One Department to Rule Them All

Not my idea! With apologies to JRR Tolkein.

One the Regents candidates nominated by Governor Walker (from Wisconsin Public Radio):

Gov. Scott Walker’s latest appointment to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents told a state Senate panel on Thursday that the UW should consider eliminating duplicative degree programs on some campuses.

Walker appointed Michael M. Grebe to a seven-year term on the Board of Regents. Grebe’s father, Michael W. Grebe, is the president and CEO of the conservative Bradley Foundation who chaired Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns.

The younger Grebe is an attorney and executive vice president at HUSCO International, a Waukesha-based hydraulics manufacturer. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Grebe said the UW needs to be more efficient, suggesting that could mean eliminating degree programs on some campuses if they’re available on others.

I think this idea has merit of a certain kind. Why should we be granting degrees in economics in multiple campuses of UW? We should just be granting one degree in economics — my vote is for the Madison campus to be it. Also, why degrees in math at different campuses? My vote, UW Madison. Next, chemistry. I think it could profitably be centralized in one campus. My vote – Madison!

22 thoughts on “One Department to Rule Them All

  1. Bruce Hall

    Well, that would only work if all of the economics professors taught at on location, all biology professors taught at another, and so on. But the faculty squabbling would be horrific… especially among the economists. 😉

    1. Ronald Calitri

      But then all the economists would be pregnant and all the biologists would be poor!

  2. Jerome Turner

    I know this might be hard to believe, but some of us have to live at home and work a side job just to be able to afford tuition. The proposed plan rules out attendance at a good university for folks like me who do not live within in a decent commuting distance of Madison. This is asinine beyond belief, both your comments and the suggestion from the regent.

    1. Jake formerly of the LP

      Jerome- You have just hit on why corporate “efficiency experts” should not be making decisions on the availability of education. Because there are significant barriers created for a lot of people if you merely think about what is “cost-efficient”.

      Then again, what do you expect from a group of people whose whole economic strategy is to funnel money and advantages to established businessMEN and the politically connected? It’s a big reason why Wisconsin was ranked dead last for business start-ups by the Kauffman Foundation.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      rjs: I am behind the technological front, for sure.

      I had thought the title of the post would be a sufficient hint. Does nobody read “Lord of the Rings” anymore? Wasn’t there a movie a few years ago?

  3. Lyle

    It turns out of the there are 2 clusters of Comp Universities in the Wisconsin System. One around Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Whitewater and Parkside) and another (Stout, River Falls and Eu Clare). At least in those areas the one campus for one major idea makes sense and also perhaps merge the departments in the 2 clusters. Of course the faculty politics would be immense. Besides Madison and Milwaukee, many of the schools started out as normal schools (as is true in many states) Wi is unique in merging them into one system, whereas in Mi, These became Easter, Western, Central and Northern MI. In particular the two clusters represent a chance to merge programs with under 10 students a year.

  4. Samuel

    Menzie to continue the sarcasm “why have separate campus?” Just consolidate into one. I vote for a UW in the most northern reaches of the state that way we can generate a lot of economic activity from road construction and people driving north all the time. Or we could build a high speed railroad to this remote campus and create construction jobs and jobs maintaining it. Also, it would help the local economy in this remote region by creating jobs. Of course, the problem with sarcasm is that it often goes unrecognized and mistaken as “common sense.”

  5. Steven Kopits

    Alright, so let’s see who’s actually on this much disparaged UW Board of Regents. Here are the members:

    1. Behling, Lawyer, Oil & Gas / UW Law / Walker
    2. Bradley, lawyer, law firm / UW / pre-Walker (reappointed by Walker)
    3. Delgado, CEO, utilities / MBA, UW-Mil / Walker
    4. Evers, PhD, Superintendent of Schools / UW Education / pre-Walker, exit 2016
    5. Farrow, frm Lt Gov / Marquette (Milwaukee) / Walker
    6. Grebe, incoming, Walker
    7. Hall, CEO, African-American Chamber of Commerce / PhD, Education (Stitch) / Walker
    8. Harsy / UW Student / Walker era
    9. Higgins, CEO, Health care consulting, economics / UW-Madison / Walker
    10. Manydeeds, lawyer / JD UW / pre-Walker
    11. Milner, lawyer / JD UW / Walker
    12. Mueller, Director, Wisconsin state audit bureau / U Minn / Walker
    13. Petersen, VP, TDS Telecomm / MBA UW / Walker
    14. Pruitt, Partner, IT Firm / St. Olaf, Harvard PhD in government / pre-Walker, reappointed
    15. Purath / UW student / Walker era
    16. Vasquez, consultant / UW education / pre-Walker
    17. Whitburn, Chairman, Insurance company / UW undergrad, Harvard, Wharton / Walker era

    There are 18 spots, of which one appears vacant and two are filled with students. Thus, 15 spots are external directors.

    Of these, three are from the pre-Walker era and due to exit. Two were incumbents re-appointed by Walker. The remaining 10 are Walker era appointments. Most come from business or law. A couple come from education backgrounds. At least eleven qualify as “C” level executives.

    Of the board in total (including students), 12 hold (or will hold) degrees from UW. Almost all of them have either PhDs or law degrees. Five are women, one is black, two are Hispanic.

    I would call this a pretty sober, pillars-of-the-community type of board. I would consider it a decent if unspectacular board by Midwest standards.

