Nailed to its perch

Please, I beg you, stop talking about public authority as if it were still viable. It’s DEAD, really truly dead. And people are finally saying as much in print. Paul Fanlund, for instance, writes in today’s CapTimes:

Martin adamantly rejects that her version [= public authority]  is doomed. “It is not my impression that legislative support is minimal,” she wrote in answer to that assertion. “I believe legislators are continuing to consider the issues and debate different possibilities,” claiming “significant momentum over the past weeks.”

Well, I’ve been looking for legislators who support Martin’s plan as written. I’m still looking.

He concludes that it’s “time to punt”. That’s gently put.

Are we going to see the Chancellor searching her Bascom office (maybe in the next Zooniversity video?) like Bush did in the Oval Office for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? No, I know what it reminds me of … Monty Python‘s dead parrot routine. I wish to register a complaint about public authority. This plan is dead. It’s stone dead. Definitely deceased. It’s passed on. It is no more. It’s expired and gone on to meet its maker.

Can we get on to the real work now, like trying to save the extra $30 million base budget cut we’re taking under this scheme?

About JS

UW-Madison faculty member
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26 Responses to Nailed to its perch

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great analogy, and one that goes beyond the part about it being dead. Think about it, a large majority (at least of the Faculty Senate) actually bought the damned thing and were ready to take it home. Next time I hope they’ll inspect the goods before laying down their money.

  2. Harry Peterson says:

    The “compromise” that is being developed is for the UW-Madison to have its own board, but remain within the System. This would generate chaos and confusion about lines of authority.

    They have this in Utah and Maine. Local boards fight with the system board over who has authority to do what–and there is a constant tendency for the local board to increase its authority.

    I agree that an independent authority for the UW-Madison is dead. However, the board-within-a board remains a possibility.

    If you think there is conflict now between the UW System and the UW Madison, wait until it gets institutionalized in the Wisconsin Statutes.
    Harry Peterson

  3. Daniel Bush says:

    “The ‘compromise’ that is being developed is for the UW-Madison to have its own board, but remain within the System. This would generate chaos and confusion about lines of authority.”

    We tried this in the 60s. It didn’t work.

  4. JS says:

    It’s not clear to me whether this ‘compromise’ has any real power behind it. Does it look politically viable or is it another weird trial balloon being floated in the chaos of the current budget process?

  5. anon says:

    Note the coordinated campaign (seen in multiple places in recent weeks) to insert the word “momentum” into every administration statement about the viability of the public authority.

    Momentum isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

  6. AC says:

    The PA is dead, because legislators from districts with other system schools felt the pressure from their constituents. The same legislators, though, (and certainly the Governor and his \pro business\ crowd), would still love to get their hands on the UW-Madison. So, while the SEPARATION is dead, the threat to Madison independence is still very much there! The \compromise\ is about who will have a say at UW Madison in the future, and in my opinion the following sentence is the most profound in Fallund’s article:

    \And one recurring subplot in the debate is that the Madison campus is politically impotent at the state Capitol, weaker than those on Bascom Hill choose to acknowledge.\

    …not just those on Bascom Hill, I am afraid! Thanks in no small part to the rift that has been created between Madison and the other campuses, those lawmakers who will not vote for a split, will vote happily (with plenty of support from home) for anything that will bring \liberal\ Madison under \business\ control. Please don’t just chase the 30 Million (and that shortfall is incredibly bad in itself), but keep the eye on the larger picture!

  7. Frank says:

    And some called me abrasive. Nice way to characterize the Chancellor of your university as some addled nincompoop. At least I use clear language and have an opinion. You just cling to the past as if it were a blankie and all this bad stuff will just be a bad dream. But I expect no less from scademic snipers who have little authority and no responsibility other than a couple classes and some research.
    Here’s the truth. There is no Santa Claus and you are seriously an addled nincompoop if you think another $30 Million is now coming to UW Madison just because the Public Authority goes away. None of that solves any of the long term structural problems with the UW budget and I know you don’t have a solution to that. Just sniping. Sara has no magic bullet that would have a chance in hell of being either accepted by the faculty or lead to any significant cost saving without a significant loss of key faculty who will see that as the last straw. Not to mention the loss of value to the UW degree. Who wants to pay money to watch a class on TV and end up with a job at Budget Rent A car. They will vote with their feet and go to a university that has not adopted such an “efficient” approach to higher eduation. There will still be several 100 good ones and I hear U Minnesota is givng money to anyone who will attend and has over around a 30 ACT. Same for Indiana U.
    The UW lemon has been squeezed dry. So now Mr Python. Lay it out. What is you plan to close the remaining $125 Million budget gap? Mass purchase of Lotto tickets? I can’t wait to start sniping back.

