When Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year proposed splitting the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the rest of the UW System, we opposed the measure for two reasons.
The most important of these is that we believe one of the principal values of the state’s university system lies in the fact that it is a system.
But the second reason to oppose the split was because many of the goals it was meant to achieve, such as easing red tape for construction or acquisition projects, were reforms that really should be implemented across the entire system, not confined to Madison.
A new report commissioned by the UW System president is recommending some of the first steps on the way to making those reforms a reality. Its recommendations are sound and would move the system in the right direction.
The principal idea in the report is that individual campuses should be given a freer hand to manage their own affairs. This change could create incentives that would help a well-run small campus to shine.
The report’s recommendations were welcomed by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Chancellor
Bernie Patterson and by UW Marathon County Dean Keith Montgomery, both of whom said they saw the potential to make efficiency-enhancing budget changes that could help them to make the most of their local campus resources.
Here is an example offered earlier this year by advocates of the reform. Imagine UWMC finds a way to save money by, for example, efficiently managing use of heating and electricity in certain buildings. Under the current system, there would be no way for UWMC to use those savings to bolster a program offering or an instructor’s salary. The effect? A narrower world of possibilities for even the most creative administrator.
The recommendations also include an easing of state-level regulations on activities such as university purchasing. These types of reforms often are touted as important for businesses in the state, and the same goes for its colleges and universities. (The system would still be able to take a centralized approach where, for example, economies of scale would drive down costs.)
The UW System always will function best as a system. And within that system, it makes sense to allow individual campuses to find creative ways to excel. These reforms will help higher education to thrive.
Wausau Daily Herald