WiscNet is a private nonprofit cooperative that provides high-speed Internet to the research and education networks in Wisconsin. It’s used by every UW campus, the technical colleges, and a majority of the K-12 schools.
“The Joint Finance Committee earlier this month voted to put restrictions on the network and to force the state to return a nearly $40 million federal grant to expand broadband to rural Wisconsin. The moves sparked discontent from the University of Wisconsin System and rural legislators.
Under a budget amendment the Assembly will adopt later Wednesday the state could keep the federal money and WiscNet will continue to run for at least two years the same way it has in the past, said Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee. Any expansions to the network, which serves most schools and public libraries, would have to be approved by the committee.”
Telecommunication companies object to WiscNet because they feel that they are competing against a government-subsidized entity. WiscNet contends that it is a “member organization” that collects money from its affiliates, and that it is not subsidized through tax dollars (though it does receive some federal grants.)
Like most telecommunication regulations, this is a complicated issue. On the face of it, telecommunications companies’ complaints seem legitimate – they are not competing in a free market. However, telecommunications have never really operated in a free market. Infrastructure costs are a significant barrier to entry, and the market has always been prone to natural monopolies. (This Internet connection brought to you by Ma Bell!)
High-speed Internet is increasingly expected for business, education, and research opportunities, yet the broadband and fiber-optics infrastructure in the United States (particularly in rural areas) lags behind most industrialized countries. Communities without high-speed Internet have no recourse if the major telecom in their area decides their community is not worth investing in.
The proposed restrictions on WiscNet were unexpected and left little time for important research and debate. Delaying the decision for two years was a good move, as it will allow time for WiscNet and the other telecoms to work out how to provide affordable broadband Internet to those that need it. Ultimately, access to high-speed Internet is a necessity, not a luxury. The two year delay should give legislators and telecoms enough time to phase out any unnecessary government involvement while still meeting the needs of Wisconsin’s educational institutions and rural communities.
Filed under: College — Christian Schneider @ 1:34 pm
On this very blog in May, I wrote a glowing post about outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, in which I praised his commitment to ideological diversity during his tenure. While I stand by everything I wrote at the time, I now fear for Wiley’s well being, as it appears he may have been hit in the head by a blunt object since then.
This week in Madison Magazine, Wiley unleashes a ridiculously unhinged, factually challenged screed against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business organization. The entire vitriolic commentary smacks of typical academic elitism – if you disagree with him, you are either evil or stupid. But in effect, it trots out the same talking points any lazy liberal would use to take aim at the business community. Unfortunately, a freshman political science student at UW-Madison could do a better job of researching the facts.
To their credit, WMC has merely shrugged off Wiley’s ridiculous attack. But such an inaccurate use of the facts from a person who should know better deserves a more thorough response.
First, Wiley trots out the old canard that the UW System is underfunded:
With almost no exceptions, everyone agreed that we can’t grow our future economy without significant new investments in education–or at least a restoration of some of the last fifteen years worth of cuts.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the total UW budget was $2.5 billion in 1996-97. By 2006-07, just 10 years later, the total system budget had ballooned to $4.3 billion, an average increase of 5.7% per year over a decade. Of that budget, state general purpose revenue increased every year from 1996-97 ($844 million) to 2002-03 ($1.08 billion), until Governor Jim Doyle proposed cutting $250 million from the system over a two-year period. (Shame on WMC for getting Doyle elected.) By 2006-07, state aid had increased to 1.04 billion per year, with the Legislature granting campuses the authority to levy $909 million in tuition – more than twice the $400 million they collected in 1996-97.
Wiley goes on to blame WMC for the “toxic” political environment in Wisconsin, as if there has never been tension between those who want to raise taxes and lower them. Apparently, campaigning for lower taxes is a completely new phenomenon in Wisconsin, thanks to the business lobby, trying to represent the interest of their members. (A concept that is alien, apparently, to the teachers’ union, trial lawyer lobby, casino interests… you get the picture.)