  8. Starved for Information says:

    AC makes an important point, certainly. UW-Madison is weak now, thanks to the miserable way that Bascom has handled this, and we’re vulnerable.

  9. GP says:

    Hey, I’ve got an idea, Frank. How about the citizens and political leaders of the great state of Wisconsin step up to the plate, recognize that high-quality public education is good for its citizens, good for business, and good for the economy. How about they find the intestinal fortitude to say “no” to those attempting to dismantle everything that distinguishes civilization from the Dark Ages and commit to RAISING THE REVENUES needed to pay for high-quality education both at the K12 level and at the university level?

    The state of Wisconsin is only “broke” because we refuse to ask those who are still doing extremely well to chip in a little more.

    There are 5.5M people in Wisconsin. $6 per person per year is what we’re talking about to cover the $30M cut everyone claims is bearing down on us like an out-of-control freight train.

    It’s not that we don’t have the means, it’s that we don’t have the will.

  10. Frank says:

    Clue–UW Madison has been a big target at the Capitol since well before the current admin arrived. Read Wylie’s parting shots after he put in time at Bascom Hall. This is nothing new. Money for the UW has been effectively declining SINCE THE MERGER and it is at the very low end of the nation in growth for higher ed funding.
    Wisconsin is just a dumb state when it comes to understanding or appreciating quality higher education. Relatively few people have higher degrees and even fewer attended what could be characterized as highly selective high quality schools. To most one degree is about the same as another and who really needs it anyhow?
    I contrast this with some other states I have lived in including Virginia and Washington. In those states the universities are understood as being important to the future of the state and their high tech economies. Washington just gave the Udub full tuition control after they had to cut the Udub budget by an maount in the same ballpark as the UW faces. Virginia has had that for several years and both have full control over bonding for new construction and their own very high bond ratings. They also have more control over setting faculty pay.
    I am not afraid of running the UW more like a business. The most successful colleges (public and private) in the US are run that way.

  11. Frank says:

    GP–nice idea–not a chance in hell. I guess some people are still waiting for Santa Claus to come and save the day. Well, keep looking out the window.
    I give my share freely but not so many feel that way. Even the UW’s own Alumni are a bit stingy. Our giving rate is only around 13%. Way too low. It should be 20%.

  12. GP says:

    As a matter of fact, Frank, I agree with much of what you say about the political realities in WI– all the way up to your last two sentences. I have no desire to teach or work at a university that is run like a business. I’m a physical scientist, but I greatly value the support at this university for the humanities and other “non-marketable” intellectual disciplines. I think it enriches Madison, and I think it enriches humanity. I used to be on the faculty of a Big Ten university that treated the humanities very poorly, and I HATED the anti-intellectual, pro-commercial attitude there. If we become like that university, I will lose my primary reason for staying. And I recognize that people who think corporatizing UW-Madison is a good thing won’t miss me one bit.

  13. AC says:

    @ Starved….: Bascom’s way of handling this didn’t help, but it alone didn’t make us vulnerable. Madison has not done a good job engaging people across the state and creating a sense of ownership of “their” flagship for a long, long time. And nobody is doing it now either.

  14. Frank says:

    Where is it written that running it more like a business is going to end support for the less marketable degrees? Some of the most popular majors at UW are not directly job related-poli sci, psychology, English etc. As long as there are students willing to pay to study those majors I have them. For one they are very cheap to teach and can support the more expensive science and engineering programs. Also even the engineers need a little English and other liberal arts courses. Having arts on campus is also important in making the place attractive to students and faculty. I’d spend more on them than they currently do because I know there’s a market of students who want to study musical theater, music, dance and art. It just has to be good enough and once you have the proper building it’s also cheap to teach. You know how cheaply you can hire a good full-time artist to teach art? Much less than a business prof. for sure.
    See business ain’t so stupid. You want happy customers who want to give you money. And a happy staff.

  15. Frank says:

    pS-I have read the entire history of the UW. There was hardly any long period of time when the university was popular at the Capitol or with the public. The good times were by far the exceptions. The people–I’d just better not say. Let’s just leave it at uninterested. Usually much worse.

  16. GP says:

    “See business ain’t so stupid. You want happy customers who want to give you money. And a happy staff.”

