Monday, April 25, 2011

I Must Be Stoopid

Everyone is telling me it’s a wonderful idea to split the UW-Madison from the UW System, turn it into a public authority, and let Biddy and her pals guide the world-class institution into a bright new future. I just don’t see it.

In the Sunday paper, even Barry Alvarez, the finest football coach that ever trod the sidelines at Camp Randall, is telling me that Biddy’s plan is a good one. Coach made a lot of sports analogies in his prominently-placed letter, issuing forth platitudes like “Biddy put together a good game-plan” and complete nonsense like “what if the UW-Madison couldn’t compete with anyone except other schools in the UW System” , trying, I’m sure, to whip up support among the shallow thinkers and curry favor with his “boss.”

Last Thursday Isthmus Publisher Vince O’Hern used his “Making The Paper” column as a vehicle to promote the split, writing like a country boy’s first visit to the big city, talking about “the university’s massiveness” and “size and density”, concluding with “No offense to other colleges and universities in the state, but the UW is playing in a whole different league.” Agreed, but far from convinced.

Madison Magazine columnist John Roach posted something on a social media site last week with similar musings about the UW-Madison’s “global brand”, which engendered a lively string of informed comments and well-reasoned arguments against the split, but John was not to be deterred.

I respect and value the comments and thoughts of the people listed above, but having my feet in both worlds….the “UW-System world” and the “UW-Madison world”…I still, respectfully, disagree. Way back when the merger of the Madison world and the “state-schools” world happened in the early 70’s, Madison was clearly in another league. The merger was done for reasons which I believe are still valid.

Among the many reasons I remain opposed to the spin-off is that I don’t think Biddy has a clearly-articulated vision for where UW-Madison is, in 20 years; that much of what she claims she wants to accomplish by separating from the “state schools” can be done within the existing structure; and that if the UW-Madison becomes its own entity, it will quickly be priced out-of-reach for far too many Wisconsin kids – like mine – who were smart enough to get into UW-Madison and could still manage to afford it.


  1. If Coach Alvarez thinks it's a good idea, that's enough for me. I was undecided until now. Alvarez has now convinced me it's the wrong thing to do for the wrong reasons. After all, UW-Madison shouldn't be forced to play UW-Whitewater. Not when Austin Peay is available.

    Predicting Biddy Martin's last words in Wisconsin: "My Governor Walker, what sharp teeth you have!"

    Barry (not the Alvarez)

  2. Would public authority status lift coaches' salaries?

  3. A big chunk of the 'split' momentum exists because the UW System is horribly bureaucratic---AND it is further burdened by a lot of Legislative oversight which is counterproductive.

    IOW, the UW has to hop through a lot of hoops to so much as buy a paper clip. It's silly.

    However, simply removing ALL the UW schools from the bureaucracy and oversight is impossible. So exculpting UWMad was viewed as 1) do-able and 2) a good 'canary/coal-mine' experiment. If it works, others may also become quasi-independent.

    Some, of course, will be closed instead.

  4. The plan to split UW-Madison from the "state schools" (already, the diminutive) sounds like a great way to vastly increase the cost of higher education in Wisconsin while devaluing and diminishing it.

    Unless the rigorously pennywise legislators plan to do some major fiscal surgery, perhaps by eliminating campuses that lie beyond the political horizon, they seem to be on a collision course with the law of unintended consequences.

    Just the overhead expenses should be enough to display this plan for the bad idea it is.

    Will the newly split systems operate under shared management? Will there be one governing board? One central set of rules? A common computer system for everything from administration to payroll and financial services to class scheduling? A centralized IT department with shared standards and security policies and maintenance services? A common purchasing and acquisition system that can leverage the economies of scale when buying everything from restroom towels to copy paper?

    Of course not. All of those expenses will have go be duplicated, or somehow partitioned off the existing systems.

    Disconnect its current access to the statewide UW network, with its laboratories and facilities and resources, it looks like the "massive" Madison campus will come up the bigger loser - in stature and influence, if not educational muscle.

    When major support for the idea is to be found in the hackneyed phrases issuing from the sports department, one wonders how thoroughly thought-through this remarkably harebrained idea is.

    Look beyond the warm-and-fuzzy. The honestly identifiable educational benefits of this unnecessary undertaking will be what?

    The union of the two systems must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Why not go to the archives and review why the systems were combined in the first place.

    Those records will be full of projections and claims about the benefits the move would bring. Make a checklist of the promises fulfilled and the unanticipated drawbacks that emerged.

    This exercise need not be costly or extensive and could be done by any sentient researcher with time and access to a library. It has the potential to validate the plan for the split, or to save Wisconsin from a ghastly mistake.

  5. Well, HK, you have a lot of time.

    Do the research and report back to us.

  6. It has been remarkable the state has shown so much self –restraint in University matters. Will The Foundation for Independent Private Colleges with donors such as:
    Corporate and Foundation
    HSBC – North America
    Coca-Cola Company
    BP North America
    Kellogg Company
    Kellogg Foundation
    Chubb Group
    Liberty Mutual Group
    American Family Insurance
    State Farm Insurance
    The Sherwick Fund

    Will these corporations allow the academic freedom that has been tolerated by the people of Wisconsin? Or will the university enter into collaborative projects with its sponsors?
    Or do we think that funds will come with no strings attached.