Even more odd is Wiley’s attempt to blame WMC for a slew of legislative initiatives:
For the last fifteen years of Wisconsin’s declining fortunes, the candidates WMC has supported for elective office have been the very ones who, when elected, have concentrated their efforts on opposing stem cell research and domestic partner benefits, pushing a cleverly named but economically devastating “taxpayer bill of rights,” fussing over the definition of “marriage,” hauling universities before staged hearings to defend our efforts to prepare ethnic minority students for the workforce, railing against the personal views of otherwise obscure instructors, resisting any form of gun control, proposing mandatory arming of teachers, demanding the illegal summary firing of named state employees and proposing the elimination of the state’s only public law school.
Set aside, for the moment, the issues of “the definition of marriage” (which passed a public vote with 60%) and the “economically devastating” attempt to limit the growth of government. He blames WMC for helping elect representatives who were critical of the UW for hiring 9-11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett to teach a course on Islam. He is, of course, talking about State Representative Steve Nass, who represents a 70% Republican district, and who has likely only received minimal campaign help from WMC. Likewise for State Representative Frank Lasee, who proposed eliminating the UW-Madison law school – a terrible idea, but another legislator who probably hasn’t ever received any real help from WMC. In fact, the more moderate the legislator is, the more likely they are to have WMC help them – since they are more likely in a competitive district.
And I challenge Wiley to come up with a single legislator who opposes “any form of gun control,” or who supports “mandatory arming of teachers.” These examples are completely fabricated.
So Wiley’s calculus works like this: WMC generally supports conservative candidates, who vow to keep taxes down. That means they are on the hook for every Republican bill that might be introduced, whether it passes or not, whether it’s nutty or not, or whether or not it only exists in Wiley’s imagination.
Wiley then moves on to the favorite talking point of liberals in Wisconsin – that somehow, every dollar we spend on prisons in Wisconsin takes away funds from the UW System. He says:
Can anyone explain or justify the fact that, according to 2007 Census figures, Wisconsin has 22,966 people incarcerated when our sister state of Minnesota has only 8,757? Are Wisconsin citizens that much more criminally inclined? What does Minnesota know that we don’t? How much money could we save if Wisconsin judges had greater latitude for exercising sentencing judgment, or if we adopted control and monitoring measures other than expensive incarceration (about $30,000 per prisoner per year)? We’re talking many hundreds of millions of dollars in savings if the governor and the legislature could work together to tackle these badly needed reforms.
I’d be happy to explain the disparity between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chancellor. First, Minnesota uses parole – we do not. Second, Minnesota’s prison system is entirely different than Wisconsin’s – most offenders are imprisoned at the local level, not the state level – so their numbers are much lower for state prisons.
Furthermore, drawing a comparison between providing funding for a prisoner and a UW student is a bogus exercise. Yes – we spend more for a prisoner – for instance, someone who may have stabbed someone else to death. We’re paying to keep the public safe by keeping this guy locked up. To say that money is morally equivalent to making sure some marginal student at UW-Stout doesn’t have to work a few extra hours at Taco Bell to help pay tuition is misguided. All Wiley has to do is start naming the people he thinks should be let out of prison, and we can start the debate.
Wiley’s solutions to the toxic political environment? Simple – make the legislature part-time and eliminate most of the local governments in the state. Oh, and set up a “blue ribbon” bi-partisan panel to suggest changes. Man, if only someone had thought of that stuff sooner. Sadly, trees had to die to print out those earth-moving recommendations, none of which has any chance of passing.
Yet, apparently those changes are what are necessary to keep Wisconsin from – and I hope you’re sitting down – becoming a “permanent third-world state.” Honestly, if any political science student at UW-Madison used that kind of hyperbole in one of their research papers, they should be forced to re-take the course (unless it was taught by Kevin Barrett.)
Let’s review – only spending $4.3 billion per year on the UW System is going to make us a “third-world” state. As if, suddenly, you’ll have to sit at your work computer covered in flies, with a distended belly. On the plus side, it may mean Wisconsin has some better Olympic long distance runners.
There’s a lot more stuff in there, but there are really only so many hours in the day. It’s just too bad that John Wiley has only recently discovered that the UW-Madison has been a thorn in the side of the Legislature for over a century. Somehow, I think we’ll survive.
Filed under: College — Christian Schneider @ 8:49 am
George W. Bush honors former UW Chancellor and Clinton cabinet secretary Donna Shalala with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Some are not pleased:
Of all the educators in the country to choose from, including those who have suffered under the type of politically correct regimes that Shalala has built up and overseen, the choice of Donna Shalala to receive our nation’s highest civilian award is beyond puzzling; it is obscene.
