What Do Elite Institutions Owe Their States?

February 23, 2011 | Blog


Dear readers,

It’s quite a time here in Wisconsin. I’ve spent the academic year juggling a major research project, teaching, and being a wife and mom of two young kids. This blog is something I’ve had to set aside in an effort to get all of that done. And I know I should stick with that focus, especially seeing as how this is the semester I’m up for tenure. But there is just so much going on around me, it’s getting near impossible not to comment. That said, as I do comment, I cannot help but feel that Madison–and Wisconsin–is not the same place it was when I started blogging in early 2009. It no longer feels like a safe bastion of liberalism where freedom of speech is secure and all voices respected. It feels, frankly, a bit like Virginia where I grew up– or maybe (god forbid) even Florida. So, you can bet I’m going to be a more cautious optimist as I write.

In fact, I think for now I will let others speak for me. On the topic of whether the University of Wisconsin-Madison should break from the University of Wisconsin System in its effort to preserve its greatness, I’m chewing on these words, and hope you will too…

“Students who have the greatest educational need—low-income, part-time, first-generation, working parents, immigrants, and people of color—are systematically funneled into institutions with the fewest resources. In response, elite universities must be uncommonly generous in the years ahead with respect to funding, transfers, and the amount of students they will serve….This campus, Madison, spends far more money per student than other branches of the University of Wisconsin System [setting differences in research funding aside and focusing solely on instruction, academic support, and student services] , spending [at all other UW 4 years] is $8,500 per student…in Madison, it’s more than twice as much. So here’s my question: why are you so expensive to educate? Why do you deserve so much more? After all, you’re supposed to be the smart ones….Maybe it should take less money to help you reach your educational goals…. The answer, I think, has very little to do with concepts like cost. Rather, you were here first and you’re the best. When people look at resource allocation numbers for K-12 schools and see massive inequality…they call it injustice and file massive lawsuits. When they see the same numbers for higher education, they call it meritocracy and a job well-done…. Only by subordinating some of their self-interest…and embracing the interest of all institutions–including the students within them and the students who aren’t within them at all–will America’s elite institutions be able to live up to the historic ideals that have done so much to make us the nation we are today.” KEVIN CAREY.

Tonight I leave you with this. I am a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor deeply proud of my students and my colleagues– all of them. Those at Madison, those at other UW’s, and those who are not yet but perhaps hope to become part of the UW community. I chose UW because I was deeply impressed by its longstanding service and commitment to the state– not its self-interested desire to get the highest rankings, attract only the easiest to educate, or offer the highest salaries. In other words, I came because UW-Madison seemed the exception to the elite Research I gatekeepers–it was a place where one could do research while also fulfilling the major commitments of public higher education. I sincerely hope that Madison will right its course and make its state proud.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Anonymous

    March 2, 2011

    Thanks for sharing the Carey essay and your comments. We can only hope that UW-Madison's leadership will have the same institutional memory and mindfulness of interdependence in the public education system.


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