    You also want faculty research and scholarship to be somewhat insulated from shifting political and commercial winds, which is tough to do at a university that is “run like a business” with the bottom line dictating hiring and curricular decisions, not to mention tenure.

    At Texas A&M, “running like a business” apparently means assigning a “net dollar value” to faculty based on credit-hours taught and external research funds obtained. This is the appalling logical end-point of running a university like a business.

  17. Frank, are you sure your last name isn’t Koch?

    I’m really hopeful your view of higher education isn’t representative of our alumni generally. If it is, maybe that’s why our giving rate is so low.

    The future of public higher education requires a much greater vision than you’ve outlined here.

    Here’s to hoping for other voices in this debate…

  18. Frank says:

    “For example, here in Wisconsin, the public university educating the best prepared kids spends $2,700 more per student on instruction – not research, or services—just instruction—than the rest of the public universities. That’s right—we spend far more on the easiest to educate in this state than we do on the hardest to educate.”

    Well Sara, did you adjust for the fact that Madison offers more expensive to teach majors such as engineering, business, medicine, law, graduate programs or did you even breakout just spending on undergrads? Did you factor in that the best students want and deserve more advanced classes that are best taught in smaller groups with time for student input and discussion. Or is that just some average?
    Then there is the quality question. I’d say the best students deserve the best the state can offer as they are most likely to benefit themselves and the state and take advantage of that opportunity. But here you basic liberal bias starts to show. You just want everyone to have the same average non elite education so they don’t get in the way of you Ivy grad friends when it comes to getting the best jobs or get into the best grad schools in the country.
    Really what does being the easiest to educate even mean?? You make this sound like some assembly line putting out identical products. Is that what higher education even is? Teaching the best students can be far more demanding and difficult. They want to go beyond the book and know why this is true. They want interaction in classes. You can always tell when you are at a high quality college because there is lots of classroom discussion. You don’t do that with 500 people. You claim is just mind-blowingly narrow and loaded with politcal baggage.

    Now it would be nice if Wisconsin could afford 20 great public universities. But it can’t and won’t. It costs far less to adequately prepare a basically qualified K-12 teacher or the next insurance sales person. Teaching high level engineers, computer scientists, scientists, and even business people takes more money. So where would you get the money to bring up the allegedly low spending at the other schools?

  19. Frank says:

    GP, Michigan is run like a business. So are Uva and William and Mary. I have heard no significant issues of lack of academic freedom at those schools. Certainly no more than the UW gets right now. That is just a red herring thrown out by scared liberals.
    Most of you have never worked in the private sector for any length of time. Well it is neither as ruthless or heartless as you might assume. I have worked for some of the largest firms in my field in the US. International firms. All seemed to value their employees and shared the wealth in good times and in bad times we all shared in the cuts in pay and bonuses so the firm could survive until better days. Good firms know that they need to keep good people happy. They are still hard to find.

  20. Frank says:

    I suggest anyone actually interested in just UW Madison and not in radical reform of higher education in America read College Confidential for a month. You will see what prospective students and their parents are valuing and want in higher education. These are real people and not some academics with an axe to grind. It’s a little slow now because decisions were due May 2 at most schools. But you can go back and read the older posts. You will get the real consumer’s view of higher education.
    I would LOVE to see Sara post her ideas and claims there.

  21. Frank

    We don’t make decisions about how to educate or what to teach based solely or even primarily on consumer demand– that’s one key reason why education isn’t a business.

    You clearly have no idea what it takes to educate people with lower skills and bring them up to speed. The cost associated with educating with them are much higher than costs of educating higher ability students, but the economic returns are GREATER. Yes, greater. Thus, the most cost-effective investments states can make are in devoting relatively more resources to students entering higher education with lower skills. It’s one reason Madison’s claim on the state’s resources rings so hollow. We get $2.7 billion a year and have a huge black/white gap in completion rates. What’s our excuse? Don’t point to financial aid– it hardly seems to affect chances of completion at Madison at all (I have very rigorous research to prove that). Sure, it likely affects quality, and that’s important, but our core mission is degree attainment. And we’re not delivering on that promise to all students we already bring to campus.

    You’ve noted your own humble origins– do you remember what it was like to be on campus? Have you talked with students like you who are currently on campus? Have you concluded the primary driver of their completion rates is money?

    Your friends on college prep websites are mostly parents of the already-elite. You seem among them–are you trolling those boards aiming to get your kid into the “best” college? The country won’t get what it needs from higher education by catering to that.


