Responding to decreased state support: A modest proposal.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

9 Responses to “Responding to decreased state support: A modest proposal.”

  1. Frank Rojas says:

    Instead of snarky juvenile criticism why not actually try a realistic and serious response to the issues of the budget and faculty pay?? If you have a REAL solution bring it. Afraid to put it on the line? Taking pot shots at a serious reasoned proposal is not advancing the issues in need of an immediate solution. The next position cut might just be a friend or YOU.

  2. GP says:

    Frank, the realistic and serious response is to point out that there are only two viable paths: public or private. We either give up on state support altogether, raise tuition to Harvard-like levels, and go about our business without any obligation whatsoever to the state of Wisconsin, or the state finally steps up and invests in making high-quality education at a top-tier research institution affordable for ALL of its citizens. Any in-between solution is a mirage.

    Personally, I would probably do better in a private setting, where I would be accountable only to the agencies that fund my research grants and to the privileged kids who can afford to take my classes. But as a citizen, I believe the societal benefits of accessible (i.e., publicly subsidized) high-quality education far outweigh the costs, and I will continue to make the case for that at every opportunity.

    Frank, your only contribution that I have seen so far has been to regularly excoriate those here who think public higher ed is worth defending and to denigrate the citizens of Wisconsin as not deserving of a world-class public university. And you make these contributions not as a current member of the campus community but rather from several states away, apparently (though I’m not quite sure about this yet) as a member of the emergent class of business-first ideologues who think everything is better if it is privatized.

    If I’m misreading you, then please lay out the reasoned arguments for your own position rather than simply attacking those whose positions differ from yours.

  3. Admin says:

    Coincidentally, an article today in Germany’s Spiegel:
    http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/ausland/0,1518,817869,00.html

    It’s in German, but the essence is that the U.S. used to be the land of promise for top German researchers, but now Germany is successfully luring them back as the U.S. fails to sustain its historical commitment to science and education.

    Our biggest competitors — China and Germany — realize that these things are worth investing in. And here, a leading presidential contender disparages as \snobbery\ the idea that college is a desirable goal for our young people.

  4. Frank Rojas says:

    No, you have it about 90% wrong but I appreciate the sincere response. I think a hybrid approach is still very viable with the state making a relatively fixed allocation which buys it so many seats at the UW-Madison. If they cut money they lose seats, simple and fair–you get what you pay for but no more. At the current $400 million or so level in real terms I would say that buys about two-thirds of the 28,000 or so undergrad seats. Or around the current amount when you include Minny kids. Tuition would be kept around the 75th %tile of the other Big 10 publics. Out of state would be market driven. If they want to cut the state money so many seats for instate would be cut based on a formula and re-allocated to out of state in order to keep total size and faculty about level. So that is NOT full privatization at all. It is already working in other states.

    I am certain that the citizens of the state have only tepid support for the UW and it has been that way many many years. The state is not highly educated and rather insular in that most people were botn there and have not lived in other states unlike many of the places I have lived where there are many more highly educated newcomers and a more transitory population. It makes a difference in outlook and how people value high ed. I do not denigrate the citizens of Wisconsin as unworthy of a world class public–I conclude they do not APPRECIATE having one, do not see the advantages, do not comprehend the value of research, and many would be very happy with a low cost non-research university with low tuition and no faculty “stars”. I think the UW’s own 2006 surveys have indicated as much and I think it is even worse today:
    “While the majority of respondents agreed that that the UW System provided an excellent education for either themselves or their children, other answers showed deep taxpayer skepticism with the System. For instance:

    69% of Wisconsin residents agreed that System “campuses have more administrators than they need.”
    50% agreed that System “campuses pay their faculty too much.”
    59% agreed that System “campuses don’t think they have to watch their dollars like the rest of us.”
    72% agreed that System “campuses spend too much money on things they don’t need instead of concentrating on educating students.”
    74% agreed they couldn’t afford to send their child to a System campus without financial aid.
    65% agreed the System could manage itself more effectively to overcome budget cuts.8″

    I think you are brave to continue to try to make you case for more public higher ed in Wisconsin. I also think you are wasting your time. I have followed trends in Wisconsin very closely over the last 40 years in regard to the UW. In the old days I got mailed copies of the Madison paper or found it in the local library and have read the Chronicle of Higher ed since 1971 so it is pretty easy to stay in touch. Really very little has changed. Back in 1970 they hated the UW because of the demonstrations and radicals so it might have even been worse which is partially why they merged the schools–to get more control over Madison and dilute its importance. It was a punch in the face to Madison by the politicians. Those punches have been coming pretty much ever since with dems only saying nicer things as they cut.

