Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why UWM Matters

It could be the key to transforming Wisconsin’s economy, but state leaders don’t seem to realize it.

By - Apr 1st, 2014 11:32 am
Mike Lovell

Mike Lovell

Last week’s surprise decision by UW-Milwaukee chancellor Michael Lovell to accept the job of Marquette University’s president was touted as good news for MU and for Milwaukee (retaining a man acclaimed as one of the city’s top leaders), but it raised troubling questions about the future of UWM. While the university has made major strides in the last 15 years, it is nowhere near the institution it needs to be, which is bad news not just for this city, but for the entire state.

For most of Wisconsin’s history, the pre-eminence of UW-Madison, and the complete unimportance of UW-Milwaukee (which didn’t exist until the 1950s) made sense. Wisconsin was a manufacturing state centered in its biggest city, Milwaukee, where most workers were blue collar and high-school educated workers. Madison was a small-town grove of academia, dominated by its nationally-ranked university, and couldn’t have been further removed from the private sector.

Indeed, outreach to the wider world by UW-Madison professors was to the state government also located in their city. The “Wisconsin Idea,” as it was dubbed, was a model to the nation of how leading academics could create bold new ideas for government. The progressive income tax, workman’s compensation, utility regulation and other innovations made Wisconsin a “laboratory for democracy” whose civic inventions were adopted by other states and even the federal government.

But nowadays, most states and countless nations seek to emulate Silicon Valley and connect academia and the private sector, to patent and market the research and development work of top-flight professors and university graduates. But Wisconsin lags behind in that effort, because its major university is in Madison and its leading private-sector city is Milwaukee.

UWM has certainly grown from near invisibility in the last 15 years, under its last three chancellors, Nancy Zimpher, Carlos Santiago and Lovell. Zimpher’s biggest impact, ironically, was upgrading the sports program. Under coach Bruce Pearl, the UWM basketball had success in the NCAA tournament and “this became a hot campus,” says Tom Luljak, vice-chancellor of university relations and communications. “We saw a correlation between our basketball program and out-state and out-of-state enrollment increases.”

To accommodate those new students, Santiago created a real estate foundation that has built two new dormitories along the Milwaukee River, the $20 million RiverView Hall and the $50 million Cambridge Commons. Today about 40 percent of the student body is made up of commuters, but 15 years ago the figure was 65 to 70 percent, Luljak estimates.

Santiago convinced the chief executives of five top local businesses to help head up a capital campaign: Keith Nosbusch (Rockwell Automation), Ed Zore (Northwestern Mutual Life), Gale Klappa (We Energies), Jim Ziemer (Harley-Davidson), Dennis Kuester (former CEO of what was then Marshall & Ilsley Corp.). The campaign raised $125 million, an unprecedented level of private funds for UWM.

Mostly under Santiago and Lovell, UWM has also undertaken a long list of building projects that have expanded its footprint in Milwaukee, including the Kenilworth Building on Prospect Avenue (total cost about $65 million), the purchase and renovation of the old Columbia Hospital (about $40 million), the School of Freshwater Sciences on E. Greenfield Ave. on the lake ($53 million), the Zilber School of Public Health in the Brewery project on 10th and State streets ($12.5 million), the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Center across from the student union ($80 million) and, out in Wauwatosa near the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Innovation Accelerator ($11 million) and Innovation Campus Integrated Research Center ($75 million).

As these names suggest, UWM has put increasing emphasis on research. Lovell has touted partnerships with local companies like Johnson Controls, GE Healthcare and Rockwell Automation, and the gold medal UWM won from the Edison Awards for its partnership with Johnson Controls for research on advanced energy storage.

Certainly, UWM has made progress on that front. Its research expenditures  increased from $23 million in 2000-2001 to $71.2 million in 2010-11 – more than tripling. But UWM still ranked 166th among research institutions nationally, while mighty UW-Madison ranked third that year, with 1.03 billion in research spending.

Santiago had a little success getting the legislature to allocate more money to UWM, but it remains a financial backwater compared to UW-Madison.  As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, the state appropriation per full time student at UWM is just $3,876, compared to $9,003 for UW-Madison.

