The Commission on Faculty Compensation and Economic Benefits has issued its annual report for 2011-2012 [PDF]. The commission rightly identifies a looming crisis in compensation for faculty and staff at UW-Madison. The report provides not only a thoughtful and sober analysis of the magnitude of the problem and of the role of sharply declining state support in exacerbating the problem; it also offers a fairly exhaustive itemization of options available to help mitigate the crisis; e.g., increased efficiencies, alternative revenue sources, and “temporary incentives.”
Truth be told — and I doubt that many of the commission members would disagree, many of the options cited in the report are more or less analogous to those available to shipwreck survivors stranded in a lifeboat far out at sea:
- “As shown by the Greek philosopher Zeno, scarce rations may be extended indefinitely by distributing exactly half of what remains on each successive day.”
- “Consumption of leather articles such as belts, wallets, and shoes provides a welcome, if temporary, relief from the physical sensations of starvation.”
- “Even when drinking water has run out, under no circumstances should survivors succumb to the temptation to drink seawater or urine. Those who disregard this advice may partially mask the flavor by mixing in a tablespoon of Crystal Light Raspberry Ice Tea mix.”
- “When rescue remains an unlikely prospect even as morale and physical well-being continue to plummet, take a discreet look around you and identify the fellow survivors least likely to be in any condition to put up a spirited fight. As a rough guide, one such individual will adequately feed ten for several days, or up to a week in cooler weather.”
- “Sleep with one eye open.”
Please note: these were not actual commission recommendations.
One actual commission recommendation in particular, however, stands out as providing more than just superficial and temporary relief. Indeed it was precisely this recommendation that was singled out by “On Campus” reporter Deborah Ziff at the Wisconsin State Journal. Paraphrased, it goes like this:
- “Increasing the percentage of out-of-state students admitted to the University can significantly increase total tuition revenue without the need for politically untenable increases in tuition rates.”
Yes! This is self-evidently true, and in recognition of its potential importance for the future of the university, I wish this option had been as prominent in the actual commission report as it was in Ms. Ziff’s very short article. I therefore would like to take this opportunity to propose the following refinement:
- To be more in line with our national peer universities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota should agree to terminate their unusual tuition reciprocity arrangement and to charge full out-of-state tuition to each other’s residents.
- The above reciprocity arrangement should then be replaced by a new one in which the two universities each agree to reject their own in-state applicants while giving preference to those from the other state.
The logical result of this arrangement will be that UW-Madison’s student body will soon be made up entirely of Minnesota residents and other out-of-state students, all paying $25,421 tuition per year rather than the $9,671 paid by in-state students, while Wisconsin students will all go to Minnesota and elsewhere.
If we conservatively estimate that 25,000 in-state students currently on the UW-Madison campus would soon be replaced by out-of-state students paying $15,750 per head more, that represents $394M in new revenue to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All without raising tuition rates.
The logic and spirit of this proposal are completely consistent both with recent trends in state support for our university and with reason 3 in the very first paragraph of this official explanation of UW-Madison admission policies. I cannot imagine why it would not be universally embraced by politicians and administrators alike as an innovative and far-reaching solution to the university’s current budget woes.