Tuesday, June 06, 2006

UW Continues to Help Drive Wisconsin Economy

In another example of how essential a strong and vibrant UW System is to the Wisconsin economy, the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point (UWSP) campus is in the process of creating a new minor in bio fuels and bio-refinery.

The goal of the new program is to help train students who can assist industries like paper mills in developing and manufacturing alternative fuel sources -- for example, ethanol -- from resources such as wood chips.

The benefit to the economy in central and northern Wisconsin is clear. According to the executive director of the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Barb Fleisner,
"As our students get trained to work in the paper industry, many Marshfield area residents are getting jobs in the surrounding communities."

Conservative critics of the UW are intent upon stripping down the system as much as possible under the guise of saving taxpayer dollars, in spite of the fact that the UW has already accepted massive cuts in recent years.

To help with the budget deficit, the UW has experienced cuts in state aide amounting to $250 million since 2003. And if it wasn't for a veto by Governor Doyle, $50 million more would've been cut in the most recent 2005-2007 biennial budget.

It's interesting that conservatives decry any attempts to limit corporate profits, claiming such moves would hamper innovation. But when it comes to public institutions like the UW System, cuts are about eliminating so-called waste and inefficiencies or trimming back the allegedly high salaries of administrators.

Yet, the initiation of the bio fuels and bio-refinery minor at UWSP is a case of innovation at its best. And it's one that costs money.

In starting a minor, the campus is making a commitment to students to provide the courses necessary to complete the program in a timely manner -- and to do so semester after semester. This requires the allocation of instructors, class space, and other classroom resources, not to mention the support staff and program development time that's required to uphold the minor administratively.

The more that's stripped from the UW System financially, the less possible it becomes for innovations like the bio fuels and bio-refinery minor to be developed and maintained. And that spells trouble for the Wisconsin economy.

UPDATE: Initially I suggested it was the Republican-controlled legislature that handed down $250 million in state aide cuts to the UW System in the '03-'05 budget. Actually, it was Doyle who initially proposed those cuts, while the Republican leadership in the legislature supported them.

The UW accepted those cuts at the time in acknowledgement that the state budget was facing a fiscal crisis. But a big part of that acceptance was a good faith assumption that funding would be restored when the state budget was back on firm ground, not that more cuts would ensue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fairness, Seth, it was the Governor who proposed the big cuts in aid to the UW System. The Republican legislators try to score points by pointing this out (when they talk about how much Doyle raised tuition), but none of them lifted a finger to restore any of the money.

June 07, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for the comment.

I've changed the wording to reflect that it wasn't the Republican legislature that initially proposed the $250 million cuts in the '03-'05 budget.

June 07, 2006  

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