This dismal funding makes it difficult for UWM to compete for top faculty. A 2010 UW System study found UWM salaries were 13 percent lower (for assistant professors) and 29 percent lower (for full professors) compared to other universities nationally. But Gov. Scott Walker’s push to require all public employees to contribute more to their benefits compounded the problem. As a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report found, an employee earning $50,000 now had to contribute an additional $4,228 to their pension and health care, an 8.5 percent loss in take-home pay, while someone earning $125,000 had to contribute an additional $8,428, a 6.7 percent reduction in take-home pay. UWM estimated the average cut for its professors at 8 percent in a March 2012 story in Milwaukee Magazine. “We are losing some of the most productive and experienced employees,” causing “irreparable harm” to UWM, Lovell told the magazine.

The cuts were justified by Walker and others with the claim that workers in the private sector had less benefits, but UWM’s main competition is with public universities.

The underfunding of UWM may partly reflect the antipathy toward Milwaukee from outstate residents. Indeed, Walker ran against Tom Barrett in the recall election warning voters that Barrett could turn Wisconsin into Milwaukee. More importantly, UW-Madison has always had more clout in the Capitol. But the situation is far worse now, because Milwaukee is so under-represented in the legislature. Lovell was reportedly miffed by the legislature’s outrage over an audit showing the UW-System had significant cash reserves. In fact, as a follow-up audit found, in the case of UWM less than 3 percent of the money cited in the first audit was true cash reserves. “Our local delegation didn’t support us,” longtime UWM history professor Margo Anderson told the JS. “It was devastating.”

The reality is that this state needs Milwaukee. If Wisconsin is to successfully compete with other states economically, Milwaukee must play a central role in that effort. But who will champion Milwaukee? Some Democratic legislators will try to, but they have little power in Madison.

Milwaukee’s business leaders clearly understand that connections between academia and business are crucial; it underpins the idea of turning this city into a center for water technology. But that idea and any of the others touted as a way to transform Milwaukee’s economy depend upon having a critical mass of smart people and innovative research, which inevitably depends upon having a formidable university.

At this point, only business leaders will be listened to and can make this argument effectively with Republicans in Madison. But will they? If not, here’s prediction: UWM, Milwaukee and probably the entire state will continue to fall behind their peers when it comes to creating a new economy.

Short Takes

-It’s ironic to see compensation for the state’s professors plummeting even as CEO salaries rise ever higher into the stratosphere. Business leaders defend such compensation as necessary to attract the best talent, even as they support a governor who is leaving our universities at a huge disadvantage when it comes to attracting top-flight professors.

-Journal Sentinel writer Dan Bice’s latest column is another update — and a very interesting one — on the John Doe probe. So why didn’t it run in print?  “I believe that was Tom Koetting‘s decision,” Bice replied to my email. Koetting replied as follows: “The blog allows Dan to do a deeper dive on items that may have less interest to a general print audience. The piece received good play online and found its audience.” But it would have surely gotten more audience if it also ran in print. I might add that it reads like a column, not like a short blog.

Update 1:40 April 1: An earlier version of this story used an estimate of the loss of take-home pay for professors from a Milwaukee Magazine story which was called into question by readers. I agree and replaced this with figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Categories: Murphy's Law

31 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why UWM Matters”

  1. Kyle says:

    Bruce, normally when someone cites numbers that don’t make any sense, like the 8% cut to professors pay when the numbers you present add up to 14.5%, the link isn’t quite as useless as yours. Why bother linking to your own website with a page that just says “Milwaukee Magazine”? What possible use does that page serve?

  2. Bruce Murphy says:

    Kyle, the problem is the magazine has never posted the story online. The discrepancy in numbers is between one example of a full professor and average cut for all professors.

  3. Kyle says:

    Looking through Milwaukee Magazine’s online archives from that time, one name popped up a lot. Did you cite your own story Bruce?

  4. Bruce Murphy says:

    No, it was written by Larry Sussman, who’s a good reporter. I did edit it.

  5. Andy says:

    I’m not sure how Professors pay $7,000+ more per year in health insurance when even a family plan is $219 a month?

  6. Rational Observer says:

    The state is out of money. The last three Governors — Walker, Doyle, and McCallumn — have slashed funds in every Budget. You cannot shuffle the state’s declining support for the UW System to raise UWM up without knocking Madison down. We are lucky to have a world-class research university within the boundaries of the state. We can’t afford two, and we can’t afford to lose the one we have.

