Op Ed

State Needs to Invest More In UWM

It’s critical to region’s economy. WOW county leaders should push for this.

By - Apr 12th, 2018 01:48 pm
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Conceptual design for a new UWM Student Union from 2014.

Conceptual design for a new UWM Student Union from 2014.

It qualifies as big news that UW – Madison has won approval from the UW Regents and state government for $220 million in capital projects, including $123 million for a chemistry building renovation and addition. The building dates to 1964 and is overdue for an upgrade.

I can’t remember being on the Madison campus when there weren’t multiple cranes in the air. They have been rare on the Milwaukee campus.

The chemistry project is one of a substantial list for the Madison campus: $93 million for a student recreation complex, $53 million for the renovation of a dorm, $47 million for the renovation and addition to Babcock Hall for dairy research and $50 million for a Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory.

Those five projects, a laudable commitment to our flagship campus, add up to $366 million in investment.

Interestingly, a similar strong case can be made for the aging chemistry building at UW – Milwaukee. It dates to 1972 and is in tough shape. The price tag for its replacement would also be in the $120 million range, but no commitment has been made.

In terms of economic development, the case can be made that the M7 region is lagging the nation, while Dane County has virtually no unemployment. On that basis, if universities are “engines” of the new economy, why not invest more equally in the UWM campus?

In fairness, UW – Milwaukee has just enjoyed one of its best funding years, winning some $85 million for the renovation of Sandburg Hall, a residential facility, and improvements to its Northwest Quadrant, the old Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. That Northwest upgrade will clear the decks for more health science programs, including an expanded, much-needed nursing program.

But you can do the contrasting numbers. The Madison construction far exceeds Milwaukee’s best year in a long time. There is clearly a lack of anything resembling parity for the state’s two doctoral campuses.

A new group of business leaders, called the Panther Promoters (after UWM’s mascot), has urged more parity between investments at the two campuses. By all means, fully invest in the flagship campus, but also raise UWM to heavyweight status as a world class urban university.

UWM has made great strides in that direction, highlighted by its new status as an R1 research university, one of the top 115 in the country. It has jumped to 56 patents issued, 49 pending, 70 licensing agreements and 14 faculty-related startup companies. That’s a leap from just a decade ago.

UW – Madison’s R&D numbers are far higher that UWM’s. But Madison started down the research trail to greatness a century ago, while Milwaukee got serious about R&D only a dozen years ago.

This is not a race. It is not a competition. We need both campuses to be world class. The state needs to position UW – Madison as a research leader in the world. The original stem cell patents developed there are just one of its many breakthroughs.

But there is room for two great PhD granting campuses in this state.

Business leaders in the M7 Region believe that and are pushing a parity agenda for resource allocation. UWM has the advantage of being in the heart of the state’s business community, so it is closely connected to world class companies like Rockwell, GE Healthcare, JCI, NML and WE Energies. They are fully supporting UWM’s ambitions.

Further, UWM is emerging as a regional institution with the addition of satellite campuses in Waukesha County and Washington County. (UW – Parkside should be a satellite campus, too, especially in light of Foxconn’s emerging talent needs.)

Beyond the chemistry building, the glaring needs for the UWM campus are an upgraded engineering building; a student health and recreation center (the funds already exist) and a upgraded student union.

Republican legislators and regents in the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington) need to team up with the Democratic leaders in Milwaukee County to bring investments in UWM to a level within hailing distance of what is being spent in Dane County.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

15 thoughts on “Op Ed: State Needs to Invest More In UWM”

  1. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Not with Republicans in power. They hate education.

  2. Tim says:

    Even “liberals” with a strong UW-Madison connection blister at any talk of more resources for UWM.

    They’re stuck in the idea that UWM is some commuter college, for students too slow to get into any other state school. Then go on about, why invest in that rusting hulk of a city Milwaukee? If it was La Crosse, maybe… but Milwaukee is just surrounded by burned out neighborhoods that no one lives in anyway… it’s just Detroit west, said with a straight face.

    Last, they finish with… why should UWM compete! with Madison? It’s a waste of resources, a state like WI can only have one “good” school.

    If you answer those questions and can convince your audience that their assumptions are BS, only then will UWM get the investment.

  3. Stacy says:

    21st Century cities in cold climates live or die based on the qualities of their Universities.

