Reorganization of UW colleges just a start

UW_sealThe reorganization of the 13 UW Colleges into four regional groups should be viewed as a first step toward a regional reorganization of the whole University of Wisconsin System.

Sadly, the consolidation of the two-year campuses, which now deliver some four-year degrees, was done strictly for budgetary reasons, not with strategic foresight.

Gov. Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature whacked the colleges by $5 million per year, after whacking them by $2.3 million in the 2013-2015 budget. These colleges have always operated in a very lean manner, and, remember, the building costs have been paid for by local property taxpayers, not the state. The latest cuts came on top of cuts under Democrats in previous budgets.

Further, for access reasons, tuition has been frozen at the colleges for most of the last decade, meaning no plus revenues from any source.

The successive withdrawals of support for our once esteemed university system was necessitated because political leaders of both parties have ducked the biggest budget buster for state government: out-of-control health costs for public employees and Medicaid recipients. That under-management, or mismanagement, call it what you will, means that other priorities get crowded out. The university in one in a long list of diminished priorities.

Are the Republican leaders real fiscal conservatives when they don’t deal with the largest fiscal crisis on their plate? Real fiscal conservatives manage fiscal challenges. They aren’t just slashers.

Cathy Sandeen, the new chancellor for the colleges and UW Extension, faced up to the fiscal realities imposed by the GOP and decided to take the cuts out of administration so instruction and students would be impacted as little as possible. That means at least 83 administrative positions will be eliminated on the 13 campuses, or about six or seven per campus. For perspective sake, the West Bend campus has about eight administrative positions at present.

When the reorganization shakes out over the next five months, the University of Wisconsin – Washington County in West Bend will probably be headed by an associate dean. The campus will no longer have its own dean, a loss since UWWC deans have long been prominent leaders in the county. The likelihood is that the regional executive officer will be based at UW – Waukesha, a larger campus than West Bend or Sheboygan in the new southeast regional grouping.

Many of the administrative functions will be shifted to the central office in Madison, and it remains to be seen how well administrators there do with student recruiting, raising money for scholarships and community engagement. They are a long way away from local action in the 13 communities. My guess is that the local deans and their small staffs will be sorely missed. If, for instance, recruiting stumbles and tuition revenues suffer, the fiscal stress on the campuses will be exacerbated.

There is a solution. That is to reorganize the whole UW System, all 26 campuses, along regional lines. That would align the university with economic development and job creation in the regions, which is where the action is. The university is an economic engine and it needs to be in sync with business and community leaders across the regions of the state.

That alignment doesn’t get done in Madison. Indeed, the central office of the UW System should be moved from Madison to the business center of the state, namely Milwaukee.
What would regional reorganization look like? There would be one chancellor for Southeastern Wisconsin, pulling together the campuses at UW – Milwaukee, Whitewater, Parkside, Waukesha, Sheboygan and West Bend. In addition to administrative savings, similar to what Sandeen is seeking on a smaller scale, the region would benefit from the presence of a large, powerful, world-class university with multiple campuses. The campuses could specialize in different disciplines.

Then do the same for the other regions of the state.

Oregon just followed exactly that model. Each of its major campuses is now run by its own governing boards. There is no central university office, though there is a higher education council that oversees all levels of education in Oregon.

Above all, we would want to turn the regional chancellors loose to do their own sourcing, including health care. They could save many millions by sourcing locally.
The Madison-centric model isn’t working well for communities like West Bend. It isn’t working well for UW – Milwaukee, which took a major hit this time around, just as it is trying to be a major player in lifting Milwaukee’s lagging economy.

Part of the political problem is that the UW System, based in Madison, has become very unpopular with the legislature. How did that happen, when many of them graduated from UW colleges?
A regional structure would elicit “homer” support from legislators across the state. There would be no monolith to tangle with. UW – Madison, with its liberal biases, would be one among seven or eight regional campuses. Each regional university, including Madison, would get the autonomy the system has been seeking.

The legislature, now a minority contributor of funds for the system, would have a hard time making a case against such autonomy. If you aren’t writing big checks, you shouldn’t be making the big calls.

The Republican leaders have an opportunity to create a blue ribbon commission to take a high-level, deep-running look at how the university should function in globalized, innovation economy. They need to look at our educational assets in a grand strategic way.