    When you write that “the state appropriation per full time student at UWM is just $3,876, compared to $9,003 for UW-Madison,” you ignore the fact that there are no medical, law, pharmacy, or veterinary students at UWM and that there are roughly 10,000 graduate students in Madison, pursuing doctoral degrees in a wide range of disciplines. The presence of these students skews that comparison, and so you are literally comparing apples with oranges. This is fundamentally dishonest reporting.

    More power to UWM if it can find its own resources to grow. You describe an impressive increase in private sector support. This is where UWM must look if it wishes to grow in stature and not to have its growth come at the expense of the Madison campus. That would be just as foolish for the future of Milwaukee as it would be for the rest of the state.

  7. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Andy and Kyle, I revised the story using figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. To Rational Observer, that “dishonest reporting” was done by the Journal Sentinel but it provides some measure of the difference. UWM has in the past presented statistics showing it has less funding and less land per student than any institution in the UW System. I’m not proposing (nor would anyone I suspect) that UWM gain parity with UW-Madison, but am questioning whether its current funding squares with our calls for a new economy in this state.

  8. Tom D says:

    Andy (post 5), $219/month for a family medical policy seems awfully cheap.

    My wife’s employer (a private-sector law firm based in NY City) offers two Blue Cross plans, the cheaper of which costs $1,920/month for a family of 3 or more. (The more expensive plan costs $2,839/month). The rates I quoted are for 2013, with most of the cost paid by her employer (employees pay between 10% and 22.5% of the total cost via a pre-tax payroll deduction).

    She works in Manhattan, which is somewhat more expensive than Milwaukee, but nowhere near enough to explain the difference between $219 and $2,839.

  9. Bruce Hall says:

    I attended UWM before it gobbled up Downer College. It was a comfortable commuter school at a reasonable cost. Times change. I now live in Michigan where the University of Michigan dominates below I-69 and Michigan State above that. There are satellite campuses around the state for these universities and some are quite large. They do provide an economic foundation for many of those communities, for example Flint. But they will never dominate the economies the way the main campuses do in Ann Arbor or Lansing/East Lansing. I suspect the same will be the case with UWM despite having changed significantly in the 50 years since I last attended.

    The association with the original university has many benefits, but the primary detriment is to be seen as and adjunct institution and one without “glamour”. The “real” university is in Madison; the “night school” is in Milwaukee. It’s hard to displace that bias. Regardless, UWM has the potential to be more than a commuter college or a second choice, but it has to develop its own identity. That’s a major hurdle. Otherwise, it will always be UW-lite and a second choice. It certainly offers much to Milwaukee already, but perhaps a more collaborative effort with the city is needed. Here is an example of how that is working in Michigan with several universities:

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Bruce Hall… I agree the -M hurts it… So it is time for the University of Milwaukee

  11. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Universities in this state are very important, but just like businesses they need to be streamlined, restructured, worthless products tossed and be customer friendly. During these times kids take long look at what they can do afford and also what the degree will mean to them. A degree in basket weaving, and many soft science, social degrees become worthless in the job market so why would anyone want to come out $50,000 in debt with degree in medieval history and I love medieval history?
    Kids coming out with chemistry majors, a tough major, I had that in pharmacy but no jobs. why does the university then want to put lots of its assets towards graduating people with those degrees.
    As my Dad you to say there is time to fish or cut bait and now is time to cut bait, streamline administration, toss out worthless degrees, get students through in 4 years and become relevant tos oviety as it changes.

  12. GT says:

    Murphy for Chancellor!

  13. Andy says:

    I’m very much up in the air with this, because I both wish for UWM to become a world class university and also realize the challenges of supporting two top tier universities in the state.

    The $219/month I mentioned was straight from UWM’s benefits page… faculty and staff pay $219/month for family plans and fellows pay $104/month.

    So it was with no bias that I wondered where the numbers were coming from, it just wasn’t adding up to me.

    The one thing I will say regarding pay and retention with professors is that the situation with “market rate compensation” would probably not be as much of an issue if they had a pay system based on merit and not merely tenure. But that does not really jive with how people in the academic world like to award pay.

