Tuition Costs – 19 year olds versus 4 year olds

I’ve been hoping to get back into blogging about UW things, which isn’t really a focus of ForwardLookout. Most of what I want to write about isn’t that time-critical, but I saw something the other day that I wanted to write about without delay.

As David Ward’s term as interim Chancellor has been extended another year, he’s gotten some extra media attention. The Cap Times has two pieces in this week’s issue – one detailing funding and pay issues UW Madison is facing, and one with some of the campus and system political intrigue with the extension of the term.

The piece that I want to point out was Deborah Ziff’s interview with Ward. Check out this answer:

Q: You’ve said you’ve heard from almost everyone that salaries are a huge problem. Do you have a plan for bringing back raises or a pay plan?
A: I do think the morale-salary relationship is a problem. Having said that, I think everybody has to recognize that outside the university, it’s not seen as a problem. In a recession, looking at a relatively high-paid, upper-middle-class occupation, if you’re in a rural community or if you’re in Racine, or even perhaps the East Side of Madison, there’s something odd about this. I think there’s an enormous communication problem in trying to express that issue. And by the way, the same is true of tuition increases.

(Bolded emphasis mine)

When people start to really dig into the numbers, the optics become much more difficult. I was talking with a professor friend of mine about tuition, and he asked me if I knew what day care costs were. It turns out, it costs a family about the same to keep their 4 year old in day care as it does for their 19 year old to attend college. Using the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies’s numbers, it’s:
4 Year Old: $7,661 (average for an in family child-care home. In a care center, average cost is $9,039)
19 Year Old: $7,652 (average annual tuition and fees for a 4 year college)

To look at more Madison specific numbers:
4 Year Old: $9,990
19 Year Old: $10,478

The 4 Year Old is the rate at Red Caboose Daycare, the center nearest to my house. That’s using the steepest discount they offer (available to a single parent with a gross income under $26,964 a year) and at only 50 weeks a year, not 52. The undiscounted rate is $13,050 a year. (For an infant, it’s $14,550)
The UW Madison tuition is in-state plus seg fees, but not including books and other required materials, which the Financial Aid office estimates at $1140 a year.

I didn’t include room and board. Both of them have to eat, though admittedly the caloric intake of a 19 year old is greater than that of the 4 year old. There are also some tax credits available for both child care (Child Tax Credits and Child and Dependent Care Credit) and college tuition (Lifetime Learning Credit) worth about $2000, though the college credits aren’t refundable so they’re not quite as good. Because they’re basically the same, I call it a wash.

As near as I can tell, financial assistance for subsidized child care is only available for people making under about $29,000 a year (more if you’ve got multiple children) and after that you’re on your own. I could be wrong, because the patchwork of programs are very confusing.

So Ward is right. For everything we say about how the tuition is too damn high, to a family out in the suburbs, when they actually look at the numbers it’s hard to convince them that this is a real problem. And, there are more families struggling to figure out how to secure day care than there are families struggling to pay for college.

So now what?

[Originally a blog post at the Badger Herald. Comments are off here]

Losing Biddy is a tremendous blow for the University of Wisconsin. As I’m writing this, I’m watching the video stream of Biddy being introduced to the Amherst community as their 19th president and her tremendous address. I’m thrilled for Amherst, and happy for Biddy. She’ll do great there, and it seems to be a great start – she received five standing ovations during the event. However, I can’t help but be angry. Not at her, but at us. I’ve got a mental list of students, faculty, groups, and politicians that I want to lash out at, that I think created and perpetuated a toxic environment, but what good would that do? Jeremi Suri wrote an extraordinary piece titled “Destroying Ourselves” reflecting on Biddy’s departure and broader trends in politics. It doesn’t offer any solutions, but it is an accurate assessment of the despair and defeatism that pervades politics today.

The last question Biddy took during her introduction was a request to tell a story that would help Amherst get to know who she is as a person and who she is as a leader, and she closed her answer with “I think it’s extremely important to be able to disagree about things that are important in ways that are not damaging.” UW-Madison and Wisconsin could not, and we are poorer for it. I will take that as the last lesson I learned from Biddy.