  4. frank schneiger says:

    Yes to all of John Torinus’ points. And even more. There are at least three ways to look at UWM. It is now a major research institution, a source of deserved pride. It is also possibly the single most important institution in Milwaukee, an economic engine and the talent source for governments, leading companies and service providers in the entire region. It is the third perspective that may get the least attention, in part because it reinforces an image that the university has in some ways sought to move beyond.

    For a significant number of its students, UWM is a “commuter college.” These are often lower income students, “first in their family,” many from immigrant families. I was one of those students more than fifty years ago, meeting all three of those descriptions (immigrant parents, low income, first in my family to graduate from high school). UWM was not “an option.” It was the only option, having low tuition and an “open admissions” policy that took someone who finished in the bottom 10% of his high school class.

    That crucial role has not changed. In addition to all of its academic and research achievements, UWM continues to be a beacon of hope and a place to get a great education for a large group of young – and not so young – people who would not have access to – or feel comfortable at – other schools. These students include a diverse mix not found at other universities. As a graduate of what was a “commuter school,” I view that term as a badge of honor.

  5. Boris Ostensky says:

    It is easy to rev up the “UWM gets no respect” crowd but the truth is a bit more complicated, as is often the case. Let me take a stab at it.

    The last three Governors — MCalllum (R), Doyle (D), and Walker (R) have sucked hundreds of millions out of the UW System Budget. Doyle let the System “sock it to” the students and their parents by raising tuition and Walker froze tuition. Yes, the current state Budget represents a reversal of this trend, but the System is far behind its position when Governor Thompson — the last Governor generous to the UW System — left office.

    About a quarter century ago Madison Chancellors figured out that they could no longer rely on the state to fully fund new construction. Since then an informal arrangement has emerged — the Chancellors build support for a project by raising private sector donation and grants — in amounts nearly always exceeding half the cost of the project — and the state covers a reduced share of the total. It’s a terrific bargain for the state — the campus gets a state-of-the-art facility at a fraction of the cost.

    Torinus mentions two projects on the agriculture campus — renovation of Babcock Hall and a new meat and muscle laboratory building. Feel free to google either project and you will see the behind-the-scenes campaign to demonstrate need for the projects and to raise private sector funding. Of particular interest should be the meat and muscle facility. You can see a listing of nearly 100 corporations, including most every meat processor in the state, large and small, which kicked in to bring the project to fruition.

    With respect to the Chemistry building, Madison worked with La Crosse and Stevens Point to demonstrate need for expanded facilities. As a result, all three projects were advanced.

    All of the other projects Torinus mentioned were advanced with ZERO state funds. The new recreation center is being built with student fees which the students approved in a referendum. (Ditto with the two on-campus student unions not mentioned by Torinus.) It should be noted that UWM students rejected a similar referendum. The dorm project is financed by the Division of University Housing, which routinely budgets for repair and renovation.

    It is foolish to believe that the Governor and the next Legislature will suddenly be willing to throw a lot more money at the UW System next year. For that reason, it will be up to the friends of UWM to help fund the building needs of the campus.

  6. Boris Ostensky says:

    More information on the Madison projects which Torinus mentioned which:

    1. Babcock Hall — https://cpd.fpm.wisc.edu/projects/babcock-renovation-cdr-addition/

    2. Meat and muscle — http://meatsciences.cals.wisc.edu

    See the list of donors: http://meatsciences.cals.wisc.edu/donors/

    3. Chemistry — https://www.chem.wisc.edu/content/chemistry-building-project

  7. David Petering says:

    UW-System President Ray Cross has repeatedly observed,” As UWM goes, so goes the state of Wisconsin.” When asked what he means by this audacious statement, Cross responds, “If Milwaukee were humming like Minneapolis, Wisconsin would be in a much better place.”

    The clear implication is that UWM needs to do for Milwaukee and the state what the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UM-TC) contributes to Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota.

    Currently, in STEM areas (natural science, engineering, and math) where UWM and UM-TC can be compared, UM-TC has ca. 3 times as many faculty. Until UWM is funded like a top tier research university, it will not be able to provide the high level of services for Milwaukee and the state that Presiden Cross envisions.

  8. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Good discussion! Has anyone ever taken seriously the idea of changing the name of UWM to “University of Milwaukee” or something like that? It may be psychological but I think it would make a huge difference in stature and perception.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Tyrell Agree. I’ve always thought University of Milwaukee would be better…

  10. tbonemke says:

    @Tyrell Yes, they’ve tried to change the name at least once sometime after 2005. Or maybe they were campaigning to change it to “Wisconsin State University” or something similar. The campaign ultimately failed, and I can’t remember why. Honestly, I didn’t really like the idea.

