Comments and questions about the discussion of splitting the UW System from the state.

If you haven’t done so, please read today’s WI State Journal article, “Splitting UW System, UW-Madison from state being discussed at Capitol,” which I pasted below and once you do so then consider the following questions.

If you objectively look at what took place during and after the “conversion” of the UWH&C you will understand the complexity of any conversion of the UW System. These questions also would apply if compromises are made and then select campuses or a single campus, such as UW-Madison, is proposed to become a public-private authority. Luckily a colleague who was involved in the UWH&C conversion helped me understand a wide array of significant issues which must be discussed. The person also explained that there are other large questions that must be identified and discussed, such as but not limited to:

1. Will employees remain in the state pension system?

2. Will employees remain in the state employee benefits system?

3. Will the UW System and/or individual campuses have to pay the debt service on the bonds supporting the existing buildings?

4. Which investment firm would get the business to issue new bonds for the new authority? Remember the unsavory action with Nick Hurtgen and Bears Stearns?

5. How will the ruling from the 1973 WI Supreme Court’s ruling in the Nusbaum  vs. Warren impact the definition of an authority?

6. Will the WI citizens receive any monetary compensation from the 160+ years of tax support?

7. What impact will this have on federal research funding and indirect cost recovery, esp. at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee? If we have to satisfy Warren v Nussbaum, the UW may inadvertently have to give up millions of dollars in federal grants. We do not employ a pro forma balance sheet and cost-based accounting. Unlike other state systems of higher ed and other public research intensive universities, we don’t have a balance sheet; we have DOA, UWF, Employee Trust Funds, SBC, etc. Without a balance sheet, there is no way to determine the future income and cost streams.

8. What happens with “off balance sheet assets”–UWF, University Research Park, WARF, Hospital Authority, UW Medical Foundation? How are they valued?  Is anything returned to the state taxpayers?

9. How do the other UW campuses, such as UW-Milwaukee share in the $5 billion of wealth in the “off balance sheet” entities?

10. Will the public regional comprehensive universities and the UW Colleges/Extension survive?

11. What happens to campus and system governance as currently in the state statutes (chapter 36)?

UW System and individual campus leaders, especially Chancellor Blank who is an economist, must provide a detailed analysis of this proposal. It doesn’t matter if it was  their idea or not. There’s the strong potential for tremendous harm to Wisconsin’s public higher education system, especially tomorrow’s students, staff, faculty, and citizens.

Regardless of the positions taken by UW System and individual campus chancellors, it is their responsibility to conduct a thorough analysis and it is their duty to convene multiple campus and community forums across WI before Governor Walker releases his 2015-2017 biennial budget, as well as during the legislative sausage-making process.

Finally, if this potential item is included in the WI 2015-2017 biennial budget then will UW System leaders and campus chancellors advocate and support an amendment which would create a blue ribbon commission on the future of WI’s public higher education system? If it is in the biennial budget then the state needs to be engaged in thoughtful discussion. The 1971 merger legislation which combined the chapter 37 Wisconsin State Universities and chapter 36 University of Wisconsin System was debated in multiple forms over two decades.

Will the UW System leaders, UW-Madison chancellor, other campus chancellors, and UW Colleges/Extension chancellor open this question up, just as their predecessors have done in the past?

Noel Radomski
Vice Chair, Committee on Academic Staff Issues, School of Education
Director, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE)

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