Chancellor Rebecca Blank began her efforts to increase the University of Wisconsin’s influence on Capitol Hill by appointing a new official to build relationships with members of Congress and work on legislation that could affect the campus.
Blank appointed Benjamin Miller as UW’s interim federal relations director, a role he will begin Sept. 8. Miller is the former associate director of external relations for the Wisconsin Energy Institute.
The role is crucial to the UW enterprise as around 30 percent of the university’s funding comes from the federal level, UW spokesperson Vince Sweeney said. The university has to maintain its key legislative relationships, he added.
“Research funding has been a big part of the university’s enterprise for quite some time,” Sweeney said. ”It is important for the chancellor and for all of us to do all that we can to continue to be among the nation’s top research institutions.”
Nearly $890 million in annual federal funding finances UW faculty, research labs, teaching assistantships, graduate fellowships and financial aid dollars that flow into the university, Charles Hoslet, UW executive director for strategic partnerships, said.
Without the role of federal relations director, UW would likely suffer, he said.
“If we didn’t have someone paying attention to federal priorities or federal government activities the university would be at a distinct disadvantage,” Hoslet said.
It is important to make certain that UW does all it can to maintain and grow funding, Sweeney said.
In addition to funding, maintaining a presence in Washington D.C is important because of the large alumni network and number of student internships available there, Sweeney said.
Miller will serve the role for six months as UW works to determine a long term plan to expand the university’s presence and foster relationships in Washington D.C., Hoslet said.
The position will allow Miller to understand how other peer universities have their federal relations presences set up and what else UW can be doing to leverage relationships with federal officials, he said.
Miller will also be involved in a fact-finding process to reach out to those on campus to review their needs and how the university can address them, Sweeney said.
The position is responsible for interacting with Wisconsin’s congressional delegation and will look at amendments or bills in federal provisions and what impact it will have on UW, Hoslet said. Miller will also track and maintain communication with federal agencies and lawmakers in the position.
The director will act in interest of the university’s research funding in effort to ensure that UW is in the federal priorities more broadly and be involved in conversations that directly affect UW and its students, such as student loan interest rates, the 2014 fiscal year budget, the sequester and college affordability, Hoslet said.
Miller will be directly involved in discussions deciding on how much money fiscal agencies receive and determine how much funding is made available to research programs, Hoslet said.
He will also monitor bills on immigration as students from other countries come to study at UW and are interested in staying in the U.S. to work after graduation, he said.