What does Republican state government mean for the University of Wisconsin?

Well, we have to talk about the election a little, right?

Governor-elect Scott Walker today, telling the regents of UW not to expect any increase in allocation from the state:

“It isn’t just always about more money. It’s going to be about finding ways to take the dollar we have, finding ways with flexibility, innovation and creativity, to apply those dollars in the best way possible to meet those goals.”

Jim Doyle has been in the Capitol ever since I moved to Wisconsin.  So I really have no sense of what a Republican governor, state senate, and state assembly means for UW-Madison and the UW system.  Will the university lose whole departmentsIs embryonic stem cell research at UW kaput?  Will Walker back Chancellor Martin’s plan to charge market-rate tuition?  (The Daily Cardinal says yes.)

Give predictions in comments.  Or tell me about your own state university system, and how it fares under Republican governance.

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19 thoughts on “What does Republican state government mean for the University of Wisconsin?

  1. Michelle says:

    I’ve spent the last several years at a big state school under a Republican governor, and my advice is to buy canned goods and hole yourself up somewhere for a while.

    We, on the other hand, just elected a democrat. (Said republican governor did not *just* piss off all university folks… it was really pretty much everybody.) So I’m looking forward to the next few years. I’m not overly optimistic, just no longer scanning MathJobs with any frequency.

  2. JSE says:

    But specifically, what’s the nature of the pain?

  3. Frank says:

    I’ve been surprised that state universities in general have been holding up as well as they have, over (say) the last thirty years. It seems that there is a possibility for a downward spiral: State universities can’t pay quite as well as comparable private universities, so they lose good job candidates to the private universities, so their academic reputation suffers and they become comparable to slightly less good private universities, etc., etc.

    This doesn’t seem to have happened. I wonder if this is balanced by lots of faculty who sort of prefer state universities. I can’t imagine the equivalent of State Street or the Union Terrace at a private university, and this is kind of a big deal to me. But I always imagined that I was in a minority. Maybe not?

  4. Michelle says:

    Budgetary stuff: Class sizes nearly doubled in the past few years. Less grad student support. Pay cuts for faculty, furloughs for everyone else. No new hires of just about anyone (faculty, secretaries, etc.), and rather constant threat of layoffs, at least for a while. Being down double-digit faculty from 10 years ago means offering fewer classes… our 2nd year grad students had very few choices. Departmental budgets slashed yet departments incurring more costs (copying and printing) that used to be covered by the colleges. So things like undergrad math prizes, money for equipment, etc… not so much. Campuses of the system fighting with each other about who can / should bear the brunt of the budget cuts.

    Beyond that, just a real sense that education (at all levels) is the lowest of low priorities in the state, and a helplessness to do anything about it.

  5. Michelle says:

    I should say that all of the stuff was, of course, in response to a statewide and in fact national budget crisis. But the fact that “slash and burn education from K-12 through college” was viewed as an appropriate reaction to budgetary woes is horrifying to me. We’re not out of the crisis yet, and who knows when the next one will roll around (or when this one will take a turn for the worst). Sucks to be on the chopping block.

  6. Julie says:

    I predict we are doomed ……. it’s not just a Republican governor, but he’s got both houses with him.

  7. Dirty Davey says:

    I don’t know that it’s an issue of “lots of faculty who sort of prefer state universities”, so much as a combination of:

    (1) There are lots more top-tier faculty than there are positions at top-tier private universities, and

    (2) There is a scale effect–the best public universities are larger than almost all the private universities. Once you’re outside the handful of top-tier private schools there’s an advantage to being in a larger department in a major state university rather than being in a smaller department in a second-tier private institution.

  8. I think Davey is right about the size thing — there just aren’t that many faculty positions at top private research institutions. For instance, in the top 20 math departments (by the most recent NRC rankings) there are twice as many faculty slots at pubic universities than private ones.

    In term of Jordan’s original question, I’m sure Madison will cope via the usual methods public universities have used over the past 30 years (which combined is how they can tread water against the private ones):

    (1) Raise in-state tuition.
    (2) Admit more out-of-state students paying close to private university tuition.
    (3) Fundraising.
    (4) More federal grant money.
    (5) Hire more adjuncts.

    Here at Illinois, we’ve mostly been using (1), unfortunately. Twenty years ago, we got $8 from the state for each $1 we charged in tuition; now that’s $1 : $1. As a result, tuition is north of $12k/year for freshmen, one of the very highest in the country, double what my alma matter Oregon State charges.

    The net result of these changes has also been to narrow the difference between public and private universities. At the extreme end, like Michigan and UVA, only about 10% of the university’s operating budget comes from the state. Anymore, 30% is high for a flagship state institution. This is roughly where the U California schools were, which is one of the reasons they got so hammered by the state’s budget crisis. In contrast, even though the Michigan economy has been dreadful for a long time, U of M does just fine…

  9. Richard Séguin says:

    I’ll have more to say on all this later, but for now I’ll start by pointing out one of Chancellor Martin’s comments:

    “A clear majority of our graduates remain in the state, and in many cases, they go on to become high-quality professionals — lawyers, engineers, doctors, business leaders, nurses, teachers, and pharmacists — who live and work in communities across Wisconsin.”