[Also during the introduction, Amherst gave Biddy a few gifts: a very nice purple scarf, a Amherst women’s basketball National Champions t-shirt (number 19), a football jersey (also number 19) and an Amherst windbreaker jacket. Note to the next search committee: we can do better than that.]

So instead of dwelling on the past, I will look to the future, and some of the questions that Biddy’s departure raises. I’ll start with who may take over as interim Chancellor. In the future, I’ll look at what matters in the search for a permanent replacement, and what big issues will be more difficult to handle with uncertain leadership over the next year.

* * *

Biddy is going to leave before we can do a full search to appoint a successor, so sometime in the next few days or weeks, System President Kevin Reilly will have to name someone to be a caretaker. Here are a handful of people who I think are “Chancellorable”, in rough order of their likelihood.

- Provost Paul DeLuca. The Provost serves as Chancellor in the absence of the Chancellor, so DeLuca is the obvious front-runner for an interim appointment. The last time we were in a similar situation, when Donna Shalala left for Bill Clinton’s cabinet in January of 1993, Provost David Ward served as acting Chancellor before eventually being named Chancellor several months later. DeLuca knows the University and is well-respected, even if he did ruffle some feathers with the research enterprise restructuring effort last year.

The strike against DeLuca is that being Provost is a large and complex job, and we might be better off leaving him where he is to keep continuity. I would not think it wise to try and serve in both jobs at once, even if it is technically permissible. It’s also not clear how good he’d be (or enjoy) fundraising. This interim job may last for nearly a year, so we will not be able to let fundraising slide, and the Chancellor has to carry a large share of that burden. Mike Knetter at the UW Foundation is very good, but the acting Chancellor is still going to have to raise a lot of money to keep the UW going.

- Former Chancellor John Wiley. There is obviously little question that Wiley can do the job. He’s currently serving as interim director at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and his successor is supposed to be named soon. He had planned on retiring afterwards, but Wiley has spent his entire life in service to the UW-Madison. If asked, I’m sure he’d agree to serve for another few months. Again, there’s precedence, even if it is a century old: Edward Birge held the job in 1901-1903 on an acting basis, and after Charles Van Hise died in 1918 Birge was called on to serve again. (It was again meant to be acting, but the Regents talked Birge into serving until 1925)

The strike against Wiley is that he famously went out speaking the truth. The full article seems to have disappeared from the web, but he blasted Republicans and the group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and has not stopped speaking his mind since. The Democrats will likely take back the State Senate this summer, and the Legislature will settle in for a war of attrition, stagnation, and gridlock. Getting the Democrats and Republicans to work together will be very difficult. Wiley, having made clear which side he falls on, may not be the best face to help us navigate that terrain.

As an alternative plan, Wiley could step back into an administrative role as interim Provost or some similar title if DeLuca serves as interim Chancellor.

- Graduate School Dean Martin Cadwallader. Cadwallader holds the working title of “Vice Chancellor for Research” in addition to Dean of the Graduate School, and is effectively the number three of the University. The Vice-Chancellor for Research is becoming an official title, and not just a working title for the Dean of the Graduate School. There is a search underway for this position, with the short list of finalists announced just last week. (More on that later) Cadwallader is scheduled to return to teaching the fall (he’s a geographer, and teaching a course examining “various urban empirical regularities and theories which explain them”) so like Wiley, the timing could be good with minimal disruption to other parts of the University.

The strike against Cadwallader is ‘can he do the job?’ I believe he can: he’s been a fine administrator, and I’ve seen first-hand how he cares for students. He also doesn’t have any of Wiley’s baggage, nor a pressing desire to retire. However, unlike Wiley who has done the job, or DeLuca, who was hired with the expectation that he had to be able to be act as Chancellor if need be, this is not something that has been asked of Cadwallader. Kevin Reilly would be wise to consider him, though.

- Letters and Science Dean Gary Sandefur. Dean of L&S since 2004, Sandefur was a finalist for the Chancellor position in 2008. Prior to that, he served as interim Provost for 9 months in 2001 when John Wiley stepped down as Provost to became Chancellor, and carried out all of the “public face of the University” duties the Chancellor is called upon to do in the aftermath of September 11th, when John Wiley was stranded in California. Sandefur is definitely “Chancellorable.”

