shared governance principles.

  5. Sara says:


    Check out the blog, as I raise many alternatives, not the least of which is adjusting faculty- student ratio. I show the costs and benefits of that change on the blog and clearly illustrate using the “college productivity” calculator what savings it would produce across the system.

    The problem around here is that folks are completely ignoring the numerous approaches national policy experts have developed to cut college costs, in favor of simply arguing for more money and control. understandable, since for many this is the first time they have thought about higher Ed finance- but what’s unacceptable is that the administration portray this as the only option, which of course it is NOT. And folks simply listen, without investigating further.

  6. Frank says:

    Sara, as I said, you cannot change student-faculty ratios or class sizes in a vacuum. Everybody the UW Madison would want to keep can go elsehwere where the teaching load follows tha traditional level for research universities and not have to deal with taking on another class ot large senior level classes.

    So Daniel–what’s your alternative given fixed state money at the level proposed for this year? Are you going to lead the movement for better financial aid in the state (which is among the worst in state aid to college students)? I just assume these things will not change much either. And nobody is talking about getting as small as Stanford or JHU. UW could keep an undergrad of 20,000 students which is plenty for a smallish state which give you 5,000 new students per year. The state has a shrinking pool of high school students going forward and even relatively fewer who are suitable for a competitive national university. With a slightly smaller number of students the fin aid there is and that could be raised through taking some of the higher tuition and putting it into fin aid could mean better targeted packages for the poor but worthy in state kids. Instead of loans make the aid all scholarships with only a reasonable GPA requirement to keep the money each year. I came from a poor background and my state at the time game me a nice scholarship I could use at any school I wanted.
    But quality comes first because without that you really don’t have much value in a degree today and going forward. There is a rush to quality and many companies will only hire at top quality schools.

    Also Stanford has helped build a little thing called Silicon Valley. Any idea how many good jobs that means and how much wealth that created. Would it be that bad to have a little bigger Stanford right in Madison? That’s what I see long term. Building overweight motorcycles and providing cheese will only take Wisconsin so far. It needs to be competitive in the 21st century. And how do you do that? Not by hobbling the UW Madison for sure.

  7. Frank, you have no factual basis upon which to argue that growth in faculty/student ratio (which could come from increased admissions, decreased hiring, changes in class size, or any number of other ways) will drive an increase in faculty turnover. If I’m missing a study demonstrating this, please point the way. Moreover, given that such reforms are underway at all shapes and sizes of colleges and universities nationwide, I’d like to see where else they will go!

    This is where the national conversation about preserving both quality and accessibility is — it’s about enhancing productivity. I don’t see any evidence that the NBP will increase productivity.

    To your points on financial aid– its effectiveness depends on tuition- if the tuition goes up at least as much as the aid does, net price doesn’t change and affordability isn’t enhanced. Moreover, national polls indicate little public appetite for increasing subsidies like these– we need to find ways to provide quality higher education at a low sticker price, and that can only come from changing how we deliver and manage education.

  8. Admin says:

    @SAA: Deborah Ziff of WSJ just tweeted the following

    “Did you get a recorded message from UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin last night? Here’s why. #uwnbp

  9. Frank says:

    Sara, I do have the factual basis that in a competitive market for the best students things like student-faculty ratios and class sizes and choices are very important to the consumers–the students and their parents. I also believe it is denial of the obvious to think most high quality profs would just accept higher teaching loads because some asst prof thinks they should. Your McDonald’s approach to doling out higher education like cheap hamburgers is just bunk to those with some ability to pay and choices. As soon as the rankings of the college go down–and they certainly would- you lose the best students to other schools not so ready to jump on the next educational theory. And the downward spiral just increases. At my age I have these education theory ideas come and go many times and every one thought they had THE ANSWER. Where is your proof that going against the higher eduation trends among top schools will not result in students and yes professors voting with their feet and choosing other schools who don’t accept your McD’s approach of limited choices and larger classes and whatever other “efficiencies” you impose?

    Has anyone anywhere in the Top 50 universities adapted any of this so-called new approach to high efficiency higher education you advocate? Is Penn considering any such thing? Why don’t you just go try to sell them your great ideas. I don’t want the UW to be your little experimental playground. have you run anything larger than your Girl Scout cookie drive in your life? Yet you have all the answers. The governance approach that UW seeks is already a proven route to success at many top state U’s with similar freedom and authority. Washington’s government just gave the state U the right to set tuition as they could no longer fund it as they once had–A very similar situation to Wisconsin. Washington also has a Board of Regents just for it as does Washington state. Nobody in the state seems to see a big problem with that. And they are touting the commitment to use some tuition money to increase fin aid.

