10 Mar 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.
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
• Kanavas outlines new Invest Wisconsin agenda
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.
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