Thursday, January 26, 2006

Santiago Makes Offer, Not Request

The Journal-Sentinel reports today that the UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago is seeking $300 million in funds to help the campus "fulfill its mission." Not all of these funds are expected to come from the state, but the Republican-controlled (i.e., tightfisted) legislature would be required to pony-up some cash to make Santiago's mission a reality.

The JS article mistakenly, however, frames Santiago's overture as a request. Really, it's an offer.

While a conservative virtue is less government spending (unless you're the Bush administration), another conservative goal is the privatization of education. Indeed, the two are very much linked. We talk a lot about privatization in the realm of K-12 education, but higher education is susceptible to it, as well. What Santiago is offering is to make UWM a largely privatized campus, but in order to do so he needs a little seed money from the state to get things started.

A more privatized UWM campus means less strain on public funds in the future, Santiago will surely argue when making his case to the state legislature. Less strain on public funds = smaller government = less in taxes. Right?

Perhaps. But the privatization of UWM would mean more than just a new source of funding. It would fundamentally change the way the university operates. Everything from which applicants to admit to what courses to offer will be impacted by the type of drastic shift in university purpose that Santiago is pursuing. Most importantly, however, privatization changes the authority on campus. The campus will begin responding to private interests ahead of public interests. As much as those two are on the same page, the transition will be transparent. But I imagine much of the time those two interests won't quite see eye to eye.

Right now this is just a mission, but once the deals are brokered and funding starts to shift from the state to the business community--which it already has in part for most large public research universities, including UWM and UW-Madison--those fundamental changes will quickly become a reality. Just one look at what has already happened to the way research funds are going to be allocated in the future at UWM makes it clear just how quickly those changes will take place.

I'm not blaming Santiago for his offer. I mean, he was brought to UWM to make it better, which in large part requires funds. Since state funds are scarce, he's diversifying.

But make no mistake, more is on the table here than a request for money.

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