Shalala was architect of the infamous speech code at Wisconsin which, before it was declared unconstitutional in 1991, was among the most draconian in the nation. She also crafted the “Madison Plan” at UW, through which she mandated quotas for hiring minority professors, doubling the number of minority undergraduates, passed an ethnic studies requirement, and opened a multicultural center.
So radical was her tenure at UW, so opposed to liberty were her mandates, that in January, 1993 Evans & Novak used her appointment as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services to question where Clinton, ostensibly a “New Democrat,” planned on taking the country.
Filed under: College — Christian Schneider @ 3:28 pm
Today, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced the appointment of their new chancellor, Carolyn “Biddy” Martin. Martin is no stranger to UW-Madison, having completed her Ph.D. in German Literature there in 1985. At Cornell University, she moved up to the position of Provost, serving on several committees for the Institute of German Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies and Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Studies. According to her online biography at Cornell, her publications include Woman and Modernity: The (Life) Styles of Lou Andreas-Salome (1991) and Femininity Played Straight (1996).
(The fact that Martin is openly gay isn’t in any way notable, other than the fact that it contradicts the UW’s recent talking point that all their bright gay talent is fleeing the university because of their lack of domestic partner benefits. That’s assuming, of course, that the paper just didn’t mean she has a sunny disposition.)
Rather than predict what Martin’s chancellorship will look like, it is instructive to look back at the tenure of the outgoing chancellor, John Wiley. During the Wiley years, the UW-Madison became a punching bag for the Wisconsin Legislature. When conservatives looked at the state’s flagship university, they saw scandal, fraud, and fiscal mismanagement. And they didn’t get much disagreement from liberals. Yet when one digs deeper into the Wiley legacy, there were plenty of things for right-wingers to like. And with the installation of the new chancellor, conservatives may gain a new appreciation for how good they have had it for the last seven years.
For one, Wiley was a staunch defender of free speech on campus. In 2005, a furor erupted in the UW System when the UW-Stout moved to kick the ROTC off their campus. Liberals at Stout argued the armed forces had no place on their campus, due in large part to the military’s policy on gays and lesbians. In Madison, Wiley stood up to the anti-war faction and defended the ROTC’s right to do business on campus. Wiley took the stage at several contentious student-led meetings where he refused to back down. In fact, some anti-war campus groups ended up accusing Wiley of working in cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department to spy on their activities.
In some cases, Wiley actively supported conservatives and Republicans on campus. In 2007, the UW-Madison College Republicans hosted a speech by conservative commentator David Horowitz on campus. Rather than requiring the College Republicans to pay the extra $1,300 security fee, Wiley paid for it with student fees, while anti-war groups virulently protested his decision. Recently, Wiley discontinued off-campus student funding for left-wing groups like Sex Out Loud and the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG), citing their lack of relevance to actual student issues.
Wiley also refused to sign the “Presidents Climate Commitment,” which commits university presidents to reducing greenhouse gases on campus. “I believe it is ill-advised to sign a pledge in which the goals are poorly defined and where the cost to taxpayers is unknown,” he said.
Every legislative session, there’s an effort to allow UW faculty and academic staff to unionize. In each of these attempts, Wiley has listened to his own faculty and refused to support an effort to allow collective bargaining by faculty. New chancellor finalists Tim Mulcahy and Rebecca Blank both stated publicly that they opposed such faculty unionization, and neither of them got the job. (Mulcahy pulled his name out of the running, most likely after he found out he didn’t get the job. In related news, I am pulling my name out of the running to replace Ned Yost as manager of the Brewers.)
Perhaps most impressively, Wiley raised billions of dollars in private money to expand the UW-Madison through its endowment fund. If someone promised the Legislature that they could raise a billion dollars in non-taxpayer money to improve the performance of any other state department, Republicans would jump at the chance. Yet Wiley’s accomplishments in private fundraising are often overlooked in favor of more negative stories about the UW.
