Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Seeking to blend polish and politics

Over the last few weeks, I have been stuck in the interviewing mindset. This usually involves preparing for questions along the lines of “Name a time when you were working in a group and you had a problem and you had to solve the problem and you couldn’t find your house keys and the bus couldn’t go below 55 and oops I forgot the beginning of this question do you perhaps remember?”

So for this week’s column, I’ve decided to do some mock interviewing of my own. Our incoming governor may be looking for a few good regents. Let’s eavesdrop on an interview with my ideal UW regent:

Question: Thank you for joining us today. First, would you please tell us your sex, age, race and political persuasion?


Answer: Look….

Q: Haha. Just kidding. No one is paying attention to anything like that. That would be wrong.

A: Look, I realize this is a political appointment. I know that both the Doyle administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature will scrutinize my political leanings, and I know that there might be some advantage in association.

But that’s not the point. You don’t want a partisan. You want a cheerleader. A champion of education. Our state is demoralized — deficits, indictments, injuries, mud-slinging. In many ways, Wisconsin really isn’t a very important state, and we are often ignored and neglected. But no one will deny the strength of our university system.

It is a system that we deserve to be proud of. Every Wisconsinite can benefit directly from a college education or extension courses or university outreach. Regardless, every Wisconsinite does benefit from the huge impact that the UW System has on our state. I want to go to the Legislature — and the people — and show them how excited I am and how excited they should be.

Q: I see that you have business experience.

A: Yes, I do. In particular, I am adept at marketing and budgeting. These are also the two most critical issues that the regents will face — how do we deal with our limited resources, and how do we show legislators and the public that we deserve more?

Q: In a sense, customer service.

A: In a sense. Well, not really. Okay, not at all. If you were nominating me for a corporate board, we would be talking about customer service and shareholder value, and we might even mention the employees once or twice.

But the UW System is not a corporation. And I don’t see Wisconsin’s students and taxpayers as customers. If one were to impose the corporate analogy, then we would best be described as shareholders. Students, employees and the greater public play a critical role in university governance, and we all depend on the success of the UW System.

Q: You got your bachelor’s from UW Milwaukee.

A: Yes, UWM is a fine school. You know, I think all of our campuses have strengths. Whitewater has an excellent business program, Stevens Point is famous for forestry, and La Crosse — they’ve been doing some great things all around.

These universities need the flexibility to specialize, adapt and gain the national prominence they deserve. Heck, I would even say international prominence. Milwaukee’s certainly made the effort. I hope one of us brings that up later in our interview.

Q: have a feeling we will.

A: But let’s not forget that the UW System has a flagship campus — Madison. The UW is world class, one of the best universities in the nation. And we’re competing against schools in places like California, North Carolina, Illinois, and Michigan — all larger, more developed states. We should be proud of Madison’s prestige, and we should make every effort to enhance its reputation.

The problem is, we’re doing the exact opposite. The UW System won’t acknowledge that Madison is special — on paper, it’s just another system campus. But this only causes more trouble — parents get outraged that their children can’t get in, they call over to the Capitol, those reps then glare at Bascom. And when System funding gets cut, it’s Madison that suffers the most — disproportionately, in fact.

Q: Do you think Madison should separate from the System?

A: No. I just don’t see the point. Plus, there are better ways to be assertive. It goes back to what I was saying before — campuses need the flexibility to stand out.

In particular, the UW System needs more fiscal independence from state government. You obviously know about the recent NorthStar Economics study that concluded the UW System contributes some $9.5 billion annually to Wisconsin’s economy. In terms of just sales and income taxes, the state recoups nearly half of its subsidy directly.

More public funding could make the return far greater. Unfortunately, the state has substantially decreased its commitment in real terms while continuing to micromanage system budgets. This is a recipe for disaster. We need to approach the state with a dual message: the UW System deserves both your commitment and your trust.

Q: Do you have a vision for the UW?

A: I want us to be great. I want our schoolchildren to grow up knowing they will be able to attend a system college that is financially and academically accessible. We must cooperate and coordinate with our state’s system of technical colleges, and we must expand and adapt by working with communities and tribes.

I want our premiere universities to be so exceptional that they draw outstanding students from around the world. And we must be more aggressive in recruiting Wisconsin’s top high-school seniors — they must feel wanted.

We shouldn’t stop at our state’s borders. UW-Madison has a strong Thai connection, while the UWM has an important link with India. At UWM’s urging, back in 1999, then-Governor Thompson promised to open a UW campus in Punjab, but the Legislature balked at the $2.5 million price tag.

Why shouldn’t Wisconsin be synonymous with excellence worldwide? We have that opportunity — to bring international exposure to our state’s students and employers. I want to see Wisconsinites studying and working around the world, and I want people from around the world to begin calling themselves Wisconsinites.

Education is about opportunity. And for all our problems, we have no shortage of opportunity. It’s like I said — I want us to be great.

Q: Can you sift?

A: Yes. And just watch me winnow.

Bryant Walker Smith ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in civil engineering.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *