Outgoing UW System President Ray Cross claims he has a long-range plan for the System, and he’s insistent that now is the time for its implementation. Henry Redman of the Wisconsin Examiner reports on the reasonable concern that Cross’s rush to implementation presents in UW faculty worry about ‘power grab’ by Cross at budget listening sessions.
Redman reports that
Cross’ “Blueprint for the University of Wisconsin System Beyond COVID-19” faced an immediate backlash from faculty, staff, students and politicians who say that they have been burned before by what they see as top-down decision making from Cross and the UW-System. Cross’ plan was compared to the sudden consolidation of the state’s two-year colleges in 2018 and even the controversial Act 10, which mostly eliminated the union rights of public employees.
The plan calls for cutting programs from campuses, centralizing campus support operations and offering online degrees through UW Extended Campus.
Tweets, blog posts, op-eds and letters poured in from across the state, with criticism of Cross’ plan arriving from every conceivable angle. Critics said it was a power grab by the UW System, that it doesn’t even address the COVID-19 budget shortfalls, that its announcement ignores shared governance — the decision making process by which universities operate — and that it will ultimately do more harm than good to the state’s public university system.
It’s true that the UW System faces many challenges, but those challenges need not – and should not – all be addressed at once. Many of the problems the System schools face have grown worse during Cross’s tenure, leaving Cross and the Walker-appointeed regents who made those changes looking much like pyromaniacs who now claim to be firefighters.
(From a market-based perspective, freezing tuition, for example, has disrupted the System schools’ ability to respond, however imperfectly, to demand over these several years. Some of these regents talk volubly about making universities more like businesses, but they’re taciturn about changes that might make universities more like cooperative, free markets.)
Redman quotes UW-Whitewater professor Eric Compas about the sensible priority for addressing UW System concerns:
“System needs to focus on getting the comprehensives through the next six to twelve months and keep students safe,” says Eric Compas, a professor at UW-Whitewater. “Figure out how to do face-to-face if possible and how to do that safely. How to support some programs that need to be moved online. There’s so many obvious things that need to be focused on. It’s not that they can’t do two things at once, but it’s distracting from what we need to focus on for this fall.”
Yes. Conditions during this pandemic require a triage that addresses public health concerns and their immediate budgetary consequences. Longer-range issues should be addressed only after a restoration of ordinary public health.
An astute long-term analysis is difficult and susceptible of being clouded by immediate concerns, in any event.
A rush to do too much is at best ignorant, and at worst a bad-faith effort to impose ideologically-driven changes under the guise of supposed necessity.