    Notice the heavy emphasis on the “professional” schools.

  10. JSE says:

    Note that (1) and (2) are not necessarily options for us; we need legislative approval to raise tuition, and it’s not clear to me we’d get it. I believe that Michigan does have this power; our chancellor is asking the state for more Michigan-like autonomy, given that we seem to be headed for a more Michigan-like allocation.

  11. Michelle says:

    Our governor claimed that cutting the U budget to the bones was OK because we “could just raise tuition.” (Though certainly not enough to cover the cuts, without essentially becoming a private U.) The lieutenant gov, who supported all of this, ran in this election and including freezing tuition at the U as part of his platform. Ummmmmm…. Yeah, it’s hard not to feel they were out to get us.

  12. True, but the historical trend, at least in other states, is that when the powers that be cut the university’s allocation they also let tuition rise to (mostly) cover the increase. If they didn’t, most public universities would have shut their doors long ago. Here, I think tuition is set by the Board of Trustees, which is appointed by the Governor, but that hasn’t stopped tuition from going through the roof (Illinois costs 33% more that Madison for instate students).

    Here at Illinois, we effectively aren’t allowed do (2), or at least not very much, before the legislature becomes very upset. It’s also not clear that we could fill additional out-of-state slots given that most of the adjacent states also have strong flagship public universities. Conversely, Illinois exports many strong colleges to places like Michigan, Indiana U, and, I think, Madison,because of the space limitations at the U of I campuses.

  13. Er, I meant to write “Exports many strong college students to…”

  14. Dirty Davey says:

    North Carolina has a pathological system in which tuition payments go into the state general fund and university expenses are direct state appropriations. So from the perception of the legislature, an additional dollar in tuition is exactly the same as an additional dollar in taxes, with nothing forcing the added tuition dollar to be used by the university.

    Re: (2), in NC there is a legislative hard cap on the proportion of out-of-state students, and the reasonably selective state schools are up against that cap.

    The NYT today reports that UNC no longer offers Intro Spanish in a face-to-face classroom setting.


  15. Richard Séguin says:

    I always cringe when a politician suggests that the university should be “run more like a business.” What does this really mean? The Cardinal article suggested this means “giving individual UW campuses more autonomy.” Is that all? Businesses also work at minimizing labor costs (salary cuts, adjuncts, temp workers, union busting), employ rigid top-down hierarchical decision making, decapitate underperforming divisions (departments that don’t bring in tons of grants like the med school), and reward senior management with ever escalating handsome salaries. And I just can’t believe that the Republicans will actually put UW on a short leash — they have a long history of wanting to meddle in the affairs of UW. Think Steve Nass as an example. They are always for “government off our backs” until they see someone else doing something they don’t personally like. Walker wants to personally take the first step by forbidding embryonic stem cell research. If I were a research scientist, that would make me think twice about locating here. Moreover, Walker is also proposing that all state employees pay half of their pension contributions, substantially reducing the faculty’s net salary. No pay raises, furloughs, and more taken out of their pay checks will do wonders for morale.

  16. Max's Bitter Twin says:

    I hasten to point out that in Washington, a state run by Democrats, where Democrats just (mostly) won stuff, the universities are being crushed in the manner so eloquently described by Michelle (although we only recently passed %50 non-state funding, so we have longer to go before we reach the Republican level of neglect). After cutting $2.8 billion from the last (two-year) budget (and restoring $800 million through a tax on soda and candy that was just killed by “the people”), we will have to cut $4.5 billion from this one. All of the attempts to raise money were nullified by our wonderful ballot initiative process, so this gap will be “filled” by an all-cuts budget. There’s just one tiny little thing in the way: there’s nothing left to cut. (I think I can now appreciate what it feels like to get circumcised as an adult.)


    Of course, within ten years everyone will learn calculus on the web, and then we’re all completely screwed no matter what.

  17. Richard Séguin says:

    Oops, I meant LONG leash, not “short leash.” That’s what I get for writing just before bed time.

  18. Richard Séguin says:

    From the Capital Times website:


    “It’s less clear what a Walker administration will mean for state funding for the University of Wisconsin, but with Democrats out of power, education committee chairs will again be Republican and that means that Republican Rep. Steve Nass of Whitewater, a staunch and vocal critic of the university system, could again be the chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee. His spokesman, Mike Mikalsen, on Tuesday said Nass would be interested in reclaiming that role.

    If he did, he would push for capping college tuition increases and reducing wages and benefits for teachers, professors and administrators.”

  19. Richard Séguin says:

    From the Badger Herald today:

    “According to an AP report, the Madison campus would be controlled by a board of representatives appointed by Walker, effectively increasing the state government’s hand in the university’s operation.”


    If so, instead of obtaining independence to run its own business, the UW Madison campus will be micromanaged by corporate interests and Walker’s and Steve Nass’ ideological cronies. This is a horrifying thought. And any department not pulling in millions of dollars in grants is going to be eyed with suspicion.

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