I would have put Sandefur higher than Cadwallader if not for two reasons. First, serving as acting Chancellor would mean that L&S would have to find a new or interim Dean as well. We have enough leadership positions on campus in “interim” status as it is, and having the Chancellor and the Deans of our two largest Colleges (L&S and CALS) all be in interim roles would be a challenge. Second, as he was a finalist last time, and he may want to pursue the job again. It’s not impossible for an acting Chancellor to be named Chancellor (see David Ward) but Kevin Reilly may avoid the issue entirely and select a different acting Chancellor.

- Dean of the School of Education Julie Underwood. In fairness, nearly any of our Deans could step up and act as Chancellor, but Underwood has the advantage that she also served as Interim Provost for six months in 2009. Add to that a very successful track record in fundraising with the School of Education remodeling project, and a visible, public role in school reform efforts, and she would be a strong candidate. She obviously would have the same strike as Sandefur does with regards to disruption to her college.

Even if Underwood does not serve as acting Chancellor, I hope that she enters the search for the permanent position.

* * *

There are others on campus who could certainly do the job – associate Deans, Department Chairs, Center Directors, but once you get outside of the Vice Chancellors or Deans of the Schools and Colleges, the “is this too big of a jump” question becomes harder to ignore, especially when the decision has to be made in short order without the opportunity for deeper and wider vetting. So, look for the acting Chancellor to come from the list above. We would be in fine hands with any of them.

Allegiance to Regents’ bureaucracy is baffling

[Originally a guest column at the Badger Herald. Comments are off here.]

Discussion of the University of Wisconsin’s New Badger Partnership should be about the future, but before we do that, it’s helpful to review the past.

Pop Quiz: True or False? If we undid the 1971 System merger, we’d wind up with the same system that Gov. Scott Walker’s budget is proposing today.

The answer: False. It’s a common misconception that at one point, UW-Madison was under the control of its own board, and the other strong universities that make up the UW System were under a different board. That has never been the case, and prior to the merger, UW-Madison already was the flagship of a growing UW System. Madison and Milwaukee were Ph.D. granting universities, UW Extension put the Wisconsin Idea into action, the UW Colleges provided core instruction to freshmen and sophomores and UWs Parkside and Green Bay were comprehensive four-year universities, all answering to the Board of Regents in Madison. At the same time the Madison Regents were creating new four-year campuses, the rest of what makes up the current UW System were completing their evolution into full-fledged comprehensive universities — universities that looked remarkably like Green Bay and Parkside in scope and mission.

Every governor since World War II had proposed some sort of restructuring of higher education, and this competition to create new campuses finally provided the urgency to overcome resistance from both university systems. Even so, it was not an easy sell: David Cronon’s history of the UW reports that Democratic icon Midge Miller (stepmother to current Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller) was opposed to the merger, and in the end it only passed the Republican Senate by one vote.

This competition was not healthy for Wisconsin, and the System merger accomplished its goals of focusing the growth of the universities for the benefit of Wisconsin, and not the prestige of one system versus another. (For more, see Cyrena Pondrom’s remarks to PROFS.)

But times change, and 40 years later I’m reminded of the Shirky Principle: “Institutions seek to preserve the problems to which they are the solution.”

And it’s worth asking, what problems are solved by having a single bureaucracy running the diverse campuses of the UW System in the 21st century?

It’s not potential competition between the Madison campus and the other schools to open new campuses around the state. Those days have passed. A standalone UW-Madison is more likely to open a campus in Shanghai than in Sheboygan.

It’s not protection in the budget — the legislature routinely gives specific directions to individual campuses, for good or ill. UW-Madison should always be clear that we are not the UW that serves the south central part of Wisconsin, but instead belong to the entire state, just as the Capitol Square belongs to the entire state and not the City of Madison. In future budgets, a vote “against” the Madison campus will be a vote against Wisconsin.

It’s not protection from duplicative infrastructure, like legal departments or purchasing services. UW-Madison already has its own versions of all of those. It’s also not clarity in academic planning or transfer credits. I’ve been the student member of the University Academic Planning Council for three years, and I can say conclusively that UW System oversight plays a minor role.

It’s not having a single oversight board for higher education in Wisconsin, because we already have multiple systems. Besides the UW System, there’s also the Technical College System. The K-12 system has a tremendous impact on higher education in Wisconsin. Both of these are represented on the Board of Regents with a single seat, just as the Board of Regents would be on the UW-Madison Board of Trustees.

