UW-System Task Force Finalized, Prepared to Look at Autonomy on Campuses Across Wisconsin

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Months after the argument raged over how much local control Wisconsin’s state universities should have, a task force is finally in place to debate the reach of centralized oversight in higher education. University of Wisconsin-Madison Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell was the final addition to a committee that will focus on determining how much of a role the Board of Regents should play in campus regulation across the state.

The Special Task Force on University of Wisconsin Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities will study the problems facing the UW System and recommend changes to university practices. This group was created in the 2011-2013 budget after a debate raged over potential plans to break UW-Madison from the control of the state’s Board of Regents. The Board of Regents currently oversees operations at all Wisconsin campuses.

However, the Board’s authority has been clipped in 2011 in the midst of the debates over organizational control. The UW-System balked at a proposal supported by the governor and then-Chancellor Biddy Martin that would have extended an unprecedented amount of autonomy to the Madison campus. This plan would have effectively separated the school from both the Regents and the UW System, allowing for streamlined decision making statewide.

This plan was scrapped, due in part to the emergence of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, which kept all schools under the Board of Regents but conceded some elements of organizational control – class/major offerings, for example – to local administrations. At UW-Madison, this includes the ability to create human resource policies like hiring and compensatory procedures.

This panel will examine the benefits and drawbacks of campus control versus statewide decision-making. It is composed of 17 members and funded through $50,000 set aside in the 2011-2013 state budget. It includes figures like state senatorsSheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), as well as University of Wisconsin Chancellors Dennis Shields (Platteville), Richard Wells (Oshkosh), and Bazzell. Board of Regents member Michael Falbo will serve as Chairman of the task force.



Joe Alexander Former Student Regent
Darrell Bazzell Vice Chancellor, UW-Madison
Joanne Brandes Board of Directors member, Carroll University
Ray Cross Chancellor, UW Colleges and Extension
Steve Doyle State Representative, Onalaska
Michael Falbo* Member, Board of Regents
Sheila Harsdorf State Senator, River Falls
Tim Higgins Small business owner
Chris Larson State Senator, Milwaukee
Fred Mohs Former Regent
Steve Nass State Representative, Whitewater
David Olien UW System Senion Vice President Emeritus
Renee Ramirez Former Chair, Wisconsin Alumni Assoc.
Dennis Shields Chancellor, UW-Platteville
Pat Strachota State Representative, West Bend
Mark Tyler President, Wisconsin Technical College System Board
Richard Wells Chancellor, UW-Oshkosh

This group will have a long road ahead of them. The effects of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership will take time to develop, so the true impact of a system that gives metered power to all campuses instead of expansive autonomy to the state’s flagship university won’t be readily apparent. As Wisconsin’s campuses progress under softer regulation, this task force will weigh the merits of more freedom and less uniformity under the Board of Regents’ umbrella.

One major aspect that this task force will have to consider is the separation of research universities from comprehensive universities. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee face many different challenges than their peers throughout the UW System. While a selective veto afforded the Madison campus enhanced power when it comes to recruiting and hiring top-flight staff, other UW schools have been left behind. These panelists will have a limited window of opportunity to examine the tangible effects of the changes that were made this summer.

No two campuses are alike, but institutions in Madison and Milwaukee share few similarities with the state’s comprehensive universities. The Special Task Force on University of Wisconsin Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities will have to take these differences under careful consideration when preparing their recommendations for the future. Hamstringing the state’s major public institutions could have repercussions that stretch far into the future, affecting not only these schools but also a generation of students.