Beyond happy talk on economic collaboration

There is a sad but true piece of reality that needs to be injected to the happy talk on the subject of collaboration in Wisconsin for economic development.

Even thought the standard rhetoric extols the virtue of collaboration on a statewide basis, and even though Rebecca Blank, chancellor of UW-Madison, has decried the rivalry between campuses, the amount of actual collaboration between campuses is barely visible.

Collaboration is happening, but it’s mainly happening on a regional level.

We in Wisconsin love our flagship campus in Dane County, and we are immensely proud to be home to one of the world’s great universities.

But the level of hubris and insularity is so high in Madison that the rest of the state can expect little help for its economic and social challenges.

Its graduates do spread across the state, a great gift because they provide leadership in many sectors. But institutional contributions are another matter. There are a few instances of collaboration, but generally it’s more talk than walk.

UW-Madison has become an active partner in the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (MERC), which is hubbed around UW-Milwaukee, Marquette and MSOE. It also contributed some RFID technology toward a tracking and data management project launched by the BloodCenter of Wisconsin for its multi-state blood bank. There is some interaction between the UW-Madison limnology center and the new College of Freshwater Science at UWM.

But, by and large, state money flows one way, to Madison, not from. For example, there is $7 billion in foundation money associated with UW-Madison, and their proceeds generally stay in Dane County. Those dollars do not flow out.

That reality is unlikely to change, given the flagship campus’ self-absorption.

Fortunately, another reality has emerged. In concert with the strategic vision of the leaders of Milwaukee 7’s business, university, health care and non-profit worlds, collaboration is flourishing in Southeastern Wisconsin.

The co-location at UWM’s new Innovation Campus, adjacent to the Medical College of Wisconsin, brings together researchers from industry and several universities. It will be a powerful combination that will turn out innovations that can be sold in the marketplace. Those innovations will create jobs and future prosperity for people in the region and beyond.

The same kind of dynamic is happening around UWM’s College of Freshwater Sciences and the associated Global Water Center.

The region hosts about $300 million in research and development, which is a respectable fraction of the $1 billion plus at UW-Madison. The end products of that activity are patents, licenses, startup enterprises and, finally, high pay jobs.

The collaboration could become even more productive, operating on three levels.

First, the UW System could reorganize itself along regional lines to better align within the economic clusters that largely fall within regional lines. That would mean UWM, UW-Whitewater, UW-Parkside, UW-Waukesha and UW-Washington County operate under one chancellor. The campuses could specialize in what the various economic clusters need.

That combination would constitute a university of more than 40,000 students, the equivalent in size of UW-Madison.

Michael LovellSecond, more economic power could be aggregated with a genuine collaboration of those public campuses with the eight private universities in the seven counties. Mike Lovell, ex-chancellor of UWM and now president of Marquette, could be a lynch pin for that cooperation. He’s good at it. Interim UWM Chancellor Mark Mone is in total sync with Lovell on that score.

Mark-MoneAt the third level, unlike Madison, the Milwaukee region has a reservoir of business horsepower. Major corporations like GE Healthcare, Rockwell, JCI, Badger Meter, AO Smith, Veolia and ABB have already bought into the collaborative model. They are co-locating with the region’s academic researchers.

One good outcome from the three layers of collaboration would be the establishment of more research institutes in the region, along the lines of the research institute in blood technologies at the BloodCenter.

This is not an anti-Madison screed. It is just a recognition that the M7 Region and other regions in the state can and need to do their own heavy lifting. They need to see their own power and act accordingly.

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  • Nathan DS

    I applaud the call for the M7 region to work together on any level. I feel like it’s often Milwaukee vs. surrounding counties when people from the suburbs talk–which is ultimately a losing proposition in the 21st century as urban centers will drive growth.

    As for Madison’s hubris– it is there, but I think we need to keep it in perspective. I sit on a board of young alumni that helps advise the Economics department (a top 15 ranked department). If the rest of the university and research is anything like the Econ department, they are focused on beating out Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, MIT, etc. in terms of ranking. There are problems with the ranking systems, and UW is at some HUGE disadvantages, but that largely is a main goal. There are quite a few departments where the level of peers (or at least a stone’s throw away) are the best in the world.

    This is a different goal than the rest of the system. Given the low level of pay at UW-Madison versus other similarly ranked research institutions, (perhaps wrongly) faculty might view partnerships with small institutions around the state as another tough selling point for recruiting faculty. I hear again and again, it’s hard for star-academics (who almost always have an impressive spouse who wants to work in a big metro) to consider a small place like Madison– let alone the additional prospect of working with UW-Parkside on some partnership. I would wager most Wisconsinites don’t know where UW-Parkside is, let alone top researchers Madison has a shot at recruiting.

    It may not be an ideal situation, but I think the preferred solution is M7 collaboration with UW-Madison helping when it can. This state needs to continue to realize that UW-Madison is a huge asset to the state and might be the institution that brings the most global recognition (it needs to be funded as such too).

    Last thing, I don’t agree with Walker on much, but I support the freeze on tuition but only for in state students. Out of state tuition needs to be raised. UW-Madison is a comparitive steal at ~$25k when Michigan is ~$40k for out of state and foreign students– let’s see what $35k does.

    • JohnTorinus

      Yes, Madison is another planet. We I’m M7 need to do our own thing. We have the business movers and shakers who live in the real wold.

  • Badger Backer

    “For example, there is $7 billion in foundation money associated with UW-Madison, and their proceeds generally stay in Dane County. Those dollars do not flow out. That reality is unlikely to change, given the flagship campus’ self-absorption.”

    When people give money to these foundations, they tell the foundations precisely what to do with it, almost 100% of the time. You think you know better than the donors how to spend their money. This doesn’t work in the real world. When you give your own money away, John, you can tell the UWM Foundation what to do with it. Got it? This isn’t that hard, and it has nothing to do with self-absorption.

    You went to UWM and have a chip on your shoulder. We get it. Drop it. The state is lucky to have a top-tier research university. It can’t afford two — it can barely afford one. We need to do what we reasonably can to to preserve and protect one of the state’s real jewels. Throwing off cheap shots as you have done does nothing to enhance UWM. You are better than this, John.

  • Badger Backer

    Whoops. I see that you are an Eli, John. Odd to see a Yalie complaining about “arrogance”. The word was practically invented there.

  • Noel Radomski

    There are opportunities for UW-Madison to collaborate on instructional programs and research with UW-Milwaukee and M-7 partners, but it likely will require non-tenured track faculty. Two options could be investigated: first, consider more researcher and scientist joint appointments between UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison. Faculty and academic staff researchers/scientists are world-class researchers; Jamie Thompson was an academic staff researcher before he became faculty. A second option is to consider “professors of practice” joint appointments between UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison. Again, more flexible positions outside the tenure-track faculty may be what is needed. Please note that these options are not meant as a criticism of UW-Madison tenure-track faculty; tenure decisions are based largely on research that gets translated in tier 1 journals with less weight given to instruction and service. Let’s take advantage of the existing personnel system and discuss where the strongest bang for the buck is with joint appointments between WI’s two doctoral campuses.

    Noel Radomski
    Associate Researcher

    • JohnTorinus

      Most interesting. A good place to start might be in the arenas of freshwater and energy, where there already is some interaction between the two campuses.