It is just not clear what problem a single UW-System solves, and this allegiance to a bureaucracy baffles me. I suspect many of the opponents of the New Badger Partnership are reacting to Walker — they often cite his immediate influence on the Board of Trustees as a prime concern. (There’s a simple amendment to fix that: Require the 11 seats a governor fills to come from the UW System Board of Regents.) Beyond that, most of the opposition seems to rail against overall trends in higher education such as “sticker shock” and the outpacing of tuition to financial aid. I’m sympathetic, and I want to fight those battles, but the New Badger Partnership is neither the cause nor the solution to those problems.

I wish that we were having this discussion in less troubling times, but I am thankful Chancellor Biddy Martin had the foresight to frame the debate and not just hunker down. Imagine if she had let Walker define everything — A more “conservative” vision would have replaced the UW Budget allocation with money for vouchers and been done with it. That would have been a calamity.

I predict in 40 years, the differences between what society will want from UW-Madison and want from the other UW System schools will be even more stark than it is today. Already, the crushing debt burden and limited opportunities afterward are leading many to ask, “Is college worth it?” Each campus may adapt to answer that in a different manner, and Madison’s path forward will likely be unique among the System schools. I believe a board with the expertise and time to focus on UW-Madison is crucial for our continued success, and if the best way to achieve that is a standalone board, then so be it. I hope the Legislature comes to that conclusion, too.

Szarzynski Lit Scorecard: Two Legit, One Disappointing, Two Just Awful

[Originally a blog post on the Badger Herald. Comments are off here]

District 8 Alder candidate Kyle Szarzynski has drawn some coverage in response to a campaign flyer comparing himself to his opponent, Scott Resnick. I haven’t thought much of it, because it’s campaign silly season for both ASM and local politics, and blog and opinion pages will be filled with exaggerations and quotes out of context, fake blogs and parody Twitter accounts, front groups popping up, and a general effort to lead the public away from rational discussions and towards a particular framing of reality. So I just quickly flipped through by the piece by Lukas, or the Young Progressives, or the several posts by North Park Street (here and here), and even today’s piece by Sam Clegg. Without seeing the original lit piece, I just wasn’t interested to make a real decision

However, on Monday, North Park Street posted again, this time including a scanned copy of the lit piece. If you have read any of the previous pieces, I’d encourage you all to go look at this post and the actual lit piece quickly, and consider the five comparisons that Kyle has made.

In my opinion, two of them are fair to mention, one of them is disappointing, and two of them are flat-out distortions.

I’ll start out with what I think is fair: the Social Justice portion of the platform, and the endorsement by Downtown Madison, Inc. On social justice, it is true that it is featured prominently on Kyle’s platform page, and it is not articulated in the same form in Scott’s platform page. You could argue that social justice does appear in Scott’s platform through his landlord accountability section, cleaning up the lakes and environment section, and cleaning up city processes section, but as “Social Justice” is understood in the Madison political environment: racial disparity, undocumented immigrants, universal sick leave, et cetra – these are all things that Kyle talks about and Scott doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that Scott doesn’t necessarily support or not support them, but only Kyle decided to place them front and center. There’s a value judgement there, and it’s fair to point it out.

Similarly, if endorsements matter, you need to be prepared to stand with the good and the bad that your endorsors bring along if you decide to accept their endorsement. And true, DMI is good on ALDO. But there are plenty of things that they’ve not been good on, particularly with regards to development processes. Now, I think it’s a dumb argument to try to make to Joe Q. Witte, and I think the simplified version that Kyle went with is probably unfair to DMI, but at least conceptually I think it’s in-bounds to question if DMI’s actions and positions are in fact good for downtown residents and how closely will Scott stand with DMI. Scott (who I believe is a member of DMI through his company) can chose to respond and defend DMI if he wants.

As an aside, while I’m in the “good things about Kyle” part of the post, it’s worth pointing out to Steve Hughes and the rest of the Young Progressives that Kyle uses the word “progressive” nearly as much as the Smurfs use “smurf.” If that came off pandering to you, well, that’s not going to be the only time that happens and you’re going to have to get used to sharing the word “progressive.”

