Chair’s Report for September 23, 2003


Senate update

1.        Important links to agendas, minutes, Chair's Reports and other sites of interest are available
on the Senate web site: Senate Chair’s Report will be available on this site by
noon on the day of the Senate meeting.

2.        During debates, Senators may speak only twice to any motion or amendment. Each speaking term is limited to 10 minutes. The Chair will add names of those wishing to speak to a speaker's list upon recognition.


Other Items discussed with the Chair

{Request for distribution by a Senator.}

September 18, 2003              Colleges Caught in a Vise                   By STANLEY FISH NY Times OP-ED


CHICAGO — When a parent calls to complain about overcrowded classrooms or a reduction in courses and thinks to cinch the case by saying, "After all, I'm a taxpayer and I pay your salary," I respond by asking a question: what percentage of the university's operating costs do you guess are covered by public funds? Almost always, the answer is something on the order of 75 percent. When I say, no, the figure is just 25 percent and heading downward — and add that in some states the figure has dipped below 10 percent — the reaction is usually equal parts surprise and dismay.


I follow up with another question: what percentage of the cost to educate a student do you guess is covered by tuition? Again, the parent is usually shocked by the answer: if you include not just classroom education but the cost of everything that must be in place for that education to occur — a library, laboratories, computer centers, building maintenance, utilities, safety patrols and more — tuition covers only 26 percent. At this point in the conversation the unhappy parent is beginning to see what public universities are facing these days: "You're telling me that state funds are being withdrawn at the same time expenses are exceeding tuition by a factor of three to one. How can you stay in business?"


That's a good question. It is, however, one that two Republicans on the House education committee, John Boehner and Howard McKeon, do not seem to have spent much time considering. Rather, they have issued a report, "The College Cost Crisis," holding that "institutions of higher learning are not accountable enough to parents, students and taxpayers — the consumers of higher education." This conclusion is not backed by any analysis, except for a couple of references to "wasteful spending." But the message is clear: universities should operate more like businesses and become more efficient. If they don't, Mr. McKeon has the answer, a bill that would cut federal financing to colleges whose tuition hikes are more than double the rate of inflation or the consumer price index.


But this remedy won't do anything except make the situation worse. If there is a crisis in college costs it has not been caused by price-gouging or bureaucratic incompetence on the part of universities; a better analogy would be the mass circulation magazines of the 1950's like Collier's and Look, which folded at the very point when they had more readers than ever. The problem was that production costs far outpaced the revenues from subscriptions and advertisers, and every new reader actually cost them money.


This is just what is happening at many public universities. More people want the product — applications to my university are up 35 percent in the past two years — but as the demand for it rises the government support for delivering it is withdrawn. The result: each new student we take increases the number on the debit side of the ledger. Moreover, the costs that neither tuition nor public dollars will cover are rising exponentially. Even if states impose salary and hiring freezes, they would be more than offset by increases no state government can control: raises mandated by union contracts, skyrocketing utility and insurance rates, the cost of replacing worn-out equipment, the cost of replacing equipment declared obsolete after three years, the cost of buying equipment that didn't exist 18 months ago, the cost of maintaining a crumbling physical plant, the cost of security measures deemed necessary after 9/11.


And now, on top of this, comes the threat of Mr. McKeon's bill. First of all, it seems curious to find members of the free-market Republican Party advocating price controls. In fact, it is downright unbusinesslike. Because if a business were to find itself with rising costs and falling revenues it would lop off unprofitable lines, close units, downsize the work force, relax quality control and, of course, raise prices to whatever level the traffic would bear. In university terms, this would mean offering fewer courses, closing departments, sending students elsewhere, skimping on advising, hiring the pedagogical equivalent of migrant workers, eliminating remedial programs, ejecting the students for whom remedial programs are necessary, reducing health and counseling services, admitting fewer students and inventing fees for everything from registration to breathing.


Now, if a university were to offer this list as its plan to be more businesslike, Representatives Boehner and McKeon, the rest of Congress, America's parents and our other "consumers" would scream bloody murder. "That's not what we're paying for," all these aggrieved parties would complain. But, of course, that would be exactly what they were willing to pay for.


If the revenues sustaining your operation are sharply cut and you are prevented by law from raising prices, your only recourse is to offer an inferior product. Those who say, as the state has said to the University of Illinois, "We're taking $200 million from you but we expect you to do the job you were doing and do it even better," are trafficking either in fantasy or hypocrisy. I vote for hypocrisy.


Stanley Fish is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Faculty Reps Meeting – Teleconference October 3


Board of Regents Meeting – October 9 & 10 in Oshkosh


Legislative Update


The Senate will meet Tuesday, Sept. 23 to take up, among other things, SB-85.  This proposal would add to the Board of Regents a non-traditional student selected by the governor.


Assembly Colleges and Universities will meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in room 225-NorthWest of the State Capitol to discuss the UW Executive Salary Range action taken on Sept. 2.  Regent Vice President David Walsh will speak to the committee.  The committee will also hear testimony on:

AB-366, a proposal that would require the Board of Regents to accept all credits transferred within the UW System, including credits transferred between the two-year UW Colleges, and all credits transferred from the technical college system. 

AB-377, a measure requiring the Board of Regents to offer paid sabbatical leave funded by gifts and grants, instead of general purpose revenue, as it is now funded.   (The committee may exec on the above items.)


Proposals Circulating for Co-Sponsorship

UW Salary Adjustment Oversight (Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford) LRB 3238/2

This bill provides that the Board of Regents of the UW System must propose salary ranges and adjustments to the salary ranges for these UW System senior executive positions, but that no salary range or adjustment may take effect until approved by the Joint Committee on Finance.


Roll Call Votes (Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson) LRB 3271/1

This bill would require that every vote by the Board of Regents be a roll call vote.


Open Meetings (Sen. Tom Reynolds, R-West Allis and Rep. Suder) LRB 3220/1 and LRB 3303/1

This bill would expand the open meetings law to include all university departmental committees, subcommittees and similar bodies which are currently exempt.


UW Employee Code of Ethics (Rep. Sheryl Albers, R-North Freedom and Sen. Reynolds) LRB 0165/3 & LRB 3213/1.

This bill would create a UW Employee Code of Ethics to require that all unclassified personnel annually report to the System income received from any source other than direct pay by the UW System. This could include income from patents, royalties, honorariums, consulting services, and grants that are a result of the employee’s professional experience and expertise. The proposal bill also directs the state Ethics Board to maintain or participate in a site on the Internet where this information is to be posted and to charge the Board of Regents costs for services rendered.