Just cutting blindly is not the answer that any Wisconsin citizen wants.

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  • Scott VanderSanden

    John an interesting suggestion — there appears to be a ton of merit to exploring this.

  • jim Lenfestey

    So sensible, John. But how to stop the slashers, who seem angry at the university system? A beginning is to have them read this fine analysis,

    • JohnTorinus

      Hi, Jim,

      The university put itself in hot water with the reserves issue two years ago. UW – Madison, in particular, does not use consolidated, transparent financial reporting for all its various entities. For some reason, at UW’s request, Gov. Walker vetoed a comprehensive audit of UW System. The UW Regents should do it on their own to restore credibility.
      Separating system from the toxic politics in Madison would be another way to insulate the system from politics of all stripes. The other campuses are not nearly so political as at UW – Madison.

      • Boris Ostensky

        “UW – Madison, in particular, does not use consolidated, transparent financial reporting for all its various entities.”

        Again you make the assumption that WARF and the UW Foundation are instrumentalities of the state. They are not. They are independent non-profit corporations which are completely independent of the Madison campus. Thank God that they have this status as the same idiots of BOTH parties who ran through the tobacco money over three years would drain them dry.

        These entities provide the critical margin for UW-Madison between “average” and “excellent.” You want to confiscate the resources and — perhaps — spread them over the system. (You don’t admit directly that you want to do that, but what else would your “transparent financial reporting” result in? One of the Regents — the one who graduated from Marquette and hates the Madison campus — made this point a month or so ago.)

        John, usually you are on the right track, but occasionally you get a truly dumb idea in your head and hold onto it like the dog grabs the bone. This is one of those rare occasions. Give it up.

  • Noel Radomski

    Sounds like a question to be discussed at our future regional forums on the future of Wisconsin public education.

  • Abett

    Good comments John. This has real merit.

  • Bob Dohnal

    Why do I feel that we are just re-arranging the chairs? We need to do a major streamlining process of this operation, porked up staffs, subjects, administration etc. More tech, less supervisory. Businesses do it every 4 years, like Wal-Mart and Walgreens where I worked, so must UW. We cannot send all these kids into life with huge debts while we have fat cat profs not teaching and fat cat administrators. For whom did we build this system? Parents, students, taxpayers or the porked up bureaucracy. Read the NY times article. Economist.

    • JohnTorinus

      I agree that the university bureaucracy could be scaled down as part of the regionalization process.
      The UW colleges are devoid of bureaucracy for the most part. They are pretty lean. That’s why the cuts hurt a lot there. But the central colleges office in Madison could be reduced if the two-year colleges were melded into a regional UW university.

      • Bob Dohnal

        In 1962 my tuition was $210, now over $15,000. That is 65 times in 50 years. I was $150 in debt. Recent pharmacy grads are $150,000, that is 1000 times as much. This idiocy has changed society with out one vote being cast. Who wants to marry a new grad with that much debt? They cannot buy houses, cars, put off families.
        I went into business 2 years after graduating. Not now. I tried to prop up the Post newspapers, as much as possible, but not now.
        These things have taken over way beyond their importance.
        Colleges have added dopey courses just to milk loan money from immature kids, unable to handle the debt and the ideas.
        My kids friends completely were naive about the impact. My daughter and son in law, were $450,000 in debt, just paid off, they are 43.
        This is nuts. this is nuts.
        Hire the money men from Wal-Mart and have them take over the business for five years. Even the big newspapers have had to cut way back, why are these guys sacrosanct?.

        • Animal

          Tuition in the Colleges is 5K a year. That’s why the budget cuts to the two years was so stupid. WI needed to invest in education but for 10 years have hacked the budget. WI no longer deserves an excellent system and no longer has one – get used to your mediocrity.

          • JohnTorinus

            Thanks for the constructive insights. Your solution?

          • Animal

            Yeah, reinvest in the system…rather than your clownish apologia attempting to defend the cost-savings.

  • Animal

    Reading the comments here and elsewhere you get a sense of how out of touch Wisconsinites are with their investment in their public university. The discourse is driven by the ignorant. The degeneration of this state is well-deserved.

