University Funding Dilemma

There is a battle over the largess for the University of Wisconsin System is Governor Walker’s new budget.  The local paper puts it nicely:

University of Wisconsin System leaders are asking the Legislature to change how proposed new higher education funding in the next state budget would be distributed, saying the Board of Regents — not lawmakers — should write the rules for dividing that money among UW campuses.  Their idea would be a major shift from Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget, which laid out a detailed plan for distributing $42.5 million in new funding for UW based on how campuses ranked against one another in a series of metrics meant to gauge their performance.  System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Thursday that letting the Board of Regents decide how to measure UW institutions would be more effective.  [Paragraph breaks eliminated]

The conservative answer is to let the folks closest to the situation make the decisions.  In this case, we should support UW-System over the legislature.  The problem is that conservatives are attuned to human nature.  The folks in UW-System have not been keen to make decisions about changing campuses.  In our time in campus administration, UW-System made lots of cuts and a few additions to our budget.  All the changes were based on our percentage of the System.  It was 4.22 percent as we remember and we thought, “All those folks in System Administration could be permanent replaced by a spreadsheet created by one of our students.”  UW-System has also resisted calls from the legislature and governor about reducing administrative bloat.

Metrics are subject to manipulation and it is unclear exactly what metrics the are.  It is clear that the metrics only apply to the additional funding.  State funding is substantially less than half of UW System funding and the additional funding is a tiny percentage of that.  We go along with the Democrat,Gary Hebl, with a caveat:

“The funding (UW gets) from the state is really a very small portion of what the cost is for university operations,” he said, “so the idea of us in the Legislature micromanaging the university system is something that’s alien to me — I don’t like that idea.”

The legislature needs to evaluate what System does and reward them if they spend it wisely.  There would be bonus points if they actually reallocate some of its base budget.  The article gives a glimpse of the history:

Murphy (R) noted that the Board of Regents has always had the power to implement a performance-based funding system but hasn’t — so some might question whether lawmakers should rely on the board to do so now, he said.  “There’s a different approach within the board, and a sense of embracing this,” [UW System President] Cross responded. “We believe this is an area where we need to improve.” [Paragraph breaks eliminated]

Cross is absolutely right.  Late would be better than never.  We encourage the legislature to trust but verify.

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