  22. Frank says:

    Most of that $2.7 Billion has nothing to do with providing education. TYou know that and I know that. The spending on instruction totals just under $500 Million of that. Add in student academic support and you are at $750 million. The rest goes for research (1 Billion), fin aid, maitenance etc.

    The UWs core missions are research education and service. Degrees are just a partial measure of education as the UW also provides many more non-degree programs and professional seminars etc.

    Yes there is a completion problem for black students for many factors. That’s way down the lsit of the major issues we are looking at now. Maybe too many lower ability black students are admitted, they have more issues with adjusting to college and a whole host of other things to much to go into now. A discussion for another time.

    My first days on campus were just fine. I came from a very white area of NJ and never thought much about that. I now serve on a board at the UW that works with minority students so I meet them twice a year and have emailed some of them with advice from time to time.

    Im not worried about the country getting what it needs from higher education although I am actually sure it will. But that also is another issue. I’m worried about the UW Madison, period. It only has value to its students to the extent it is well regarded by future employers and grad schools. The upper level of incomes and careers are very competitive to reach. For many the UW is a great start. If you take that away it’s a crime. Most kids cannot afford Penn or can’t get accepted. UW draws from a far wider demographic yet they can compete with Penn grads is they want. That’s important too. Microsoft wants UW Madison grads. Not UW Oshkosh grads. At least for now.

  23. Frank

    Where are the numbers about what concerns you? Where is the declining employment rate of our graduates (apart from the contributions of the Great Recession)? Where is our fall in grad school admissions? Where is our decline in research funding? Heck, where’s our decline in degree completion rates?

    In other word, what’s the great “crisis” UW-Madison is facing? Another budget cut? Sure, but we’ve had them before — and we have more than “survived.” This situation is comparable to the 1980s when families moaned about skyrocketing tuition while continuing to pay it– it taught schools they could –and should–jack up the price. There’s little evidence that Madison’s suffered on the metrics of its core missions, even though it’s lost revenue–therein lies a problem. It’s begun to teach the state it can do without, that alumni will pitch in, that students and families will pay more. The NBP will drive that lesson home, passing the buck onto private funders, and really showing the state how little it is needed. Want a lesson from MI and VA? That is the most powerful lesson.

    I see UW-Madison’s important to you, and I deeply respect that. It’s terribly important to me too–and actually for the same reasons you name; I want all students in Wisconsin to have access to a high-quality flagship university. Over time, that hinges on a great commitment from the state– without it, those families who cannot shoulder the burden will be locked out. That is yet another solid lesson from UVA.

    So, do you want UW-Madison to merely be excellent, or do you want it also to be truly public–in financing, as well as mission?


    ps. It’s a side note, but need to register my concern about your claims about black students, and as chair of the university-wide committee on undergraduate recruitment, admissions, and financial aid I can assure you the b/w gap isn’t due to “lower ability” students.

  24. Frank says:

    Every time I bring in facts you play change the topic. I exploded your shabby numbers on per student spending. You have never addressed the point that most top universities spend multiples of what UW spends ot that UW is among the lowest spending per student schools at its level in the US.
    Not all students in Wisconsin are suited nor do they need to attend the top Flagship in the state. That is why every state in the US has one top (or in some like California several) elite schools to serve the best and brightest of the state. There is no way in hell the state could or would support a Madison level school for every college going kid in the state nor is that necessary. The smaller less competitive schools are probably a better fit for the kids with 22 ACT scores and a 3.0 gpa. If they are late bloomers and want to go to Madison later its very possible to transfer and many do that. There is plenty of opportunity for any student from Wisconsin to end up graduating from UW Madison if they are willing to compete and work hard.

    I don’t really care how UW maintains excellence so long as it does. And reality tells me there is no more money coming from the state in the forseeable future. So you go to the next logical source and that is tuition. Every other state trying to preserve its flagship asset has done that. There is no free lunch. So there is NO great commitment from the state coming. Not happening, dead, expired to paraphrase the OP in this discussion. The UW has committed, just as the Udub here has, to take a substantial portion of the tuition for financial aid. That is all that can be done. The rest will have to come from fundraising and I have given substantially to the Chancellor’s scholarship program.

