Last Friday, I attended the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents special meeting to discuss the potential separation of UW-Madison from the rest of the UW institutions. It was a critical meeting that set the stage for further discussion about this proposal and what impact it might have on the other 25 UW campuses, UW-Extension and the state of Wisconsin.
The UW System was created in 1971 when the former University of Wisconsin campuses (including UW-Baraboo/Sauk County) were merged together with the former Wisconsin State University campuses. The intent of the merger was to improve access and transferability, create efficiencies, and curb competition for resources between the two former systems.
Today, the UW System serves about 182,000 students and consists of 15 institutions and 26 campuses. The institutions include two doctoral research campuses (Madison and Milwaukee); 11 comprehensive campuses; the UW Colleges, which includes 13 two-year liberal arts campuses including UW-Baraboo/Sauk County; and UW-Extension, which has offices in all 72 counties.
The UW System is administered by the Board of Regents (citizens appointed by the governor). The board has a president and the UW System has a president. Kevin Reilly is the UW System president. Each of the doctoral and comprehensive campuses has a chancellor at the head of their campus; "Biddy" Martin is the chancellor of UW-Madison. The 13 UW Colleges campuses and UW-Extension have a single chancellor. The chancellors report to the UW System president and the UW System Board of Regents.
This structure may seem complicated at first glance, but it's what allows the UW System to share its resources, administer its degrees and programs, set tuition at each campus, and develop policies that have the entire state's interest in mind. In fact, our system is the envy of most other states because of the diversity of institutions it has and their ability to collectively serve all of Wisconsin.
If UW-Madison separates from the System, it would form its own board and, along with the governor, appoint its own members. Splitting off UW-Madison would likely result in reduced access, fewer shared resources such as libraries, and other important efficiencies that are obtained by having a strong unified system. Additionally, such a split could set the stage for accelerated tuition increases at UW-Madison, making it less accessible to the majority of Wisconsin families.
As a lifelong citizen of Wisconsin who has graduated from two UW System institutions (including UW-Madison), taught at five UW campuses, and now serves as CEO/Dean of UW-Baraboo/Sauk County, I am deeply concerned - and you should be, too. Wisconsin needs a strong UW System that operates under the Wisconsin Idea - the notion that all Wisconsinites should benefit from our public UW resources. The UW System has asked Governor Walker to allow the entire System to have greater flexibility and autonomy so that all campuses and UW-Extension can be run more efficiently. I urge you to support strengthening our current System rather than breaking it apart.
For more information, please visit http://www.uwsa.edu/.
Thomas C. Pleger is the dean and campus executive officer, as well as an associate professor of anthropology/archaeology, at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.