    The functions of the UW Madison also go FAR beyond processing students with BA’s. Research is a big deal not even mentioned in most of your discussions. What happens to research with the McD’s approach to education? Just let other states have that money like they gave away the train money?
    Nobody hiring will want your crappy McD U grads and then what do you tell the unemployed-it was efficient and we made lots of you to join the ranks of the underemployed. Meanwhile top employers will be happily hiring people at Washington, Michigan, UCLA, Berkeley, UVa and other similar schools that kept the old ways as they have stood the test of time.

    None of them is entertaining any of your ideas to my knowledge. Why not?

  10. Frank,

    First, there isn’t any evidence that raising faculty/student ratio decreases “quality,” or that the consumers won’t buy it. Doug Harris and I published a La Follette working paper last year on this and related points.

    The “McD’s” claim you’re making are those used to defend the escalation of costs incurred by higher ed admins who won’t switch to new models. But it isn’t McDonaldization at all, when done thoughtfully and led by faculty.

    Conversations like the one I’m describing ARE occurring at top universities nationwide, and if you like you can read about the contours of those conversations here:

    While I’m happy to use the lessons from other states, the events of Washington are nothing like the events in Wisconsin, as they have been the result of a much longer, much more thoughtful conversation about the entire state’s needs, they come with performance-based accountability measures, and the outcomes are being assessed with real hard data using a longitudinal data system. None of these things are involved in the NBP.

    I also want to note that your tone and some of your statements imply a significant disregard for education policy research that unfortunately appears echoed in the overall NBP conversation. Can you find a single education policy scholar on campus who is not also an administrator who chose to sign on to support the NBP? Does that matter to you? If not, why?

    For readers who’ve not seen the specifics on faculty/student ratio and how it affects our finances, please see here.

    This is about far more than teaching load. And yes, we can expect professors to object– just as some teachers object to any k-12 education reform. But the goal is to make high-quality opportunities truly affordable– something the NBP has little promise of achieving, for contrary to your blanket statements, there is no empirical evidence that other top universities have proven this model achieves those goals. Folks around here are claiming that it has, but they have no proof.

    I’ve signed my name to all of my opinions; I sure wish everyone would be so kind. To your slanderous comment that I’ve never run anything larger than a Girl Scout cookie drive– yes, in fact I run a $3.3 million grant funded project on campus with nearly two dozen employees. I know what the research lab side looks like and the struggles it faces. I also know what it is to handle a full teaching load (though thanks to a 5-year national fellowship I currently have a 1:1 load). All of my personal experiences are important but I do not suggest that we make higher education policy based on them– nor frankly based on the desires of faculty, staff, or administrators. We make education policy based on the needs of students, and that is my only “agenda.”


  11. Grant says:

    Finally, a substantive debate by people on both sides who are willing get SPECIFIC (and therefore potentially refutable) with their arguments! GIven this campus’ traditions, why is an obscure private blog the only place where such a two-way public discussion is actually taking place? Or have I missed similar discussions elsewhere? I sure hope so, and I’ll happily retract my comments if I’m wrong.

    Anyway, please keep it up — I for one want to understand both sides of the argument. If we can at least get the facts sorted out, then the rest comes down to values, and that’s a reasonable place for folks to choose their side.

  12. Ryan says:


    All other argument points aside, asking a woman if she’s ever run anything larger than a Girl Scout cookie drive (combined with a generally abrasive tone) is incredibly sexist and undermines your argument. Resorting to such attacks just makes you look like a bully.