  11. Dave says:

    U of Milwaukee was a great concept…and the state has been criminal in its excessive investment in the UW at the neglect of UWM

  12. Tony says:

    I worked in IT at UWM for nearly 9 years and there is gross mismanagement of staff and pay. There are so many levels of management much of it making six figure salaries to schedule meetings that it’s disgusting. For years they have hired the person closest to the one who leaves regardless of their qualifications. You end up with students going to school for a history major getting a job close to the CIO and before you know it they are running meetings getting paid huge money which very lax schedules.

    Beyond that, lower levels of management only care about how they look at the end of the day rather than getting things right. Time and time again management staff would bend to executive levels regardless of potential security or legal ramifications just because they wanted to protect their job rather than come to the aid of their staff who was trying to do the right thing.

    The project management department was completely run by student staff! The full time employees were just too busy walking around campus smoking and getting coffee. Completely ineffective usually causing more issues then solutions in the end. Nearly all full time staff was once student staff of the same department. Why? Closeness to the full time staff since there was no need to train them once they transitioned from student to staff therefore less work and more time to walk around campus.

    I was happy to return to the private sector where people are recognized for achievements and hard work rather than closeness of the next level and ability to kiss ass. I’ve also decided there’s not a popes chance in hell I’d recommend UWM or send my child there.

  13. Boris Ostensky says:

    Dave says: “…the state has been criminal in its excessive investment in the UW at the neglect of UWM”.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. As noted in my original comment, new building projects on the Madison campus are either paid for without any state contribution (the new SERF, the new Union South, and the Memorial Union rebuild) or the Chancellor finds more than half of the funding from other sources (donor gifts or grants). There is nothing which stops the folks at UWM from replicating this model, which the Madison campus has pursued successfully for the last two decades.

    On the other hand, it would be criminal to let the state’s only world-class research university slide into mediocrity as another campus seeks to rise. It’s wonderful that UWM is now one of 115 universities to hold the “major research university” moniker (or whatever it is). Remember that means UWM is now #115. Madison, on the other hand, is in the single digits. It is critical to the state’s economy that Madison remain there.

  14. I’m going to be attending UWM next year for Graphic Design – but this issue was heavy in my decision to attend. UWM’s campus is locked in by a neighborhood that is unwilling to budge for expansion, thus the campus has expanded to satellite locations that effectively has fragmented the university. 3 of the 5 dorms provided by UWM are not located on the main Kenwood campus; thats more than half! Even further, the University has no major road connecting it to the rest of downtown. There is seven or so blocks of houses dividing it from the northernmost edges of the Prospect/Farwell Eastside stretch.

    In my opinion – I think that UWM needs to relocate their main campus elsewhere. Many prospective students buy with their eyes and ultimately explains why UW-Madison has such a large student body. Madison is filled with big, new, beautiful buildings that simply look like a joy to explore. Places like Dejope, Memorial Union, Kohl’s Center, and Camp Randall are all beautiful and attract a plethora of students.

    There is only one place that I feel would be the perfect location for UWM to relocate to – and that is in the Harbor District, directly next to the Freshwater Research Center. One thing that UWM has to its name is its Freshwater Sciences division – but why not capitalize on the fact that Milwaukee’s roots are in water? Make a beautiful campus that straddles the KK River with views that look over the Mooring Basin (lets also look into a better name for that). By being located there versus in the northern skirts of the Upper East Side you have direct access to the KK River and to The Hop (pending the WP extension goes through). And hypothetically speaking, if UWM got football – there would be room (and the street infrastructure as well) for a football venue to be located there as well.

    I do know this would all cost beyond the universities current budget – so I don’t expect this to happen in the next four-five years. Though, if UWM can change their image they can get started on the right track to becoming a serious threat to UW-Madison’s supremacy and budget.

    Who wouldn’t want to watch a Panthers vs Badgers football rivalry game?

  15. dragonkat says:

    gross mismanagement of UWM along with a neighborhood that is unwilling to budge for expansion is the root-cause,

    the city needs to take a long look at how about both UI-Chicago and Depaul sovced these problems, i’m sorry but a Happy University is MORE IMPORTANCE that some 2-bit rental houses on Downer Ave, force them to take some $$ and bulldose those houses to make more room!

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