  14. Mark says:

    Building up UWM does not require “taking down” UW. UW cannot handle its current student body. It often takes 5 years to complete a degree, which is an awful extra burden to the graduates. If you upgraded the professorships etc. to create a new equal campus here, you could ease the problem in Madison and expand state-wide education. We should also examine and coordinate the full range of post-high school educational offerings in this area, including MSOE, UWM, and MATC. Would we be better off focusing all Milwaukee are public school engineering programs at MSOE and expanding it, or perhaps rolling it into a new Univ. of Milwaukee? Should we continue the large UWM school of education or downsize it to focus on outcomes-oriented research and practice development? Can the dysfunctional MATC be made more valuable to the community?

  15. Bill Sweeney says:

    “There are those that look at the way things are and ask why . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”-Governor Scott Walker

    April Fools! Actually, it’s a quote of Robert Kennedy, I think quoting or recalling someone else’s remark.

    Anyway, look at Milwaukee. You have Lake Michigan, a part of the Great Lakes which is one of the major water systems in the world. There are 3 rivers that run thru the city. There are different ethnic groups with complex histories, diverse neighborhoods, significant inequality related to income, health, educational levels, etc. It is the heart of the richest metropolitan area in the state. There is so much to learn and Milwaukee provides a great laboratory in which come up with ways on how to address problems that challenge not only this area, but similar metropolitan areas of the country. It is a perfect place to invest in building a world class university. It would be great if we could move away from nurturing resentment and toward a vision of the future that would energize people in the state, keep young people from leaving, and attract others to move here.

  16. nelly says:

    Rational Observer-

    When you state that the article is comparing apples with oranges- this may be true when comparing UWM to UW-Madison in reference to funding, but the issue goes deeper and it is not that black and white. I am a current student at UWM. I chose UWM over Madison, as I received full ride scholarships to both. For my major(s), UWM was a better choice and had better programs. In my opinion, a diverse student body and a school in an urban environment is vital to a gaining important life skills and experience. UWM has a lot of work to do building its identity and its reputation, but let’s not push aside the great things that are happening here with what we have.

  17. Over there says:

    If the “Leadership” , or what passes for that in MilCity, sincerely wants a better relationship with outstate, they might start by sincerely considering their reputation. Crumbling City Hall (a project that either was or wasn’t signed off on by a city engineer, either scenario raises serious questions), a tractionless MPS that tries to spin ‘we not getting any worse’ into ‘look how we’re improving’, potholed infrastructure ignored in favor of a…. (can’t believe I’m typing this) Trolley… a ‘data driven’ police department that never seems to share data unless it’s carefully couched.

    Here’s a suggestion, o ‘urban Champions’ – Do exit interviews with those who have left/fled/escaped from Milwaukee because of unresponsive government, crime, lack of any economic development outside of the 3rd and 5th ward. Take their ‘perceptions’ as well as authentic experiences into account. No one wants Milwaukee to fail, but City, County and GMC are remarkably clueless about what real success means.

  18. Kyle says:

    “Would we be better off focusing all Milwaukee are public school engineering programs at MSOE and expanding it”

    Mark, I suspect you’re going to meet with a fair amount of resistance at the idea of focusing your public school engineering programs on a private university.

  19. Rational Observer says:

    Mark writes: “[Madison] cannot handle its current student body. It often takes 5 years to complete a degree, which is an awful extra burden to the graduates.”

    He alleges that it is easier to graduate from UWM in four years. This is simply not true. Students at Madison graduate in four years at more than triple the rate of UWM students!

    Link: [See Table 3 on page 5.]

  20. Bruce Murphy says:

    To the anonymous “Rational Observer” and obvious champion of Madison : UWM does have lower graduation figures as do all universities nationally with a higher percentage of commuter students, who who attend part-time while supporting themselves with a job.

  21. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Obviously the main thing about UWM is its accessibility to the Metro are for the kids so they can live at home. We need to make this available for all the kids that should go and also fix MATC, a mess.
    Our primary goal for our kids in Milwaukee is education and reduction of crime, not an arena, a choochoo train, more parks or museums. When we fix those things than look at the fluff.
    there is no reason why pur kid cannot read. Watch:”Waiting for Superman”.

  22. Barbara Aho says:

    Fifteen years ago, 72% of classes at UWM were taught by part-time lecturers. This percentage has been increasing generally every year. Most of those lecturers working at several jobs earn wages that qualify them for food stamps or somewhat more. Offering professors more money will hardly make a real impact on the quality of the education at UWM.

