Thursday, February 24, 2011

Biddy Needs a Wartime Consigliore

Biddy Martin, Chancellor of the great economic engine that drives this city and this state, needs a wartime consigliore. A counselor with vision, backbone, courage, and above all, to remind the Chancellor that she has one hell of a strong hand to play in the political games going on now.

Biddy is about to cut ties with the other UW System schools to leave them twisting in the wind; to undo four decades of progress with Madison as the crown jewel in a stunning array of pearls of great price.

Excuse me for not seeing her plan to cut Madison loose from the other schools as a good thing. I’ve seen how the UW System has flourished since the “merger” back in the 70’s. I have friends whose kids started their higher education at schools like UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire, and then have seamlessly transitioned to UW-Madison after a year or two. I don’t want that to change back to the bad old days.

This May, I’ll be proud to say both my kids are graduates of the University of Wisconsin, but I would be just as proud if they were graduates of UW-Oshkosh, where their old man learned his profession and made lifelong friends.

I don’t want my kids or anyone else’s to have to go through what I did, years ago, sitting in the office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at what was then called Wisconsin State University – Oshkosh, as I sought an appointment to the adjunct faculty (to teach a course in Broadcast Law), and having that bloated bureaucrat tell me he couldn’t “vouch for the quality or content of my course work” at the University of Wisconsin (which is now called UW-Madison). I pointed out that his PhD was granted by the University of Wisconsin, and since he was calling the UW’s credentials into question, that I would henceforth refer to him as “Mister” rather than “Doctor.” (I made the point, and got the appointment.)

All that crap is years gone by, but just as there are a hard core of old Marquette alums who will always call that University’s sports teams “Warriors”, there is a hard core of old-timers who are of the mindset that there’s Madison, and then a bunch of other pissant schools scattered around the state. They felt it somehow cheapened the UW to have it “on the same level” as LaCrosse and River Falls and Milwaukee.

I think Biddy’s wartime consigliore should advise her to stand up straight, fold her arms, and tell the losers in the state legislature like Steve Nass to take a flying leap. I think much of what she’s trying to do now is because of the constant sniping and crap she has to take from Nass and his ilk. I think Biddy’s wartime consigliore should remind her why the merger happened back in the 70’s; the reasoning behind it; the obvious success of the merger; and that if she has trouble with her own Regents or the dweebs in the legislature, and wants to do things a bit differently than they’d like, JUST DO IT.

It’s the Wisconsin way. When we see a way to make things better and more efficient, like we did with our system of higher education back in the 70’s, we do it. When some politician threatens something many of us consider a core Wisconsin value, we push back, and we push back hard. There’s a lot of that going on right now.

Some of my best days were as a student in the University of Wisconsin system, and as an adjunct faculty member. There’s a lot of folks like me out there, Biddy, who’ve benefitted from both the “state” schools and the “mother ship” here in Madison. I am a Lifetime Member of the Wisconsin Union, the Wisconsin Alumni Association, and I would have a wartime consigliore tell you to stand up to those pricks like Nass rather than kowtow to them.

We’ve got your back, Biddy. Our state motto is “Forward”, not backward.


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  2. Author's note: I read former Chancellor Shalala's op-ed in the State Journal this morning, using the example of the spin-off of the UW Hospital under her reign as an example in support of Biddy's plan. LaDonna spun off the UW Hospital to a public authority under the Thompson administration, back when there was still some civility in state politics, and Democrats and Republicans put aside partisanship to do things for the greater good of the people of the state. LaDonna has either chosen to ignore the hyperpartisan state of politics as it exists in Wisconsin now, or is unaware of the changes since her days here. Either way, failure to address that issue invalidates her argument.


  3. So happens that I'm acquainted with a small piece of the discussion.

    From what I'm told, the UW has been looking at this long before Walker was elected. As you mention, the Legislature(s) and Governor(s)have (in effect) placed Gulliver in Lilliput--tied down and unable to wiggle--with a variety of bars to activities, purchase-method requirements, etc., etc.

    These are System-wide impositions, and this reality is at least a part of UW's desire to separate from the System as a whole.

    And, of course, there's this: in the next 2 years, it's likely that the Administration will propose to close 2 System campi. Madison wants to be out of the fallout-area, as you might guess.

    Merging the UW/Mad with the old Teachers' Colleges has not enhanced the academic creds of the other System schools. In offset, however, the other System schools have developed specialty-reputations--Whitewater for a good BusAd school, Point for a good Manufacturing Eng'rg school, UWM as a good 'urban U' generalist (and a good Nursing college), etc.

    Nothing wrong with that at all. Employers know 'where to look' for what they want.

    And UW/Mad has, after all, the OTHER Law School, the OTHER Med School (kinda-sorta v/MCW), and an unparalleled Ag School and research reputation.

    Whassamatta that?

  4. Just writing to say that I am very grateful to have your blog to read right now to keep me up to speed on the scene in Madison from the inside.