The “is a student/is not a student” issue is, of course, technically true. But it’s very misleading. Kyle himself posted, as a Facebook status, “For the record, I’ve been eligible to graduate since 2009.” I also find it a bit disappointing – I called out an anonymous commenter for questioning Kyle’s student status because I didn’t think it should be in-bounds. Austin King was not a student for much of his career on the Council, and while Kyle can claim that student status is a positive attribute that he has and that Austin did not, I think it’s also a dumb argument to make. I’d also point out that I am as much a student as Kyle is, but that in terms of comparable recent experiences and concerns, a D8 resident will likely find more in common with Scott than me.

Finally, let’s look at the two comparisons that I find most problematic: student/city relations and public safety. Kyle writes that he “thinks the city council should be run with more input from students and others lacking a voice.” To ignore Scott’s entire section of the platform document on improving communications with students and present only “wants to run the council more like a business” as Scott’s “position” makes that comparison a flat-out lie. There’s really no other way to describe it. To then further simply repeat it on a followup blog post, without any elaboration or even so much as a link to put it in context, continues to be misleading.

Similarly, Kyle’s claim of “Wants Police Resources used to keep students safe, not crack down on underage drinkers and pot smokers” willfully ignores Scott’s entire section of his platform on safety and his long safety document on his website, including where he writes “Bar raids are used by the police department to discourage underage drinking inside bars….Bar raids are expensive to conduct and shift limited police resources away from the streets…bar raids reduce safety and I will continue to oppose them on the council.” Just as before, where there is not really a substantive difference in policy between the two of them, Kyle substitutes another statement and then passes it off as some sort of differentiator. Under the framing Kyle is trying to establish, that’s a lie.

In full disclosure, I’m supporting Scott because I think he’ll be a more effective Alder. To be sure, I have my complaints with Scott – his support for the Edgewater frustrated me, in part because the economic benefits were way oversold and he should have been able to see that, and in part because it was an awful process (the “Edgewatered” piece in this week’s Isthmus is fantastic.) Similarly, I’m supporting Sam Stevenson up the street in my own district, but I saw a lit piece by Sam that had some attacks on Bridget Maniaci that I thought were unfair. (It was in the snow a few blocks from my house so I didn’t pick it up, and if it got dropped at my place my neighbors got to it before I did, so I don’t have a scan.)

In the end, I don’t expect Kyle to correct or even address the lit piece any more than he already has. I also realize campaign lit is not long-form expository writing, meant to convey nuance and all sides of issue. So long as it fits some twisted version of the truth, campaigns can and I’m sure will continue to run questionable signs, lit pieces, and ads. But let’s put them up and examine them, and be prepared to dig into the claims they make.

This is not a real post

I’ve always intended this blog to be more of an archival home for things, not a primary source. I’m just very slow in getting content transfered over.

Most of my recent work has been on Forward Lookout

I’m really very excited for a future with more content-addressable storage systems.

Just how much of the UW will Walker control?

[Originally a blog post at the Badger Herald. No comments here, please comment there]

I thought it’d be interesting to look at Scott Walker’s influence on Board of Regents (the current, UW System-wide board) and the proposed Board of Trustees (UW-Madison specific.) Here is a Google Spreadsheet of the makeup of the two boards through 2022. It looks at the two boards under two different scenarios: one where Walker serves out a full four-year term, and one where a recall election is successful and Walker’s term ends on January 3 2013. In both cases, I assume that a Democrat is sworn in on January 3 2015. I did not hazard a guess as to which party wins the 2018 election. I also graphed the percentage of votes on the various boards that are direct Walker appointees below:

Here’s the takeaway with one and only one full term: Walker obtains a majority of the Board of Regents in the middle of 2014, and holds it until the middle of 2016. Walker controls 45% of the Board of Regents from middle of 2013 until the middle of 2018. Walker’s influence on the Board of Regents is felt until 2021. With the Board of Trustees, Walker obtains a majority immediately, and can hold it until the middle of 2015. By the middle of 2015, he drops below 40%, and his influence ends the middle of 2017.

Under a recall scenario, Walker never obtains a full majority on the Board of Regents, peaking with 33% of the board in the middle of 2012. His four appointees hold 22% of the board until the middle of 2018, and they’re gone by the middle of 2019. For the UW-Madison Board of Trustees, he again obtains a majority immediately, but loses it middle of 2013, and vanishes by the middle of 2015.

