Notes on UW System governance amidst declining enrollment

By Andrew Bahl and Becky Jacobs

Following a showdown between the Legislature and Universities of Wisconsin over funding last winter, a new group will study the future of the state’s public universities and issue recommendations.

The legislative study committee includes lawmakers, business leaders and professors among its 18 members, who will contemplate a range of issues facing public higher education in Wisconsin. Those topics are expected to vary from state funding levels to declining enrollment to the possibility of separating UW-Madison from the rest of the UW system.

The group will meet a handful of times, starting on July 11. Typically, these types of committees are intended to be a nonpartisan forum for crafting policy ideas that can be considered by legislators when they return to Madison next year.

“The study committee is, I believe, an opportunity to have some very public, open and honest conversations about where we see the Universities of Wisconsin headed in the years to come,” said state Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, who is chairing the committee. “And to get input from a wide variety of stakeholders as to how they see the university’s role working as a component of our economy in the next 50 to 60 years.”

But after more than a decade of budget battles over the state’s public universities, some are skeptical the debate will happen in good faith.

“I think the study committee may already be a farce before it starts,” said state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, a member of the committee.