  13. Frank says:

    I would have said exactly the same if she were a man except the example would be a paper route. The fact remains we now know her mgt “experience” is overseeing one grant and a handful of employees. Hardly the same as balancing the complex needs and goals of a university with a nearly $3Billion budget, 18,000 employess and probably several thousand such grants at any one time. And she has done that for what–a couple years?
    I know all about the Lumnia foundation and their agenda for higher education. It is basically driven by the so-called liberal idea of a cheap higher education for everyone.
    Not one institution of recognized quality has bought into their ideas–it is just the flavor of the moment. A few state legislatures have put in place some reporting or outcomes that is one of their ideas–which UW already does in the annual reports. That’s why she can’t name a name of any other similar college implementing these principles which are mostly regurgutated maangment ideas we studeied in MBA school 25 years ago. Goals, measurement, outcomes blah blah blah. But where the rubber meets the road it’s just more large classes, more sections for faculty, greater use of online classes (Maybe I should have said the U Phoenixation of higher ed) and probably taped lectures and TV classes. And you know what that is fine for the University of Phoenix as I would expect no more. But that is not the University of Wisconsin I want to see. It completely ignores the reality that no UW prof worth his/her PhD would put up with that crap. She lightly glosses over that trying to make it akin to public school teachers BUT most public school teachers are more easily replaced and don’t bring in $500,000 worth of research funding per year ibn addition to their other duties. This is just educational theory blather at its worst. The same people that foisted new math, round classrooms, open classrooms, and a million other now gone theories are now trying to turn UW into the U Phoenix with a dose of Kaplan University. Because that’s where the research grant money is today. Well I say screw that.
    I also note she ignored the fact that quality employers will still go to the schools ranked high in US News and other comparable rankings. And the best students will vote with their feet along with the faculty and go to the colleges with the best job prospects. So your now cheap degrees will also be worthless. Maybe you can get a job selling insurance or managing the local 7-11 but you won’t get a sniff from Microsoft or Google or GE or any other Fortune 500 company. Most high level government jobs also only go to grads of very selective colleges. That’s reality today and will be for another 100 years. That’s why people are nearly killing themselves to get into highly slective privates and a few top publics. I guess that are all just stupid as are the parents shelling out $50,000 per year. No value there. BS

    UW Madison is already very high in efficiency with average per student costs at the low end for high research state flagships. Don’t even start to compare our costs with the Ivy Sara attended which probably spends two or three times as much per student as the UW Madison. Right Sara?

    As to your claim that U Washington has a much different system and management than UW Madison, I call BS. I live in Seattle and follow UDub closely. I have seen no substantive difference in how they operate or anything else. They are nearly clones except Udub is getting more freedom of the very sort UW Madison seeks and already is independent of all other state U’s in Washington. The tuition freedom action was taken as a direct result of the current state budget, applies to several colleges and had nothing to do with other managment issues or educational theory. There was no long analysis or anything of the sort. I can cite the leading Democrat who approved that for you.

    Lawmakers have already increased tuition by double digits in each of the last two years, and they are budgeting for similar jumps in the coming two years. By the end of Gregoire’s second term, tuition will have doubled from when she took office in 2005.

    The new bill would allow the state’s five public universities and The Evergreen State College to go even higher. To help ease the pain for students, the measure includes increased financial aid and expands eligibility well into the middle class.(from the extra tuition)fr

    Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle who helped broker the bill, has already said he expects University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University will increase tuition beyond amounts already anticipated in the budget. He doesn’t expect Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University and The Evergreen State College to use the tuition-setting authority as much.”

    So Sara, go peddle your theories at at Penn or at least Cornell. Let me know their reaction and when you sell it to one Ivy or selective private school I’ll listen. I think I’ll have a long wait.


    Frank J Rojas

    Seattle, WA

  14. Frank says:

    PS-If anyone wants to run these ideas by a large group of prospective students–mostly at highly competitve schools–and their parents there is a discussion board called “College Confidential”. You’ll get some very strong opinions. I have posted there for years and that’s where I get the pulse of what top students and parents are looking for in colleges. I also try to It’s not the Kaplan or U Phoenix models. Good luck telling them otherwise. I also provide info on the UW.

  15. Frank says:

    Ryan–I am from New Jersey. We consider being generally abrasive an average lifestyle. We are direct and honest and not intimidated by some professor with the latest educational theories to sell. As I said, I have seen more education theories and “breakthroughs” come and go that I care to count. I’d just say their accuracy and success rate are about as good as your average economist is at predicting the stock market. Most are developed in a vacuum that does not consider push back and people voting with their feet and a millionother reality factors. After a few years most are quietly dumped and people go back to the tried and true ways.

  16. Ladies and gentleman, your UW alum. BOT anyone?

    I received an email from this gentleman after the Cap Times story ran. Given his abrasiveness here, I’m sure he won’t mind my sharing the email he wrote to me that day. Frank, I don’t need to argue with you– you are making your own bed quite well.