The way to read this spreadsheet is “what do the Boards look like on January 1 of that year?” Regent terms run until May 1 of the year, and (presumably) Trustee terms run until July 1 – so someone listed under 2016 with a term expiring in 2016 will serve for about half the year, and then the Governor will appoint a new person for the 2nd half of the year. To simplify, I cheated a little bit and pretended that for 2011, everyone was already in place for the Board of Trustees.

Some other quirks: I count Tony Evers, the current DPI secretary, as a Democrat. He’s up for reelection in April of 2013, and while I’m pretty certain he’s going to win in 2013, I didn’t include that in the board makeup. There are two student Regents, who serve for staggered two-year terms. Inexplicably, and inexcusably, Doyle did not fill Kevin Opgenorth’s term before he left office. That gives Walker a student appointment on the Board of Regents right now, until May 1 2012, that otherwise would have been held by a Doyle appointee.

The Governor’s 11 appointees to the Board of Trustees serve staggered three-year terms. In the first year, they’ll divide up into three classes. If Walker serves a full term, it makes the most sense for him to divide it up as 3, 4, and 4 to maximize his appointees. If he thinks he will lose a recall, it makes the most sense to divide up 4, 3, 4.

A serious possible objection is that with the Board of Trustees, it’s not clear how to count the “UW” appointments, which are 10 members of the Board. It would not surprise me if WARF appoints Republican members of the Board. I am, however, counting on none of the UW appointments to be ideologues, and even the Republicans will be more like Mark Bugher.

Another objection is that I never account for the possibility that people may leave their term early. Flipping through their biographies, the Board of Regents aren’t exactly spring chickens, and unfortunately, they don’t always make it through their terms, as was the case with much-loved Milt McPike. With so many Doyle appointees, it would not surprise me at all if Walker got an extra one or two seats in the next four years, who might serve until 2017. If Walker fills a Doyle seat, it only goes until the regularly scheduled end of the term.

So, gross simplification: If you think of it in terms of absolute majorities, and that nothing bad will happen to any of the current Regents, Walker holds more time with a majority with the Board of Trustees and you should prefer the UW-Madison stay under the current Board of Regents. If you are concerned about how long Walker has a significant number of seats and influence on the board, though perhaps not a majority, he goes away faster with the Board of Trustees and you should prefer UW splits off into a separate authority.

All of these predictions depend on how much you want to trust the Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni Association, WARF, and UW Foundation to make “good” picks, and how much of a chance you hope the Regents all have no life-altering events during their term.

However, it’s worth remembering that we’re thinking about the future of the University for the next generation or more. The exact makeup of the Board, at this particular instance in time, should be very low on your arguments for or against a Public Authority model and Board of Trustees for the UW-Madison.

Digging into the Board of Trustees

[Originally a blog post at the Badger Herald, 24 February 2011. Comments are off here]

It’s time to start digging into the idea of UW-Madison as a public authority, split off from the UW System, and there’s no better place to start than the top and the proposed Board of Trustees.

The UW-Madison currently answers to an 18-person Board of Regents, made up of 14 people appointed by the Governor for seven year terms, 2 UW System students appointed for two year terms, and the head of the Department of Public Instruction and Technical College system as ex-officio members. Of the 18, the Governor appoints 16 of them. By the end of Walker’s term, he will have appointed 9 of those 16 seats. The Board of Regents is responsible for not just UW-Madison, but also UW-Milwaukee, the other 11 four-year “comprehensives”, the 13 two-year UW Colleges, UW Extension, and the online UW Colleges/UW Extension efforts.

The UW Madison Board of Trustees would be 21 people, of which the Governor appoints 11. The remaining 10 are selected from the various UW constituencies – students, faculty, alumni, staff, and technology transfer community. It appears that these groups select their representative. This is a win for students: currently, the students on the Board of Regents are picked by whatever process the Governor wants, which can include simply being the son of a prominent campaign contributor.

A UW-Madison specific board is a good idea for the University. The constituent groups on the board will be invaluable to provide perspective and to help evolve the University from a 20th century organization and into a 21st century institution. They have crucial experience with the University, and having a guarantee that such experience is at the table is vital.