    I retire soon so it has no real imapct on me if the UW I knew goes in the toilet. Football will still be good. But I want future students to have what I had at UW-a transforming experience for a relatively modest income Hispanic kid from rural NJ.

  5. GP says:

    Frank, thanks for the substantive response. I have a much better understanding of where you’re coming from now than I did.

    Your proposal that the the state allocation be considered as buying a certain number of seats is interesting. Obviously the legislature would have to be sold on viewing it that way. One of the things every public university seems to be contending with is that their respective legislatures are cutting the state allocation while retaining the right to micromanage tuition, enrollment, and the like. I realize that the NBP was seen by many as alleviating that problem, but we did not, in my opinion, ever have an adequate opportunity to examine or debate anything beyond the hype, and that’s a terrible way to make radical changes.

    As for the attitudes of the Wisconsin public, it seems to me that that itself is largely matter of effective outreach and education, something we have been pretty bad at, in my opinion. Can the public be persuaded — using carefully presented facts from credible sources — that having an elite research university, and sending their kids there, is truly an important economic engine for the state? If not, then we’re probably screwed. But I would argue that that case CAN be made, if only effective voices can be found to counterbalance the demagogues whose sole objective seems to be low taxes and small government, no matter what the cost to the state’s future.

  6. Frank Rojas says:

    If you can find that answer to convincing the public about the value of the UW to them you would be doing something nobody has been able to do in the long history of the UW. The miracle of the UW-Madison is that it became what it is in spite of local politics and lack of general public support. If you have not read the excellent history of the UW books you should. These days are nothing new at all. It has always been one step forward and two back. That started when they (state) squandered the land grants and went on from there. Research has made and saved the UW over the years, but most of that came from outside and private sources. Forming WARF was brilliant.

    http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/UW/CurtiUWHist

  7. Frank Rojas says:

    Just came across this new detailed study about the UW’s image in Wisconsin. If you can figure out a method that works from this let me know. It looks like the intersection of different worldviews and experiences. I am sure the author was very circumspect about what was reported and how.

    http://wiscape.wisc.edu/uploads/media/e1d40727-38fc-433a-a8a7-9df8b77b1a29.pdf

  8. GP says:

    Kathy Cramer Walsh’s work on this is very important, in my opinion, and we in the University have a lot to learn about the roots of the perceptions she describes. Are those perceptions insurmountable? I don’t know. But I think that anytime people are hurting in rural areas, it’s easier for them to contrast their own situation with that of “lazy, elitist professors.”

    As a side note, I looked up something else Prof. Walsh wrote and found the following comment:

    “With respect to the proposed public authority status for UW-Madison, I imagine that going this route will in the short term exacerbate the perception that those of us at the flagship school are elitist and out of touch with the rest of the state.” (http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/03/01/what_in_the_hell_is_going_on_i/)

    That fits with the argument raised by many opponents of the NBP that we would just further isolate ourselves and lose what little clout we still have with the state assembly.

  9. Frank Rojas says:

    What they need to do is explain that being an internationally respected research university has real value to the state. UW has done the numbers but like pretty much like anything it says, it gets little traction with the masses and the politicians. (UW econ impact reports) What exactly do you do with a state where a major politican once openly insulted a recent winner of the Nobel Prize? I think you accept what you cannot change and keep doing what you do well. Those that count in the bigger world will know and understand. The rest never will. That’s why I advocate a new business model that clearly states this is what you get and this it what it costs. A clear business transaction. No fncy talk about values and ideas. Otherwise we do what we think is best in the long-run for the UW Madison. We know it will benefit the state and the world but we are not going to waste lots more time and money proving it to you.

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