    • Bob Dohnal

      Figures are wrong you need to do research not just give out opinions. Read NY times article from 5/17, the Economist and hundreds of other articles tracing the growth of the ancillary staff, profs that do not teach etc. They have feasted on the kids loans. They run these places as they did in 19th century. Last time they reorganized was when they merged in 1971.

      • Animal

        Nonsense – we are talking about the Colleges – the 2 year campuses – they have 5K tuition per year. Their tuition has been held in stasis for years. They were designed to give a great education to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford it – though now that’s all history. I’m familiar with administrative bloating – this reorganization does exactly that – except it bloats the Central office in Madison instead of preserving key roles for people who actually deal with students on actual campuses. Just like WI to screw the least enfranchised – as I said this place deserves what is happening to it.

    • JohnTorinus

      You are as good at name calling as Trump.

      • Animal

        Telling the truth is better than your constant attempts at appeasement. And Trump is the only ‘republican’ to call Walker out on his fantasy land narrative of a healthy WI – apparently you are so afraid to offend your republican pals that you feel its better to gloss over the truth. These cuts and the many others have screwed the poorest kids in WI – have some guts and say so.

  • Animal

    Chronicle of Higher Education Salary Survey shows UW Colleges professors to be grossly underpaid compared to those in other 2 year colleges: Assistants = 11th percentile, Associates = 9th percentile, Full profs 21st percentile. That’s the real story Torinus. It’s a weak system in a state full of clueless fools thinking the profs make 6 figure salaries – but they’ve cheated the system for so long that it can’t attract or keep talent.

    • JohnTorinus

      Yes. The pay at the colleges is too low.

      • Animal

        Then write a piece about that.

        • Bob Dohnal

          I am

          • Bob Dohnal

            What will you pay?

      • Bob Dohnal

        Question is what can the kids and paretns of Wi. afford?

  • Gerard McKenna

    John,
    Well done. This is the right time to raise the issue of realignment which needs to be addressed. You are right that a broad coalition of individuals needs to be brought together to solve this. Also like your idea of moving headquarters to Milwaukee.
    As to the remark by others that Profs don’t teach, I can tell you from experience that there is no such thing in places like Stevens Point.

  • Boris Ostensky

    “UW – Madison, in particular, does not use consolidated, transparent financial reporting for all its various entities.”

    Again you make the assumption that WARF and the UW Foundation are instrumentalities of the state. They are not. They are independent non-profit corporations which are completely independent of the Madison campus. Thank God that they have this status as the same idiots of BOTH parties who ran through the tobacco money over three years would drain them dry.

    These entities provide the critical margin for UW-Madison between “average” and “excellent.” You want to confiscate the resources and — perhaps — spread them over the system. (You don’t admit directly that you want to do that, but what else would your “transparent financial reporting” result in? One of the Regents — the one who graduated from Marquette and hates the Madison campus — made this point a month or so ago.)

    John, usually you are on the right track, but occasionally you get a truly dumb idea in your head and hold onto it like the dog grabs the bone. This is one of those rare occasions. Give it up.

  • Bob Dohnal

    How do we force the UW systems to realize that they cannot force these kids into such big debt?? They have to come from t the 19th century to the 21st. I have talked to many people over the years, from Shabaz to Tommy to Rusty etc. to see what they thought of the Lucey merger? My belief is that outside of a little prestige that all it didi was create a giant bureaucratic night mare like the old GM was when the Japanese first started to attack them.
    They were frozen in place, top heavy, slow to respond and dopey administration. Same as the battleship admirals in Mitchell’s day.
    They must have counselors that can sit down with these kids, most very immature, and counsel them about going into debt. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had access to all that money while in college. I was mostly interested in girls, beer, sports so what I would have done is scary.
    John, where is that article about the Gov. and legislature and what they have ffailed to do with the big problems?

  • Bob Dohnal

    When i read, in the Economist that coeds are taking on old male companions to put them through college and that the majority of strippers and burlesque girls are coeds, than I think society has gone off track. We need to make list of priorities.

  • Boris Ostensky

    You allege that the Madison campus has little impact on the economy of the other 71 counties in the state. The truth is that you are ignorant of the many contributions made by the campus all across the state. Here is another example: http://news.wisc.edu/23968

    • JohnTorinus

      You make a good point. I have always written that the UW – Madison grads are the biggest contribution of the flagship campus to the state.