A month after he was inaugurated as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's eighth chancellor, Michael Lovell warned state lawmakers that his campus was significantly underfunded compared with its peers, and an alarming number of up-and-coming faculty members were being poached by rivals.That's long been Cold Spring Shops material. "Whitewater and Eau Claire and Oshkosh and LaCrosse are in the same business as Milwaukee or Madison, and a state policy that reserves a slot somewhere in the state system for any graduate in the top half of any high school in the state implicitly reserves a lessened opportunity to a graduate that doesn't make the cut at Madison as long as Whitewater is getting by. Either clean all the windows or pull the shade." Good news: they're starting the right conversation in Milwaukee.
Candidates to replace Lovell presumably will force lawmakers and the UW System to answer whether they are funding UWM as a major research university and an economic engine for the region, or a midlevel institution that operates more as a farm team, without enough money to consistently retain top talent in a competitive environment, said [Mark] Schwartz, a climatology professor.We've heard this song before. Here's how it plays in Milwaukee.
"The one good thing that comes from this at some level is putting it in the hands of the state and (UW) System to really define what they want us to be," Schwartz said. "We want candidates to come in with a question mark about our status and our role in the future."
Schwartz, Lovell and other faculty leaders contend UWM is structurally underfunded, with resources more in line with a research institution of 16,000 students than the current 28,000. Lovell said that in just the last decade, research has more than doubled at UWM, and enrollment has increased by 25%.But in becoming the university that serves the most Wisconsin residents -- Madison chasing out of state students who pay full freight and offering the big time sports to attract them -- Milwaukee faculty have to make tradeoffs.
Yet the funding formula for dividing state dollars among UW System campuses was developed 25 to 30 years ago. A review of that formula by chancellors and UW System officials is expected to be completed around June.
Hand in glove with the funding issue is a sense that lawmakers and educators are not on the same page — or more accurately, not even reading the same book.
University officials are still stung that lawmakers last year held back measures to give the UW System more flexibility in pay plans, purchasing and other areas.
"If you're not going to give us resources, would you please get your thumb off us so we can try to be successful with the resources we have," Schwartz said.
That animosity is all the more striking because education is integral to developing a better business environment in the state.
High-profile UWM supporter Sheldon Lubar, whose name is attached to the business school, said a reassessment is in order — not just for UWM, but for all of higher education in Wisconsin.
"The UW System is the most important — without a rival second — the most important institution in the state, and the success of our community in Milwaukee and every community in our state is dependent on a highly educated citizenry," Lubar said. "The university is not just a punching bag and a place you can take money from without any regard to what its impact is."
"The school is not only transforming in terms of all the initiatives but it is also transforming from a commuter school to a school with real campus life," said UWM alumnus Gale E. Klappa, chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Energy Corp. "I think to continue down that road is very important for UWM."In making that transformation, faculty and staff will do well to keep in mind that commuter-first-generation-non-traditional need not mean not-college ready.
More critical is that faculty often describe their existence as somewhat schizophrenic — the tension between elite research and basic teaching; the sense of momentum one minute, lack of support the next. The unease is compounded this time of year because it's the academic raiding season, and colleagues are getting recruited away from Milwaukee.My move from Wayne State to Northern Illinois was in part an attempt to reduce the stress of having to deal successfully with editors at top journals one minute, and with students who read at the junior high level the next. Unfortunately, I wasn't as well prepared to deal with career mediocrities and political hacks. So I started thinking in terms of "job" rather than "career."
UWM is "just below the big time," said [Margo] Anderson, the history professor. "We hire very well from the best research universities in the country. But when people's careers take off, because our salary structure's not the best, other campuses that can pay more swoop in like vultures."
Here's the opportunity for Milwaukee.
Whoever ultimately leads UWM also will be challenged by the school's dual mission of growing its research profile while continuing to open its doors to nontraditional and borderline students. Admitting students who are not academically prepared for college affects both remediation and graduation rates. Of this year's UWM freshman class, 53.87% required math and/or English remediation. UWM's six-year graduation rate is 40.7% — about half the rate at a private university like Marquette, which can be more selective.The challenge to Milwaukee might be in raising expectations of the common schools. Winning the Horizon League tournament requires the correct mix of basketball players. Why should producing future captains of industry in Wisconsin, or to show Chicagoans how it's done, be any different?
"The challenge is to keep the quality of the education up there, keep the price down and make sure that the kids are prepared for what comes after school," said Zore, the retired Northwestern Mutual leader. "This isn't unique to UWM. I think UWM has a little better advantage, they basically draw from the local area. (Students) want to get an education and get on with life."