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UW System must remove barriers to innovation

In a recent column for the Wisconsin Technology Network, Gov. Jim Doyle wrote about the role of the University of Wisconsin System fueling our state's economy. The governor missed the mark.

There is no doubt that the UW System is one of the best in the country. In order to remain on top, however, the system must be willing to innovate and evolve, something it has done little of since it was created in 1971. The UW System and the Board of Regents have shown they are not open to new ideas and should not be rewarded by the governor for their staunch resistance to change. What the System needs is real reform and real leadership from the top.

Under the current system, the regents are disconnected from reality and too insulated from public opinion. Tuition for in-state residents has increased 50 percent since Gov. Doyle took office, and the Regents added insult to injury by supporting a cut in tuition for out-of-state residents.

This is a hard sell for taxpayers struggling to afford college. The Governor's and the Regents' apparent disdain for the taxpayer does not end there. If approved as is, the Governor's 2007-2009 budget will raise taxes by over $1.7 billion, increase spending nine percent, and raise tuition on in-state residents by four percent.

Change agents or status quo Regents
If our university system is going to be the fuel for our economic engine, we must allow the System to thrive in an open, competitive marketplace. We have to remove barriers to innovation, embrace change and collaboration, and place individual campuses in direct competition with one another for students.

When I visited UW-Eau Claire and learned of their desire to work with UW-Stout and the Chippewa Valley Technical College on important research in nanotechnology, I immediately asked how I could help. I drafted a bill, included it in my Invest Wisconsin 2.0 package of economic development proposals, publicly supported their efforts and wrote a letter to Governor Doyle asking him to fund the program in his budget.

He did.

The UW System needs to encourage more of this activity. If the universities were in more direct competition with one another, the success of the nanotechnology program would push other universities to look at ways they can improve their course offerings to make the universities more relevant for the Wisconsin economy. Unfortunately, what the rest of the world sees as an elementary-level collaboration between schools is seen as a cutting-edge cooperative agreement within the UW System.

The UW System leadership has demonstrated a lack of forward thinking. The Governor and the Board of Regents have yet to endorse a plan to merge the UW-Milwaukee with the UW-Waukesha two-year campus. UW-Milwaukee has been making progress on their efforts to make their research more robust in recent years by improving the diversity of their course offerings and developing a reputation as a high-tech research institution that will greatly benefit the economic development of the City of Milwaukee and all of Southeastern Wisconsin.

One of the major stumbling blocks it has encountered, however, is space. UW-Milwaukee is land locked, surrounded by a fully developed neighborhood and urban infrastructure. The UW-Waukesha campus does not have that problem and would relieve the spatial constraints on the Milwaukee campus. A merger would provide Waukesha County residents, students, and businesses with increased access to four-year degree programs, opportunities for graduate school education, and important work in research facilities.

In addition, the merged campuses would provide a more seamless transition for the roughly 50 percent of UW-Waukesha students that already go on to continue their education at UW-Milwaukee.

Good money after bad leadership

I agree with the Governor that we need to support the University of Wisconsin-System, but dumping piles of new money into it rewards bad behavior. New money should have a list of contingencies; set goals to meet on a set timetable. The Governor should encourage the Regents he appointed to think about these issues.

Why do they object to new ideas? Why do they stifle reform? Why do they fear change?

In the end, changes at the UW-System are only one piece of the solution to a much larger economic puzzle. Without other important reforms, like lowering the tax burden, providing incentives for business development and expansion, controlling state spending, and cutting marginal income tax rates, graduates of our universities will continue to leave the state in search of high quality jobs.

Who can blame them? While we have made a significant investment in their education, we have failed to provide a way for them to earn a living. Essentially, we are failing our children. Yes, Wisconsin needs to invest in education, but our economy must be robust enough to support jobs for our graduates.

By allowing Wisconsinites to retain more of their hard earned money, they can invest in Wisconsin businesses, save money for their children's education, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. We need to foster an entrepreneurial environment, such as those reforms in my Invest Wisconsin 2.0 package, and make it easier to invest in the ideas created and generated by our citizens and businesses.

If not, Wisconsin taxpayers will be subsidizing the education of students who, upon graduation, will leave the state in search of high-paying jobs.

Previous articles by Ted Kanavas

Sen. Ted Kanavas: It's time for Wisconsin's economy to grow

Sen. Ted Kanavas: Broadband Deployment & Adoption in Wisconsin

Related story

Kanavas outlines new Invest Wisconsin agenda

State Senator Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the state's 33rd senate district.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.

WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Andy L. responded 8 years ago: #1

I have heard Sen. Ted Kanavas criticize the U.W. for their lack of innovation at several public forums. At the WEN conference, he asked if there was a more antiquated system/organization then the UW System. The answer of course is "yes"....the state legislature. Currently we have a legislature that continues to decrease the level of public support for our UW System and then gets angry when the Board of Regents responds to the market by raising tuition. As long as the legislature continues to micro manage the university while providing declining public support, the university will have problems with innovation.

ER responded 8 years ago: #2

Although an interesting article, the assertion that adding new money to the UW System rewards bad behavior strikes me as a wrong idea. Unfortunately, when we fail to invest in the UW system (as we have for the last six years) it is the STUDENTS, not the administration, that pay the price. Over the last six years, tuition has gone up over 60 percent. This is not due to a lack of forward thinking by the UW System administration, it is due to a lack of investment from the state at both the gubenatorial level and in the Legislature.

Also, there are significant problems for the students if the Milwaukee & Waukesha campuses were to merge. First, tuition is lower for the two-year campuses than for the four-year campuses, which would mean that a percentage of students would now be priced out of their higher education. Second, many students attend Waukesha for the small class sizes and the small campus size. Merging the two campuses will remove this small campus feeling. Third, Waukesha students currently have an autonomous student association (in accordance with state statute 36.09(5)), which makes decisions about the allocation about student segregated fees, student life, etc. Merging these campuses will take away the voice of UW-Waukesha students in order to create one super-campus. This will negatively impact students access and quality of education.

I agree with the idea that we must use innovative "outside of the box" thinking in order to advance the UW System. However, I urge you to keep the students in mind.

What a Blowhard responded 8 years ago: #3

Sen. Kanavas has basically the same things to say about WI IT, four years ago: not innovative, not forward thinking, etc. He and CIO Matt Miszewski helped engineer the SIS (Server Consolidation) projects (that both hailed as innovative, forward thinking, etc.). While Sen. Kanavas blames someone other then himself, he should in fact be held as accountable as the CIO for the SIS project mess. And here we are four years later, Sen. Kanavas is again blowing the same hot air against another target du jour. Easy to blow hot air, not as easy to say something constructive, innovative, forward thinking.

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