Moratorium needed on UW campus closures

It is important to remember that Gov. Evers vetoed only the “pilot” for consolidating the two-year colleges in Washington County. He suggested it was too small a solution because it only dealt with one county.

That left open the broader concept of combining the University of Wisconsin two-year colleges with the two-year technical colleges across the whole state.

Given significant declining long-term enrollment at both the UW colleges and the Wisconsin Technical College System, that’s a sensible and right answer.

Gov. Evers and UW President Jay Rothman (left) are getting successive black eyes for unimaginative strategic leadership as they close UW colleges, one or two at a time. That’s the wrong answer, and it’s dumb politics.

The Washington County Task Force on Higher Education appointed by County Executive Joshua Schoemann consisted of 11 very sharp and experienced community leaders. They came to the conclusion for consolidation after a deep analysis of the operations of UW – Milwaukee at Washington County and Moraine Park Technical College in West Bend. They are four miles apart and now compete directly for liberal arts students.

As far as citizens of Washington County know, neither Rothman nor Evers visited West Bend as they made top-down decisions to close the UW colleges in Washington County and Fond du Lac County. That was the same story when they earlier closed the campus in Richland County.

As a former Marine junior officer, I learned that Marine generals always go to the front lines to check things out for themselves before they make strategic decisions. I can’t believe that our two state leaders were so cavalier in how they went about their decision-making.

In the same vein, two former leaders of the UW Colleges, Gregory Lampe and Steve Wildeck, expressed dismay and dissatisfaction with closing UW campuses forever. They pointed out that the closures were made “all without public discussion, debate, or a plan for the future.”

They asked the governor and legislature to place a moratorium on campus closures until a statewide plan can be fashioned by a joint commission on Wisconsin’s higher education. Such a blue-ribbon commission has been called for by numerous Wisconsin leaders over the last decade.

Clearly, the governor and Rothman have a tin ear when it comes to considering all the changes going on in the world of work and the world of education. They are making decisions from the seat of their pants. Such knee-jerk management is unfair to the citizens of the state, to taxpayers, and to students in the communities served by the closed campuses.

There was one deep dig on the dynamics of change in the work world and education world. It was Schoemann’s Task Force, which I co-chaired. It spent six months listening to K-12 educators, students, parents and employers. It had deep conversations with the leaders of the local UW and technical college, whose representatives were active in every task force meeting.

I personally consulted with more than a half-dozen professors at the local UW campus.

The overwhelming consensus of the 11 task force members, a staff of 10 county and education experts, the county board in a 19-2 votes, was that consolidation into a community college would be a perfect answer for higher education in the county.

Mark Mone, UWM Chancellor, photo credit:

Bonnie Baerwald, MPTC President

My bafflement goes to why the leaders of the two systems, UW-M Chancellor Mark Mone, MPTC President Bonnie Baerwald, her local board, the governor and Rothman didn’t accept a gift-wrapped solution offered to them free of charge.

Further, why didn’t Rick Gundrum, the assemblyman for the county and a member of the task force, pick up the ball and run with it as a state-wide solution to the two-year college conundrum? He rolled over when Rothman made his call.

State Representative Rick Gundrum

The legislature did put the pilot into the new state budget, but none of its leaders picked up on the wisdom of the task force to solve a major problem across the whole state.

There is plenty of time to do so. The West Bend and Fond du Lac campuses won’t close until June, according to the Rothman unilateral decree. If a state-wide plan were mounted and a community college system substituted for the currently challenged dual systems, there could be a reprieve for the students of the two counties in the context of that strategic reorganization.

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