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UW-Green Bay In the News

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October 11, 2001

Our Opinion
Let's reflect on role of the UW System

Editorial reprinted from: Wisconsin State Journal

Three decades ago, the newborn merger of the University of Wisconsin with the Wisconsin State Universities was given no more than a 50-50 chance of reaching adulthood. Some legislators predicted the conflicting missions of the various schools would make management of an overall University of Wisconsin System difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately, those who predicted the failure of Wisconsin's experiment were wrong. The merged system has survived tough times and flourished to the point that other states often look to Wisconsin for advice on how to better manage their own systems of higher education.

Tonight in Milwaukee, a mix of university leaders, friends of the System and political figures who pushed for merger will gather to mark the 30th anniversary of the Legislature's Oct. 12, 1971, vote. While members of this group celebrate the past, they should also look to a brighter future.

The System has never been better positioned to provide leadership for Wisconsin and to live up to the spirit of "The Wisconsin Idea," which is the century-old notion that higher learning must intersect with public life in other tangible ways. At the same time, there are challenges to how the System does business, and how it must adapt to a changing world. Here are three themes that will dominate the System's agenda for the year ahead:

Enhancing Wisconsin's economic development: The past year or so has seen the System become a neutral catalyst for a necessary debate about the future of Wisconsin's economy, which has at least as many trouble spots as points of promise. Much of the work has taken place around the Wisconsin Economic Summit, a process that has reached into every corner of the state and which has involved academics, government leaders and businesses. This year's summit will be held Nov. 26-27 in Milwaukee's Midwest Express Center; go to on the Internet to learn more.

Improving the quality of the UW educational experience: Does the System admissions process work as it should? What are the best educational practices, campus to campus? Are resources and technology being put to the most efficient use? Expect the Board of Regents and administrators to take a more critical look at existing academic programs, some of which may be among the strongest in the nation, and others that might be falling behind in quality.

Broadening the System's financial base: When the System was born 30 years ago, it was supported predominantly by state tax dollars and tuition. Today, the mix includes less state money as a percentage of the total, and more tuition and private and federal research dollars. The Regents and administrators are examining how other states are dealing with their own budget dilemmas, and what choices they've made as they try to balance preserving access with holding down costs.

Thirty years after merger, and at the start of a new century, there is talk about reviewing the unspoken compact between the System and the public it serves. Perhaps a written compact could emerge that would reinforce, unofficially or otherwise, the bond between the university system and the state as a whole. Anniversaries are a time to celebrate, but they can also be a time to reflect.

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