There’s always a lot of jockeying when it comes to UW policies

CAPITOL NEWSLETTER
Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

The post-World War II baby boom swept into American colleges in the 1960s, driving up total taxpayer costs and sending officials looking for financial answers.

Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, was making headlines. It was enrolling thousands of students, many of them who had attended other schools and were getting a second chance. At one point, Parsons College reportedly was paying the highest faculty salaries in America.

Wisconsin business leaders decided Parsons might have the financial answers for the state’s public universities. Companies dispatched their corporate planes to Madison to take officials, legislators and reporters for a junket to Iowa.

What they found was a yearround trimester program and faculty required to spend most of their time in classrooms. The college had a limited number of academic majors. Before the decade was done, Life magazine printed an expose of the college and it lost its accreditation. The college went bankrupt in 1973.

Finding ways to make the University of Wisconsin System campuses more cost-efficient for tax-payers and reducing time to graduation for students recently bounced back into the news when University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announced public meetings on “how UW does business.” The sessions will be held across the state. He also promised faculty and students would have input into any recommendations.

Among the topics to be discussed, he suggested, were the number of credits required to get a degree, verifying the necessity of low-enrollment courses, and the amount of faculty time spent outside the classrooms. One new business practice would be to establish “uniform workload guidelines,” according to Cross.

The “faculty time” obviously goes to how many hours faculty are in the classroom. The Parsons College faculty of the 1960s spent most of the work week in the classroom.

Research also may be a target. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, wants more of the university research to focus on topics to help the state’s economy.

The university system is seeking an additional $95 million in taxpayer money in the next state budget bill. But the Legislature already is facing a significant budget hole and business groups, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, want a $250-million reduction in the top personal income tax. The WMC is a key financial ally of Republicans.

Cross’ series of public meetings may be an attempt to placate Republicans who control all aspects of state government. But how young people and faculty think may be a difficult thing to change.

Students could graduate faster, it is said, if they didn’t change their academic major. Parents might think that is a swell idea, but they know many young people change their minds. Should they be charged extra tuition if they change majors?

Changes in the way the university “does business” involves lots of people and special interests. A prime example is the state law, passed at the urging of the tourism industry, that bars the autumn start of public schools and universities until September.

But changes may come. Decades ago, UW-Madison faculty approved giving fall-semester finals before, rather than after, Christmas. Faculty said they would lose class time, but it noted classes could be an extra five minutes. It was accepted after a veteran faculty member said it could force faculty to review and update their lecture notes.

He said that could really, really help education.


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