  23. Barbara Aho says:

    There have been many reported instances of corporations threatening to withhold funding from university departments that might publish uncomplimentary research. It is a slippery slope to privitization.

  24. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Barbara, Unions have been doing this for years, what else is new?

  25. Barbara Aho says:

    WCD, unions don’t fund university departments so they don’t try to control publishing of research.

  26. Kyle says:

    Barbara, I really dislike finding myself taking WCD’s side, but I think it’s wrong to assert that educators who are union members would not be at all influenced by their union.

  27. Rational Observer says:

    Bruce, surely you understand why I put up the link to the chart. Mark’s claim is bunk, and easily proven so.

    The bottom line is that UWM serves its community. It is accessible to low-income students who must work and who can only attend part time. It is also willing to enroll marginal students who, in the ordinary course of business, will not be admitted to highly-selective universities. This is precisely what an urban public university does.

    These are additional reasons why it would be nearly impossible to “morph” UWM into a top-rated research university. If you scan the list of top public universities on the US News & World Report rankings (which are admittedly bunk), you will not find a single university which fits that profile.

  28. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Universities are very important to the community, but our job is simple: Ask?? For whom does this University exist? The students, community public, parents of the University itself? If it is for the community then we must ask them to streamline administration like all businesses have done the last 40 years, drop worthless products and make sure that the kids can get through quickly if they are trying and with minimal debt. All of these loans, I borrowed $150 when I was in school in 1962, were for the benefit of the schools, so they could spend more, not for the kids.

  29. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Barbara, its hard for me to believe how naive that the average college graduate is in the world of politics. As LBJ said: “Academics, they cannot even park a bike” and that goes for many college graduates. What is the rule, 75% of the people never read more than three books after they graduate?
    If you think that a college professor, of any stripe, was working n a paper showing that unions caused inflation, were criminal and lots of other bad things that they would not pull out every stop to dump this?

  30. East Slider says:

    This article has a lot of different angles to take and make points on, but I want to focus on the comment about the local legislative delegation not supporting UWM at all. I’m not surprised by this at all and I put the blame squarely on the local residents who elect these useless people, most of whom are serving in the state legislature, county board, city council, etc and their priorities are about 98% for lining the pockets of themselves and their circles and maybe 2% to actually serve the people who elected them. Yet, despite seeing clown after clown, huckster after huckster get elected, nothing changes! Mike McGeeJr., while he wasn’t reelected, still garnered a sizable number of votes-WHILE RUNNING FROM JAIL!!!! No, he was city council and not the state legislature, but you see the correlation! Look at our Milwaukee delegation, nothing to be proud of, its no wonder that Milwaukee gets screwed over and over. Its time that the people of Milwaukee begin to demand more from their reps and if they don’t get it, throw them out! Don’t just vote for anyone named “Coggs” or anyone related to someone named “Coggs”, actually look into what these people are representing and what they’ll do for the city!

    Beyond our sorry state of reps, look at what we do with some of the money we get from the state. MPS feels the heat from voucher schools like St. Marcus putting out a far better product with half the funding, so when St Marcus wants to buy an MPS building that’s sat unused for 10 years, suddenly overnight MPS comes up with a grand plan for the building AND several million dollars to blow on the project as well, in a stinky deal that once again just happens to line the pockets of several well connected insiders! Anyone looking at the deal from an unbiased, outside viewpoint can see that it stinks to high heaven in a bunch of different ways! How in the world does crap like that look to some state rep from some little town in NW Wisconsin where just the money that MPS flushed down the toilet on that deal alone could run that rep’s hometown for a couple of years???!!!!

    I love Milwaukee and yes, I’m a city resident but looking at how we waste money around here, lining the pockets of well connected insiders, elect and reelect reps to all levels of government that are looking out for themselves and how they can line the pockets of family and friends and just generally blow money left and right on projects that are questionable at best, I’m not surprised one bit that many out-state legislators have an anti-Milwaukee bias!

  31. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    In the inner city the elected officials are kings and get treated that way. They develop all kinds of underground programs going on and the underground economy dominate the inner city. The last 40 tear I work with it every day in various manners.
    According to all these statistics people should be broke,starving etc., but no way.
    The last ten years I have challenged the Journal reporters to analyze and write about how the inner city economy works but they will not touch it with 11 foot pole.

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