Despite Wiley’s conservative achievements, there was also plenty of fodder for those looking for more accountability from the UW-Madison. In one incident, a vice chancellor for student affairs allegedly had an inappropriate relationship with a graduate student, then was allowed to stay on the payroll at a salary of $73,000 per year while under suspension. The UW system was criticized for giving its administrators “backup jobs” in the event they had to leave their current position. It came to light that the UW gave their chancellors a $700 per month automobile stipend, and an audit of the system showed that nearly 25 percent of the positions within the UW were administrative in nature. Several high-dollar computer projects went belly-up. In all, it was not a good run for the UW.
Yet in many of these cases, the troublesome problems were the results of system-wide policies, not necessarily of the UW-Madison. And in some respects, these are problems one expects to find in any business with a $4 billion budget and over 70,000 employees. But because the UW reports to taxpayers, these problems within the system tend to be highly publicized and quite embarrassing to the UW bureaucracy (often times, for good reason.) Additionally, there’s no escaping the fact that the UW-Madison is a hegemonic liberal institution. Asking the UW to be “more conservative” is like asking a baboon to play the harmonica.
This doesn’t excuse many of the UW’s gaffes. And there certainly will be more to come – at no time in our state’s history has the UW missed an opportunity to be an irritant to the Legislature. But it would be a shame to judge Wiley’s tenure by these bureaucratic screw-ups alone. There were many instances where Wiley reached across the aisle and did the right thing to achieve an ideological balance. And letting him slip off into retirement without acknowledging these positive actions would be unfairly maligning his legacy.
As for Chancellor-to-be Martin, it is impossible to tell what her administration will look like in the future. Perhaps the Cornell Women’s Studies Department is churning out some of our great modern female conservative minds. More likely, her personally ideological views may have nothing to do with how she serves as an administrator. But if she makes the same effort as John Wiley to stand up for viewpoint diversity on campus, she’d be off to a good start. And if she can even approach the amount of private sector money Wiley raised, even better.
Filed under: College — Christian Schneider @ 8:16 am
You may have thought it was the drinking, oversleeping, or laziness that’s keeping your kid from getting good grades at the University of Wisconsin.Â But, as the Wisconsin State Journal reports today, it’s something much more insidious – it’s the lack of walk-in closets in the dorms.
The newest multimillion-dollar residence halls on Madison campuses feature semi-private bathrooms, walk-in closets, wireless Internet connections and even spots for professors to hold office hours.
Such perks aren ‘t luxuries these days, university officials say. They ‘re essential for recruiting the best students and helping students to succeed.
Right.Â Without these new Taj Mahal dorms, good students would just stop coming to the UW.Â It continues:
Universities say they ‘re putting up these multimillion-dollar buildings in part because they help students perform better.
No wonder my grades were so average in college – I had to share a bathroom with 20 other guys for a whole year!Â Obviously, a more private and serene bathroom experience leads to more relaxed students, who can then retain information more effectively.
In fact,Â itÂ is well knownÂ that Einstein was merely a so-so student.Â What is less well known is that he was a lousy student because he had to share a bathroom.Â Once he moved and first sat down on his own semi-private toilet, the theory of relativity just popped into his mind.
“Students have expectations now about where they ‘re going to live, and they ‘re a lot higher expectations than they were 20 years ago, ” said Paul Evans, UW-Madison ‘s director of housing. “Many of these students have private bedrooms at home, maybe even their own bathroom, so they ‘re making those kinds of comparisons.”
Ooooh – many of these kids have PRIVATE BEDROOMS at home!Â They can’t possibly be expected to live with another smelly person in the room!Â That might actually add to the college experience, where they learn to get along with people and actually leave their room every now and then.Â Someone should call all the Chinese college students packed 10 to a room and tell them how they’re underachieving as a result.Â But do it before China actually owns the United States.
Finally, what does building all these fancy new dorms do to the UW’s line that the state is pricing kids out of a college education?Â With theÂ differentialÂ housingÂ costsÂ for these posh new places, the system is only going to fuelÂ incomeÂ based segregation issues.Â As John Edwards (not the psychic) likes to say, we’ll have “Two UWs.”Â And, knowing a little about how college students actually live, there’s a good chance these fancy new places will be in bad shape in a few years.
Of course, the UW probably has a good case to renovate many of these dorms, or build new ones altogether.Â Some of them are falling apart, and most of them are stillÂ coated with bong residue from the Vietnam Era.Â But spare us the rhetoric about how it makes any actual difference in how students learn.Â We’re actually smart people – despite not having walk-in closets in our dorms.