Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: College

Wiley Falls Off His Horse

On this very blog in May, I wrote a glowing post about outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, in which I praised his commitment to ideological diversity during his tenure. While I stand by everything I wrote at the time, I now fear for Wiley\’s well being, as it appears he may have been hit in the head by a blunt object since then.

This week in Madison Magazine, Wiley unleashes a ridiculously unhinged, factually challenged screed against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state\’s largest business organization. The entire vitriolic commentary smacks of typical academic elitism – if you disagree with him, you are either evil or stupid. But in effect, it trots out the same talking points any lazy liberal would use to take aim at the business community. Unfortunately, a freshman political science student at UW-Madison could do a better job of researching the facts.

To their credit, WMC has merely shrugged off Wiley\’s ridiculous attack. But such an inaccurate use of the facts from a person who should know better deserves a more thorough response.

First, Wiley trots out the old canard that the UW System is underfunded:

With almost no exceptions, everyone agreed that we can\’t grow our future economy without significant new investments in education–or at least a restoration of some of the last fifteen years worth of cuts.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the total UW budget was $2.5 billion in 1996-97. By 2006-07, just 10 years later, the total system budget had ballooned to $4.3 billion, an average increase of 5.7% per year over a decade. Of that budget, state general purpose revenue increased every year from 1996-97 ($844 million) to 2002-03 ($1.08 billion), until Governor Jim Doyle proposed cutting $250 million from the system over a two-year period. (Shame on WMC for getting Doyle elected.) By 2006-07, state aid had increased to 1.04 billion per year, with the Legislature granting campuses the authority to levy $909 million in tuition – more than twice the $400 million they collected in 1996-97.

Wiley goes on to blame WMC for the \”toxic\” political environment in Wisconsin, as if there has never been tension between those who want to raise taxes and lower them. Apparently, campaigning for lower taxes is a completely new phenomenon in Wisconsin, thanks to the business lobby, trying to represent the interest of their members. (A concept that is alien, apparently, to the teachers\’ union, trial lawyer lobby, casino interests… you get the picture.)

Even more odd is Wiley\’s attempt to blame WMC for a slew of legislative initiatives:

For the last fifteen years of Wisconsin\’s declining fortunes, the candidates WMC has supported for elective office have been the very ones who, when elected, have concentrated their efforts on opposing stem cell research and domestic partner benefits, pushing a cleverly named but economically devastating \”taxpayer bill of rights,\” fussing over the definition of \”marriage,\” hauling universities before staged hearings to defend our efforts to prepare ethnic minority students for the workforce, railing against the personal views of otherwise obscure instructors, resisting any form of gun control, proposing mandatory arming of teachers, demanding the illegal summary firing of named state employees and proposing the elimination of the state\’s only public law school.

Set aside, for the moment, the issues of \”the definition of marriage\” (which passed a public vote with 60%) and the \”economically devastating\” attempt to limit the growth of government. He blames WMC for helping elect representatives who were critical of the UW for hiring 9-11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett to teach a course on Islam. He is, of course, talking about State Representative Steve Nass, who represents a 70% Republican district, and who has likely only received minimal campaign help from WMC. Likewise for State Representative Frank Lasee, who proposed eliminating the UW-Madison law school – a terrible idea, but another legislator who probably hasn\’t ever received any real help from WMC. In fact, the more moderate the legislator is, the more likely they are to have WMC help them – since they are more likely in a competitive district.

And I challenge Wiley to come up with a single legislator who opposes \”any form of gun control,\” or who supports \”mandatory arming of teachers.\” These examples are completely fabricated.

So Wiley\’s calculus works like this: WMC generally supports conservative candidates, who vow to keep taxes down. That means they are on the hook for every Republican bill that might be introduced, whether it passes or not, whether it\’s nutty or not, or whether or not it only exists in Wiley\’s imagination.