    Now, would I personally have confidence in this board making decisions about tenure and strategic direction for the UW System? Certainly, the vast majority of the board has historical ties to UW. Twelve of seventeen are or will be UW degree holders, and the remaining have agreed to serve for seven years terms. So there must be some commitment to or interest in the University. All of them have strong ties to the State of Wisconsin. Moreover, most of them look like at least competent, and quite likely accomplished, professionals in their own fields.

    So, do I have confidence in the Regents? Based on what I can see, yes. And I would certainly have more confidence in them than in the legislature regarding University governance.

    1. Jake formerly of the LP

      You have confidence in these guys? You clearly don’t live here, dude.

      They were appointed by Walker and the RW wrecking crew for a reason. And it’s not to improve on innovation or increase understanding of the world.

      1. Steven Kopits

        You are saying that the Regents have no sense of fiduciary duty or loyalty to their alma mater. Maybe. But you’re right: I don’t live there. And I have lived through conservative takeovers in other parts of the world on scale not witnessed here to date. So I am not without reservations. (Kansas is a cautionary tale, for example.)

        On the other hand, the mandate from the voters is change. And UW is an SOE, and therefore will reflect the prevailing political winds over time.

        UW is also, from the political point of view, a cost–not a profit–center. It receives its funding not due to its documented contribution to the economy (at least Menzie has made no attempt to document it), but because it received a similar amount the previous year. And this goes on year after year–a principal reason why I so dislike SOE’s: there is never a real market test. Rather, the test of funding is the tolerance of the voters for taxes. State university funding is fundamentally built on the coercion of taxation, with an enormous redistributive component from the lower to the upper echelons of society.

        Personally, I would make the University an independent entity (as Walker is proposing), governed by its own Regents (as Walker is proposing), and provide it simple block grants in rolling three years increments (to help guide planning). In other words, I would treat it as a fully autonomous cost center, with its budget determined not by its achievements, but by some accustomed share of revenues. Put it another way, you work to make spending, not taxation, the dependent variable. (In Kansas, as with the Reagan administration, they got the causality exactly in reverse–that’s how you get big deficits.)

        By the way, this is not the administration’s proposal. The Walker administration wants to privatize the UW system outright, which shows in the 2017 budget recommendation. I don’t see any corresponding increase in tuition support, so it would be sink-or-swim for UW as a non-profit along the lines of, say, a USC, Oberlin, or St. Olaf. Now that’s a very radical proposal.

        1. baffling

          steven, i guess the first thing you need to decide is are you for state sponsored education to your citizens, or not? if so, it needs to be subsidized in some way. you can privatize the system, but the private schools of the world charge $40k+ per year in tuition. that is not very open to the citizens of the state, unless you come from a wealthy family. the second function to consider is the research benefit of the school. higher education brings into a state and city an enormously diverse constituency of people with exceptional talents. do you want to lose that attraction? easy, cut the research function. but i do not need to run an economic study (as you request of menzie) to understand there is significant economic value in both the direct and indirect activities associated with academic research centers. modern business models fail to capture and value the important features of education-that is why education has been operated by the state for so long. it is not profitable nor successful on a large scale in the hands of private enterprise.

          1. Steven Kopits

            Yes, it’s an interesting and complex question, Baffs.

            At first I was appalled at the Walker proposal, but the more I thought about it, the more I found it intriguing. There is a case for privatizing education.

            But, boy, is it easy to screw up. Do it well, and the University will have five challenging years. Do it wrong, and UW will not recover for a generation, maybe not ever. The example of fiscal management in Kansas is not particularly comforting, to my mind.

            Berkeley and UW are, as I perceive them, the two leading progressive institutions in the country (and are, not surprisingly, state schools). As you know, I run a three ideology model, and I have stated that these ideologies have competed from the mists of history. They persist because they represent three irreconcilable sets of values. Are unfolding events now going to push UW out of its progressive tradition, and is that a good thing? What might the future hold? What if UW were acquired by the Chinese? By the Singaporeans? It could be positioned in a very interesting way, and very different from what it has been.

            On the other hand, institutions are hard to build and easy to destroy.

            I have to say, I am struck by the crystalline purity of Walker’s vision. It really is a future different than the past. It is something much harder, much more determined, than I am. I am not sure whether this future is a better place, all things considered.

  6. PeakTrader

    I guess, the University of Wisconsin system can be more efficient, save some money, and lower gross state product (producing less waste).

  7. Darren

    “When higher education was a booming industry, and when Democrats controlled most state governments, turning academia into an activist arm of the Democratic Party seemed like a good idea. Now academia is seen as bloated and dysfunctional, the party it’s tied itself to is at record low influence in state governments, and the chickens are coming home to roost. It would have been better to have stayed out of politics, and focused on providing value to students.”

  8. dilbert dogbert

    Walker is just nibbling around the edges. He should show the rest of the U.S. what a real conservative he is. Privatize the whole system. We all know how efficiently private businesses are run and how they are self regulating.

    1. sherparick

      Yep, the UW system could be the next FIFA, with plenty of kickbacks and bribes from sponsors of athletic events and other activities traditionally associated with the University. Most of these regents only care about the men’s football and basketball teams. It is interesting the way Movement Conservatives are blowing up the State University systems (Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and now Wisconsin). Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged (insert classic joke here given the reference in this post to LOTR ) has really eaten into these people’s brains, as opposed to the Adam Smith of a “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” An interesting compare and contrast if one reads both books

  9. John Yard

    It is with trepidation to point out that the duplication of campuses made
    great sense – in the 19th Century. I can see how even the suggestion of
    eliminating the enormous duplication of activity between campuses and within campuses
    causes great anxiety – but it is the opposite of progressive.

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