    Yes UW has absorbed cuts–and they led to large numbers of senior faculty leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere and our US News ranking falling from the low 30’s to the mid 40’s. ( When I attended UW back in the day it was widely considered to be a Top 15 school with big name faculty all over the place. But that was many better days ago following one of the few better periods of UW funding. Then came the merger and thing shave never been quite the same.) People noticed and another such fall would put UW out of the Top 50 and would begin a further downward cycle as those with money start to vote with their feet and choose other schools. There you have the beginning of the Wisconsin brain drain. The paper recently did an article about how top students from the state are being lured to other states away with attractive fin aid packages. Minnesota and Inidiana are now seen by some as equally desirable. A university’s reputation can fall very quickly and it is much harder to build a reputation than it is to lose it. Without the power to backfill the cuts with tuition–as was done in the other periods of large cuts–the faculty WILL see no hope for better days and again the losses will mount.

    Your hopes for more money are fatuous and based on nothing but hope. I work in the real world dealing with millions of dollars every week and one thing I know is there is no success to be had counting on hope to make a deal work.

    I want UW degrees to be worth as much as Michigan and Virginia degrees or even Penn degrees. You want a diploma mill giving out worthless credentials because that’s what you will rapidly have if the UW slips anymore than it has. Most employers are not really aware of nor do they care much that a school is uber successful in getting research grants. Harvard spends half the money UW does on research and it has not hurt their image. Its nice to talk about and makes the faculty happy but for the students its not all that important except to the extent it keeps top faculty at UW.
    And our placement has never been as good as Michigan or UVa and just as expected in basic economics-in tough times employers cut back recruiting at the marginal schools and focus on a few core colleges. So last year UW Business undergrad only had 47% of grads placed in jobs while UM and UVa had closer to 80%. Plus UVa and UM grads got better jobs with pay averaging $10,000 more to start not counting bonus–and most of their jobs had bonus potential that was much higher (as in 100% of base). That’s where the rubber meets the road–jobs on graduation. UW is barely holding on now while others are still doing quite well. Why is that? They follow the model Martin now proposes.
    I am also sure recruiting of liberal arts grad is much stronger but info are harder to find.

    And both UVa and UM are FAR more successful in recruiting and graduating minority students too. UVa has the highest graduation rate for AA students of any public. Why do top AA students choose UM and UVa–they know the diploma has real value.

    Merely excellent. There is no option for both excellent and fully public financed. None ZERO NADA ZIP. Every major state in the country with budget issues (and that’s about 95% of them) is cutting back on higher ed. If you think you are going to change that with your analysis you are deluded. Obviously you have no understanding of how important being known for excellence is after graduation. But I know you do because you went to Penn and not Temple and I know that makes you something of a hypocrite. Because you knew to have a career as an academic getting your Phd at a top university was fundamental. Well the rest of the world works the same way.

    Better to end up with Michigan or Uva than the University of Nebraska at Madison.

  25. Frank says:

    A little more on college attended and pay. The differences are stark and depressing for those going to a school at the end of the list. Maybe its a good argument for charging more at UW Madison than UW Superior or Oshkosh.

    School Name School Type Starting Median Salary Mid-Career Median Salary

    Extremely long list (997 entries) deleted and placed in a separate document that can be accessed here:
    – Admin

  26. Frank says:

    Here’s some evidence that not all is wonderful at UW and that slipping has already begun. Things are not as wonderful as Sara would like to claim. It just takes time for decline to be noticed. then it’s too late.

    From the Cap Times
    maribeff wrote:

    “I don’t get how the fact that someone is pushing hard for an idea is evidence that it is her idea. That makes no sense. I heard officials state that it was not her idea, and I have never heard her or anyone else state otherwise. I guess you have been to different forums that I have?

    In the last 5 years my department has lost 9 faculty positions – positions that have not been replaced. Only last year we lost 3 senior faculty, three top people who we could not retain because we could not compete, we were not even close, with outside offers. We are not allowed to hire at senior levels because it is very expensive, so the ones that are replaced get replaced by junior faculty who still need to establish themselves. My department is now around 50% junior, which place a big burden to the seniors, making things worse because we teach and do the usual administration. Our load did not go down proportionally to the people we lost, we still get to do the same. On top of this in the last 10 years our support staff has also been reduced, there is more administration linked to our research grants and we have to do that part of the administration, etc, etc. My department has been a top 10-15 department since we can remember, since rankings started. Last year we went down to 16 for first time.

    I thought we had been treated very badly by our administration, until I talked to my colleagues in other departments and learned that most departments were having similar experiences. I am not very fond of many of the approaches administrators use, and I do not agree with some of their strategies. But to say that we are not in trouble is naive. Anyone who works at the U knows we are in trouble. I don’t know where you get your evidence, I see the evidence every day.

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