Friday, March 27, 2015

The 44-Year Old University System That is Still Living at Home

For years and years and years University of Wisconsin System officials would tell anyone willing to listen that they would be able to operate much more efficiently and effectively if they weren't bound to the political whims and follies of the Governor and the State Legislature.  They would be able to find savings in purchasing and procurement, they would have greater flexibility in hiring, they could be more responsive to changing trends in education and research as well.  If only they could have more autonomy and be trusted to handle their own finances.  They are the experts in education--not the people sitting in the Capitol.

And finally--after years of asking for more control--the UW System was going to be given that greater autonomy by none other than Governor Scott Walker.  UW System President Ray Cross initially praised the Governor for his budget proposal.  But the greater freedom came with a tradeoff--the UW was going to get $150-million dollars less in State funding in each of the next two years while tenure and shared governance were no longer going to be written into state statute.

Suddenly, Ray Cross--and nearly everybody else associated with the UW System--were no longer so gung-ho about autonomy.  Cross even went so far this week as to say that he would resign if the Governor's proposal is approved by the Legislature.  Nevermind that the UW and the Board of Regents could make up for the lost state revenue on their own (with tuition increases) or that new policies of tenure and shared governance could be adopted almost immediately.  Without that dependence on the State (and its taxpayers) the folks in the UW are getting scared.

It's easy to increase tuition when members of the Assembly and the State Senate vote in favor of it and the Governor puts his signature on the bill.  You can always tell students and parents "Hey, it's what the State told us to do".  And when keeping ineffective instructors in the classroom leads to complaints from students and parents it's easy to say "Well, tenure is the law.  We can't fire him or her"--rather than accepting the blame yourself.

In many ways, the UW System is like the middle-aged guy who never moved out his parents' house.  He likes to tell anyone that will listen about all the great things he'll be able to do once he "gets his own place".  But he--and his parents--know that is never actually going to happen--so long as good old Mom and Dad are willing to keep footing the bills and making excuses for his decisions.

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