UWM deserves fair shake in campus investment

It qualifies as big news that UW – Madison has won approval from the UW Regents and state government for $220 million in capital projects, including $123 million for a chemistry building renovation and addition. The building dates to 1964 and is overdue for an upgrade.

I can’t remember being on the Madison campus when there weren’t multiple cranes in the air. They have been rare on the Milwaukee campus.
The chemistry project is one of a substantial list for the Madison campus: $93 million for a student recreation complex, $53 million for the renovation of a dorm, $47 million for the renovation and addition to Babcock Hall for dairy research and $50 million for a Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory.

Those five projects, a laudable commitment to our flagship campus, add up to $366 million in investment.

Interestingly, a similar strong case can be made for the aging chemistry building at UW – Milwaukee. It dates to 1972 and is in tough shape. The price tag for its replacement would also be in the $120 million range, but no commitment has been made.

In terms of economic development, the case can be made that the M7 region is lagging the nation, while Dane County has virtually no unemployment. On that basis, if universities are “engines” of the new economy, why not invest more equally in the UWM campus?

In fairness, UW – Milwaukee has just enjoyed one of its best funding years, winning some $85 million for the renovation of Sandburg Hall, a residential facility, and improvements to its Northwest Quadrant, the old Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. That Northwest upgrade will clear the decks for more health science programs, including an expanded, much-needed nursing program.

Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

But you can do the contrasting numbers. The Madison construction far exceeds Milwaukee’s best year in a long time. There is clearly a lack of anything resembling parity for the state’s two doctoral campuses.

A new group of business leaders, called the Panther Promoters (after UWM’s mascot), has urged more parity between investments at the two campuses. By all means, fully invest in the flagship campus, but also raise UWM to heavyweight status as a world class urban university.

UWM has made great strides in that direction, highlighted by its new status as an R1 research university, one of the top 115 in the country. It has jumped to 56 patents issued, 49 pending, 70 licensing agreements and 14 faculty-related startup companies. That’s a leap from just a decade ago.

UW – Madison’s R&D numbers are far higher that UWM’s. But Madison started down the research trail to greatness a century ago, while Milwaukee got serious about R&D only a dozen years ago.

This is not a race. It is not a competition. We need both campuses to be world class. The state needs to position UW – Madison as a research leader in the world. The original stem cell patents developed there are just one of its many breakthroughs.
But there is room for two great PhD granting campuses in this state.

Business leaders in the M7 Region believe that and are pushing a parity agenda for resource allocation. UWM has the advantage of being in the heart of the state’s business community, so it is closely connected to world class companies like Rockwell, GE Healthcare, JCI, NML and WE Energies. They are fully supporting UWM’s ambitions.

Further, UWM is emerging as a regional institution with the addition of satellite campuses in Waukesha County and Washington County. (UW – Parkside should be a satellite campus, too, especially in light of Foxconn’s emerging talent needs.)

Beyond the chemistry building, the glaring needs for the UWM campus are an upgraded engineering building; a student health and recreation center (the funds already exist) and a upgraded student union.

Republican legislators and regents in the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington) need to team up with the Democratic leaders in Milwaukee County to bring investments in UWM to a level within hailing distance of what is being spent in Dane County.

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  • Boris Ostensky

    John, the Madison campus is NOT the enemy of the Milwaukee campus. Indeed, in the 1950’s, it was the Madison campus which “adopted” what was then the Milwaukee State Teachers College and lifted it up.

    Let’s take a look at the projects you cite and examine how they are funded:

    The Chemistry Building project was advanced by the Board of Regents along with similar projects at La Crosse and Stevens Point based on demonstrated need and the ability of each campus to attract donations or grants to support a portion of the cost. (On the Madison campus, over half of all undergraduates will take at least one chemistry class. In addition to being undersized relative to the demand for classes, the current building has a number of safety issues which will be remedied.) For these reasons the projects on all three campuses were advanced. I do not know if UWM has made an effort to pursue a similar project.

    You refer to the $93 million SERF (student recreation facility near the Kohl Center) replacement project. 100% of the cost will be paid for by student fees, as approved by the student body by referendum. Both student unions have been replaced or upgraded with student funding (again approved by referendum) and donations with no state tax dollars involved. As you may know UWM students recently voted against replacing the UWM union.

    The Witte dorm rebuild and the construction of other new dorms and Gordon Commons were all funded by the Division of University Housing with no state funding. Yes, state bonding was utilized but the Divison pays all the debt service.

    The Babcock Hall project includes $18.4 million in donations and $6.25 million in program revenue (in other words, $6.25 million in revenue to be generated to support the cost). This means more than half the cost comes from donations and program revenue. With no College of Agriculture and Life Science on the UWM campus, this project could only be located in Madison.

    Planning for the Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory began in 2009. The plan called for roughly half of the funding necessary for the project to come from grants and donations. Nearly 100 businesses, including dozens of small meat processors from across the state, contributed. Again, since there is no College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UWM, this project could only be located in Madison.

    If you want to “bring investments in UWM to a level within hailing distance of what is being spent in Dane County” it can be done if the Milwaukee campus is able to find donors to cover roughly half the cost of each project. That is the model which the Madison campus has been successfully pursuing over the last quarter century.

    The state’s share of the UW System Budget has been shrinking almost every year since Governor Thompson left office. Yes, there was a small “bump” in the 2017 state Budget, but the last three Governors of BOTH parties have reduced state support for the System by over half a billion dollars in total. In this environment, it is foolish to expect that things will drastically improve. It would be counterproductive to reduce state support for the state’s only world class research university — the Madison campus.

    The hard truth is that if UWM is to grow in stature, it will almost certainly need to find additional private sector support to help it advance. Thus is what the Madison campus has done to adjust to a changing state economic environment, and it should not be punished for being nimble. On, Wisconsin!

  • Boris Ostensky

    Earlier this evening, I wrote a detailed response to this column. It looks like you deleted it. So much for an honest discussion of the issues you raised.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of what I wrote. To summarize:

    1. The Madison campus figured out about a quarter century ago that the state would no longer appropriate funding for new construction on campus. It struck an informal bargain with the state — the Chancellor finds half of more of the total cost in the form of gifts or grants and the state kicks in the balance, often via bonding, with the campus assuming the debt service.

    2. A number of the projects you identified have been internally funded with zero state contribution. That’s true of the dorms, the new recreation center (SERF-2), the new Union South, and the remodeling of the Memorial Union. Students voted to fully fund the cost of SERF and the two Unions. Recall that UWM students rejected a similar proposal recently.

    3. Two of the products you reference are on the agriculture campus. With no agriculture school at UWM, neither project is a fit for UWM. And, as noted above, more than half the cost of each project came in the form of donations or program revenue (i.e. partially self sufficient).

    4. It is folly to expect a new infusion of cash from the state, and it makes no sense to rob one campus to build up another. The state is critically dependent on its only world class research university. If UWM needs additional facilities, it should find donors willing to step up and help pay the cost. On, Wisconsin.

    • JohnTorinus

      First off, I did not remove your piece. Don’t know what happened. I have never removed a response.. Please re-enter yours.

      That: said, you miss the larger point. I appreciate your support for UW — Madison. It is well placed. I clearly did not suggest less investment in UW — Madison. Just the opposite.

      But UW — Milwaukee deserves a much higher level of capital and operating support. That was the point.