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REMARKS AND ESSAYS:
Testimony before the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities
October 7, 2003
Concerning AB 377
Proposal to require the Board of Regents to offer paid sabbatical leave funded by gifts and grants, instead of general purpose revenue


Honorable Members of the Committee on Colleges and Universities,
    I thank you for this opportunity to talk with you about Assembly Bill 377. This bill, at its core, is certainly motivated by the exact same sentiments that, every hour of the day, drive me and each of my fellow chancellors: to assure that the resources entrusted to us are being used for their most productive purposes. Here, though, the devil is in the detail, and AB 377 would actually reduce our ability to most efficiently and effectively serve our students and our state.
    Assembly Bill 377 poses particular difficulties for regional comprehensive campuses like UW – Green Bay and that is what I will emphasize.
    First, let me briefly explain why sabbaticals are so important to our continuing success. The light bulb went brightly on for me many years ago in another state when a task force of CEO’s was explaining to that state’s system of higher education, me included, that our graduates, once employed, could only last on what they had learned in college for about three years: then, the companies had to take these employees and retrain them, replace them, or turn them into administrators.
    The plea was for us to do a better job of continuing, life long education in the workplace. I left wondering, though, why don’t we have to replace our faculty every three years. Through tenure, we make a lifetime commitment to our faculty yet we are being looked to by business and industry as the solution, as the place to go to keep their employees up-to-date. The answer, of course, is that universities select and then, through a rigorous tenure process, only keep those faculty who are committed to a life of non-stop professional development.
    The professional development that sabbatical programs allow is the most important arrow in our quiver as we endeavor to fulfill our obligation to be the motor of continuing societal progress. And, that is exactly what those CEO’s in that statewide taskforce were demanding of us.
    Here is the basic point. We are not talking about job perk or fringe benefit. We are talking about our capacity to deliver on one of the most basic reasons why the public invests in a public university system.
    Please consider this public responsibility from the perspective of a regional comprehensive.
    As I am sure our good friend and great representative, Assemblywoman Judy Krawczyk, would enthusiastically verify for you, UWGB’s top priority is to respond to the needs of our region. Seventy-five percent of our students come from northeastern Wisconsin; seventy-five percent stay in northeastern Wisconsin upon graduation, and most come to us to prepare primarily for business and teaching but also in the health professions and many other critical fields. Similarly, our schools, local businesses, manufacturing enterprises, public agencies, and non-profits come to UWGB for help with their needs. The list of ways we mutually solve problems is lengthy and I am not here to brag. Rather, I wish simply to make the point that, precisely because our focus is to serve our region and precisely because learning comes first at our campus, our faculty must be at the top of their game. Our students and our region deserve no less.
    Assembly Bill 377 would not, of course, prohibit sabbaticals. It would simply shift funding from GPR. Here is another fact of life from the front lines, though; particularly the regional front lines. Donors, from the get go, have a particularly hard time understanding the need to contribute to public institutions; how many times have I heard a potential donor say, “I already pay for UWGB with my taxes”?
    More thoughtful supporters, and we are blessed with these good people throughout northeastern Wisconsin, are willing to contribute to provide the “margin of excellence.” But they emphasize that it is a compact with the state; they will do their part as philanthropists but the state must do its part, too. They usually put it much more bluntly, “I do not give to backfill holes left by the state.”
    Donors give for specific purposes. As to sabbaticals, donors do not step forward to cover what, across the country, is a part of the employer’s responsibility.
    The proof can be seen at UWGB. We have a sabbatical problem. The problem is that we have too few sabbaticals. For the average of about 30 faculty who could be eligible each year for a sabbatical, we award only four or five. Given the importance of the sabbatical to assuring a vital and effective faculty, we need to be providing more sabbaticals. We all know the public resources are not there to fund more. My point is that the private resources are also not there.
    So, what happens at UWGB if AB 377 becomes law? We start eating the milk cow. That cutting edge that those CEO’s depend upon us to be at becomes duller and duller, a butter knife. And, for what purpose? Very little money is saved yet the opportunity cost will be large. In hard economic times, in particular, we should not adding more lose-lose propositions, certainly not in the form of proposed legislation that would hamstring our ability to build better futures.

 

 

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