UW System chancellors have made very good livings shilling for more funding for the system. Their daily routine is essentially this: fundraise, cry to the Legislature, get their Lexuses washed, repeat.

In making their pitch to the Legislature, they often paint a picture of UW campuses as bustling communities of learning, where fresh faced students try to quench their insatiable thirst for knowledge by spending hours studying biochemistry and philosophy. In their spare time, this diverse group of students is likely volunteering at hospitals for puppies and searching for the meaning of universal justice.

Such a picture of life at the UW raises one question: Have the administrators actually ever met a UW student?

Generally, “diversity” at the UW means one thing – it is a place where people who like to smoke pot, drink heavily, gamble excessively, and hook up with co-eds below their standards can all live together in harmony. For most co-eds, the only “searching” that takes place is searching for their pants when they wake up and don’t know where they are. The UW is a place where sleeping until noon is actually a dating strategy – so you have an excuse to ask the hot girl in class to borrow her notes. It is a place where you can string along your college experience for years and years, to allow for more time for sitting in coffehouses, stroking your goatee and reading Kurt Vonnegut. It is a place where you can make a political statement based on what body part you do or don’t decide to shave.

I believe noted intellectual “Jonah” said it best when Playboy named UW-Madison as the 7th best party school in the U.S. He said:

“There’s a bar in this town to suit every taste. There are building parties every weekend. Wander around until you find something, then walk in and grab a cup. Everyone is open, friendly and drunk. It’s not a small group that parties a lot, it’s an entire town that parties all the time.” –Jonah

The UW System has done one thing brilliantly – tell everyone how great it is. Without question, it is a top-tier public education system. But is it really the best in the nation? Should taxpayers pay the bill so the UW can attain some subjective, amorphous concept of what “the best” is? Does anyone believe that one gets a better education at the UW Madison merely by stepping on campus? Doesn’t the student’s effort and desire to learn play a more significant role in the quality of their education? Most importantly, why does the evil robot in Star Wars III cough – does he have robot chest congestion?

In the most recent U.S. News and World Report, UW-Madison ranked as the 32nd best undergraduate university in the nation. When one looks at the methodology of the rankings, they have little to do with student performance. 75% of a school’s score are tied up in peer grading (essentially asking professors who is most prestigious), student retention (how many return for their second year), faculty salaries (the average full professor at Madison makes $96,200 per year), and financial resources (amount spent per student).

Cuts to the UW System have little to do with student performance. In fact, only 26% of the nearly $4 billion biennial UW budget goes to actual instruction of students. 20% goes to research. The rest goes to administration, building costs, hospitals, food service, etc. Last budget, the Legislature cut the UW by $250 million, and students likely can’t even tell the difference. Despite increases of 18% in tuition per year the last two years, UW-Madison is currently second to last in the Big Ten in resident undergraduate tuition, so students continue to get good value for their dollar.

When all funds are added up, the UW System has averaged a 5.5% increase per year since 1994-95, well above the rate of inflation. During that time, the number of students has increased .68%. So the UW is getting more money to educate virtually the same number of students. In fact, the state still invests almost $1 billion per year of general purpose tax revenue in the UW System, making it the third largest single program the state funds, behind K-12 education and Medical Assistance. 52% of all state full time employees funded with general tax revenue are UW employees (there are 18,327 total of these FTE UW employees funded with general revenue).

UW adminstrators are in a tough position. They have to fight against “devastating” budget cuts, but when those cuts come, they can’t ever admit that those cuts had a deleterious effect on education at the UW. That isn’t consistent with the “We can beat up any other public university system” message they have been touting for years.

Many of the facts that they use to show the lack of respect that they have been getting from the state are misleading. They often cite the fact that the UW System has been dropping as a percentage of state general purpose expenditures. While proportionally this is true, the UW has continued to receive adequate increases year after year. They are only dropping proportionally because the state has upped spending to other programs, most notably K-12 education, by a much higher percentage. Thus, you can increase aid to the UW by a healthy percentage, but if you increase aid to a larger program by a greater amount, the UW will appear to be losing ground, when that isn’t the case.

They also make the case that state aid is declining as a percentage of the UW budget. This is misleading for the same reason as above – other revenues to the UW System have been increasing at a much higher rate. Tuition has increased by an average of 8% per year for the last 20 years, federal gifts and grants are up, and sales of UW merchandise are all up. Thus, state aid makes up a smaller piece of the pie.

In the end, the UW’s pleas for more state funding are about as convincing as the Tom Cruise – Katie Holmes romance. In the wild, this would be known as the biennial “Dance of the Chancellors,” where UW administrators flood the State Capitol, crying poverty (and no doubt collecting a healthy per diem to make the trip).

Hurricanes are devastating. Tsunamis are devastating. Professors at UW Madison actually teaching 35% of the hours taught on campus, rather than the 31% they currently teach? Not devastating.