As representatives from the MIU Oversight Committee passed their proposal reviews and rankings on to Chancellor Biddy Martin last Tuesday, we envisioned this highly unlikely exchange…
MIU Oversight Committee Representative: The lives of undergraduates are in your hands.
Martin: Man, don’t say that, man.
MIU: Mr. Brower wanted me to repeat that; “The lives of undergraduates are in your hands.”
Martin: Oh shit, man.
MIU: The lives of undergraduates are in your hands, dude.
With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that the recommendations bestowed upon Martin by the committee and those made earlier by the MIU Student Oversight Board were by no means the same, and neither was perfect. But there are specific points, both good and bad, worth recognizing.
On the positive side, both proposals recommended an overhaul of student advising, a change we wholly support. A more centralized advising structure, along with after-hours advising and a serious reformation of career advising would be welcome additions to this campus, and, hopefully, with the $1.5 million the oversight committee suggested, UW can begin to make these things happen.
However, there is an inherent flaw in the way the MIU Oversight Committee handled these proposals. While the Student Oversight Board looked at and decided on plans as-is, the committee edited and trimmed them, in an effort to save money and potentially fund more ideas. This is seriously misguided, and for a number of reasons.
These proposals were written by intelligent people from specific departments for a reason: because they know their fields better than some advisory board. For Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Aaron Brower and Co. to then slash appendages without the ability to fully understand the implications of the cuts undermines the process of reaching out to every corner of campus.
Even more, the purpose of the initiative was to help create long-term fixes in problem areas, not fund a bunch of Frankenstein-pitches to ensure that everyone gets a little piece of student money. A successful university is fueled by competition; why should this process be any different?
Eyebrows were also raised when we stumbled upon the ranking of the potential “Wisconsin Center for E-Learning.” The proposal, which was number 17 on the committee’s list of 31, was recommended to receive $4.2 million — the asking price was $6.7 million — a considerable amount for any MIU program. But its focus, described as “a 21st century approach to learning that combines deliberate choices of physical environment, including both computers and networks and multi-use spaces, together with research studios,” comes off a bit suspect. Much of the funds for this program appear directed at media, construction and infrastructure, which may not alleviate problems the same way increased staff would in other areas. Ultimately, while the program sounds shiny, new and oh-so “21st century,” it doesn’t feel urgent enough to fund right now, especially at more than $4 million.
We recognize this proposal will only cost around $1.2 million per year in the long run, but it’s still one-fifth of this year’s funding. If the board evaluates these proposals on their total costs, rather than what they’ve been chopped down to, fair enough. But a 17th-ranked proposal that consumes a large portion of the funding for this round may be suitable for the MIU guillotine.
And that’s the biggest problem; there was no second round of cuts. The board recommended over budget. Even after shorting proposals here and there, the board spent too much money and didn’t make any attempt to whittle its recommendations down.
Of course, none of this is set in stone, and it remains to be seen what the chancellor does with these proposals. After all, this is a process with a lot of ins, a lot of outs and a lot of what-have-yous. But we’ve checked with our accountants, and paying for these proposals isn’t bumping us into higher tax brackets, so we reserve the right to be a little critical before we get too — in the parlance of our times — stoked.