    SUBJECT LINE (verbatim): You are a hurting UW students

    Dr Rab:

    I read several of your blog posts and the article in the Cap Times. What I see is a person who enjoyed the benefits of an elite higher education who now wants to stop that from happening at the public university where she works. In this world going to a non elite university quickly traps most people into a career of limited possibilities as the best jobs go to those with the education obtained at an elite university. These jobs from Wall Street to the higher levels of government to law firms are clearly dominated and reserved for the grads of the top schools. THAT is why it is the most important priority of any university that wants to properly represent its students. It comes before worrying about the presumed adverse impact of higher tuition on a group of lower income students. Without quality getting a degree from a university is of rapidly declining value. If you want to look at UVa look at the placement they have in jobs and grad schools. Same for Michigan and other top publics. Elite education provides access to the best jobs and grad schools in the country. Second rate education is a ticket to directly to jobs such as mgt trainee at auto rental facilities.

    That is reality today and all your socialist based thinking will not change that reality. So having an emphasis on providing better fin aid is a worthy second level goal for the UW AFTER preserving and enhancing the educational quality and attracting the best students from the state and elsewhere to Madison. That is the only approach grounded in the existing world-not you pie in the sky, let’s get everyone a crappy college degree beliefs. With limited resources the decision must always be to support quality because without that it’s hardly worth keeping the doors open. Now if you have an idea on how to do that I am all ears. An I don’t buy for a second your idea that opportunity for the poor is a real measure of quality or should be. It’s a social goal that has nothing to do with what the decision makers in this country value. So what else you got?

    BTW I went to UW on full financial aid as a relatively poor Puerto Rican student from NJ and deeply appreciated that opportunity. And I hate to see self-styled do-gooders speak for me saying low cost is more important than quality. Life has taught me that is absolutely not the case. You find a way to get the money for something of real value. Nothing worth having comes cheaply.

    Frank J. Rojas | UW ‘74
    CB Richard Ellis | Valuation and Advisory Services
    1420 Fifth Avenue, Suite 440 | Seattle, WA 98101
    T 206 292 6052 | F 206 292 1601 |

  17. Frank says:

    Yes, and I see nothing there I have not said here. I see no statement that is false or unimportant. The question is what is your alternative? What points do you disagree with? I may be abrasive but you are selling something that does not exist and that is bothering me as it pertains to a place I hold very dearly. The FACTS are UW is one of the lowest expense per student major Top 50 universities in the USA if not the lowest. Do you dispute that? I have some of the numbers at hand–care to see them? BTW my guess was a little low. Your school-UPenn spends 4.21 times as much on education as the UW. So yes there are savings to be had but you don’t start with the lowest cost provider and to imply so is -I’ll be nice–misleading.
    So instead of attacking my style give me some facts. Who is doing it cheaper and better in terms of providing an education that will make the graduates competitve for the top of the jobs market and not just more underemployed college grads.

    Year: 2008 All dollars are reported per FTE Student, in 2008 dollars (CPI adjusted).
    Institution Carnegie “Education and Related

    University of Wisconsin-Madison Public Research $16,466
    University of Maryland-College Park Public Research $16,802
    Indiana University-Bloomington Public Research $17,529
    University of Illinois* Public Research $17,915
    University of Virginia-Main Campus Public Research $20,893
    Ohio State University* Public Research $21,098
    University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Public Research $24,138
    University of California-Berkeley Public Research $25,065
    University of California-San Diego Public Research $26,860
    University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Public Research $29,271
    University of Washington* Public Research $30,062
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Public Research $35,374
    University of California-Los Angeles Public Research $39,802
    Cornell University Private Research $42,967
    Northwestern University Private Research $56,537
    Dartmouth College Private Research $63,115
    University of Pennsylvania Private Research $69,372
    University of Chicago Private Research $80,002
    Columbia University in the City of New York* Private Research $84,018
    Selected Comparison Group Median $29,271
    Selected Comparison Group Mean $37,752

  18. Frank

    I have actual work to do. Studying financial aid, something you seem to have benefited from ( The points you are making have all been addressed on my blog. And they are all grounded in the status quo–which is that “everyone spends a lot so let’s spend more!”

  19. Frank says:

    And the really rich get richer. Describing UW Madison as a rich kids school is a joke. We know wher the real rich kids schools are–you went to one of the richest and now you want to cut the already meager spending at the one really important school in the state. You are a hypocrite of the first order. A privileged academic who now wants to eliminate the option of getting a great eduaction at a reasonable price.

    $16,466 versus $69,372

    Think about that. Maybe the place to look for new money is taxing the excess spending of these tax free wealth factories where the admins are paid around $1.5 Million and more and the faculty makes half again what UW faculty make (and they raid UW for faculty with regularity). That’s where the big money is. Let’s start with that instead of fighting over scraps.

  20. Sara says:


    Your slanderous accusations are completely without merit and show sheer desperation. Not worth a response. Have a good day.


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