Wiley then moves on to the favorite talking point of liberals in Wisconsin – that somehow, every dollar we spend on prisons in Wisconsin takes away funds from the UW System. He says:

Can anyone explain or justify the fact that, according to 2007 Census figures, Wisconsin has 22,966 people incarcerated when our sister state of Minnesota has only 8,757? Are Wisconsin citizens that much more criminally inclined? What does Minnesota know that we don\’t? How much money could we save if Wisconsin judges had greater latitude for exercising sentencing judgment, or if we adopted control and monitoring measures other than expensive incarceration (about $30,000 per prisoner per year)? We\’re talking many hundreds of millions of dollars in savings if the governor and the legislature could work together to tackle these badly needed reforms.

I\’d be happy to explain the disparity between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chancellor. First, Minnesota uses parole – we do not. Second, Minnesota\’s prison system is entirely different than Wisconsin\’s – most offenders are imprisoned at the local level, not the state level – so their numbers are much lower for state prisons.

Furthermore, drawing a comparison between providing funding for a prisoner and a UW student is a bogus exercise. Yes – we spend more for a prisoner – for instance, someone who may have stabbed someone else to death. We\’re paying to keep the public safe by keeping this guy locked up. To say that money is morally equivalent to making sure some marginal student at UW-Stout doesn\’t have to work a few extra hours at Taco Bell to help pay tuition is misguided. All Wiley has to do is start naming the people he thinks should be let out of prison, and we can start the debate.

Wiley\’s solutions to the toxic political environment? Simple – make the legislature part-time and eliminate most of the local governments in the state. Oh, and set up a \”blue ribbon\” bi-partisan panel to suggest changes. Man, if only someone had thought of that stuff sooner. Sadly, trees had to die to print out those earth-moving recommendations, none of which has any chance of passing.

Yet, apparently those changes are what are necessary to keep Wisconsin from – and I hope you\’re sitting down – becoming a \”permanent third-world state.\” Honestly, if any political science student at UW-Madison used that kind of hyperbole in one of their research papers, they should be forced to re-take the course (unless it was taught by Kevin Barrett.)

Let\’s review – only spending $4.3 billion per year on the UW System is going to make us a \”third-world\” state. As if, suddenly, you\’ll have to sit at your work computer covered in flies, with a distended belly. On the plus side, it may mean Wisconsin has some better Olympic long distance runners.

There\’s a lot more stuff in there, but there are really only so many hours in the day. It\’s just too bad that John Wiley has only recently discovered that the UW-Madison has been a thorn in the side of the Legislature for over a century. Somehow, I think we\’ll survive.

Dorms are Holding Your Kids Back

You may have thought it was the drinking, oversleeping, or laziness that\’s keeping your kid from getting good grades at the University of Wisconsin.  But, as the Wisconsin State Journal reports today, it\’s something much more insidious – it\’s the lack of walk-in closets in the dorms.

From today\’s article:

The newest multimillion-dollar residence halls on Madison campuses feature semi-private bathrooms, walk-in closets, wireless Internet connections and even spots for professors to hold office hours.

Such perks aren \’t luxuries these days, university officials say. They \’re essential for recruiting the best students and helping students to succeed.

Right.  Without these new Taj Mahal dorms, good students would just stop coming to the UW.  It continues:

Universities say they \’re putting up these multimillion-dollar buildings in part because they help students perform better.

No wonder my grades were so average in college – I had to share a bathroom with 20 other guys for a whole year!  Obviously, a more private and serene bathroom experience leads to more relaxed students, who can then retain information more effectively.

In fact, it is well known that Einstein was merely a so-so student.  What is less well known is that he was a lousy student because he had to share a bathroom.  Once he moved and first sat down on his own semi-private toilet, the theory of relativity just popped into his mind.

\”Students have expectations now about where they \’re going to live, and they \’re a lot higher expectations than they were 20 years ago, \” said Paul Evans, UW-Madison \’s director of housing. \”Many of these students have private bedrooms at home, maybe even their own bathroom, so they \’re making those kinds of comparisons.\”

Ooooh – many of these kids have PRIVATE BEDROOMS at home!  They can\’t possibly be expected to live with another smelly person in the room!  That might actually add to the college experience, where they learn to get along with people and actually leave their room every now and then.  Someone should call all the Chinese college students packed 10 to a room and tell them how they\’re underachieving as a result.  But do it before China actually owns the United States.

Finally, what does building all these fancy new dorms do to the UW\’s line that the state is pricing kids out of a college education?  With the differential housing costs for these posh new places, the system is only going to fuel income based segregation issues.  As John Edwards (not the psychic) likes to say, we\’ll have \”Two UWs.\”  And, knowing a little about how college students actually live, there\’s a good chance these fancy new places will be in bad shape in a few years.

Of course, the UW probably has a good case to renovate many of these dorms, or build new ones altogether.  Some of them are falling apart, and most of them are still coated with bong residue from the Vietnam Era.  But spare us the rhetoric about how it makes any actual difference in how students learn.  We\’re actually smart people – despite not having walk-in closets in our dorms.

An Ode to College Republicans

In college, politics was the furthest thing from my mind. I probably knew generally that I was a conservative, but the only way I was ever going to obtain a copy of any Milton Friedman book was if it came with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you asked me who Hayek was, I probably would have guessed he was the guitar player from Soundgarden with the long beard.

There are, however, a crop of dedicated, attentive young Republicans on campus, who fight adversity on a daily basis. These young minds are crucial to the future success of the party, and do the dirty work that few others are willing to do. During campaigns they distribute literature, make phone calls, enter names into lists, and stand on University Avenue with “Bush/Cheney” signs. At Madison, they might as well be holding signs that say “I never EVER want to get laid.” And yet they forge on, Ayn Rand novels in hand.

I have attended College Republican events. Walk into one, and you may think you have mistakenly wandered into a “Napoleon Dynamite” convention. The only “diversity” among this group is found in disagreements about whether Reagan or Bush should be the next face on Mount Rushmore. Given the cross-tabulations of politics versus age and race, you might have better luck finding a date at a Dungeons and Dragons convention than a minority CR.

Today’s CRs were born during the Reagan years, started t-ball during the Bush years, and grew into young adults during the Clinton years. Many were just starting high school when the Clinton impeachment proceedings were taking place, and may, even at a young age, have been turned off by the moral relativism displayed by Clinton apologists during that time. As they grew into adults, they chose not to blame others for their typical teenage angst, instead channeling it into rigorous self-dependence, a philosophy they now apply to society as a whole.

Many CRs eschew social interaction with liberals, comfortable to split hairs about Bush’s Social Security plan than to defend capitalism. There are many, however, that revel in confrontation, and the university student body and administration provide a virtual gold mine of opportunity. If Ann Coulter ever appeared in Maxim, many of them would spontaneously combust.

College Republicans are unfazed by the paucity of their life experience, and move forward with inflexible moral certitude. They have not yet faced the gut wrenching quagmire of thinking their girlfriend is pregnant and wondering what to do (trust me, this has never happened to a College Republican). They have yet to be flat broke and have to care for a sick child or elderly parent. I personally have found that there aren’t any opinions I hold any stronger than those I have personally had to confront, and many of these students have a strong moral base that will serve as a guide when these situations occur.

Campaigns have become more and more dependent of financial resources. More and more attention is paid now to raising and spending money than ever before. What gets lost in the system is the tireless work of those who volunteer to do what nobody else wants to – walking the streets dropping off literature, driving around putting signs up, making phone calls, and other tasks. It is the College Republicans who often make these things happen, and in return all they ask is the occasional free pizza from time to time. College Republicans set lofty goals – they want more self reliance, lower taxes, expanded freedom, and to finally see a woman without her clothes on. As we move to the future of the Republican Party, these are the true believers that deserve our support and our thanks.

“Devastating” Cuts Hit UW System; Thousands Dead

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.