Until we see the actual text of the Governor’s proposal, we don’t know if the Governor has any requirements on who he or she has to appoint. However, the primary responsibility of this majority block is to watch out for the interests of the people of the State of Wisconsin. Now, I think Scott Walker is a turd who is going to appoint cronies to the Board, but he’s going to do that to the Board of Regents anyway so I’m not going to worry about it for now.

I’m happy with the general concept of this Board of Trustees. I’d be open to looking at ways that such a Board could continue to work with the existing Board of Regents and the UW-Madison staying in the UW System, perhaps as some sort of hybrid model for making decisions specifically for Madison. No matter what happens, with increased flexibilities for Madison the Regents will need to be open to altering its relationship with this campus.

I’m not particularly thrilled about the exact composition of the Board of Trustees. I think it’s slightly too big, and I think the balance of representation is not quite right.

First, of the 10 UW seats – 2 Faculty, 1 staff, 1 student, 2 WARF, 2 Alumni Association, and 2 UW Foundation – that’s too many group-specific seats. WARF, WAA, and Foundation should have 1 seat each, not 2. Their expertise is important, but they should not dominate the UW’s appointment.

Yesterday I thought that the Faculty are underrepresented. I thought that there should be 4 faculty members, one from each division (Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and Social Sciences) I’m starting to rethink that idea, in terms of power balance with the existing faculty governance. The University Committee (UC), which is the leadership of the Faculty Senate, is only 6 members. Do the Board of Trustees faculty members outrank the University Committee? One idea could be to take four members from the UC and put them on the Board of Trustees, but what happens if the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees disagree over something?

One important voice missing from the Board of Trustees is an outside voice. I would very much like to see a spot reserved for a prominent member of academia to help us bring in outside perspective. I would like someone big – the head of the National Science Foundation or NIH, or the leadership of one of the very prominent scholarly associations like AAAS or the American Historical Association. (Yes, I know that will be Bill Cronon soon) We also shouldn’t limit our search to just American institutions. We are a global institution, so let’s not be afraid to bring in a prominent scholar from Europe or Asia or wherever as our voice from outside. It can and should rotate around. I’d be fine with the Governor making this appointment, so long as this person has a strong record of scholarship.

Finally, I’d like the Governor to also have to appoint a student on the Board of Trustees. There are currently two students on the Board of Regents, one of whom has to be a “non-traditional” student. Having multiple students on the committee is vital – first, just strength in numbers. Having someone to back you up is nice on a committee. More importantly, on some issues, students see things different – having students who occasionally disagree is actually empowering, and increases the standing of the student voice on a committee. Two students who always vote in lockstep are easy to dismiss. It could make sense that the Governor has a role in selecting the second student, again to underscore that the student members represent a wide range of the University.

I’d also like to see the Governor appoint a mixture of scholars, community activists, political leaders, and business leaders to his or her portion of the Board. I assume less turd-like Governors will do so.

The changeover of leadership is probably the most visible change if Madison splits from UW System – for most academic and research issue, each campus is already a fairly independent entity. The split from System wasn’t what anyone was asking for, nor is it necessary for the flexibilities the UW-Madison wants and needs. However, if this is what the political reality allows, we need to make it as strong as possible, and there is still room for improvement on the Board of Trustees.

All at fault for failure to move Housing Committee

[Originally in the Badger Herald, 10 September 2010]

Jake Begun’s column “Poor turnout by tenants allows advanced showing by landlords,” (Sept. 7), which laments the lack of students at the most recent City of Madison Housing Committee powwow, and the ensuing defeat of a sensible legislative proposal that would have pushed the start rental season back several months was correct in its overarching conclusion: the outcome of the most recent vote certainly was disappointing.

Begun makes the curious claim, however, that “there really is no one to blame” for this vote. While we can’t know for certain that a strong student presence would have changed the results of the committee’s recommendation, both Begun’s column and the quotes from Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, in the associated news story suggest that student testimony that night would have changed the dynamic of the discussion, if not the vote total. The lack of a student presence at meetings of decision makers and subsequent negative outcomes for students is not a new story; one can go through the archives of this paper and find it repeated year after year, in a multitude of settings. It therefore seems imperative not to shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to “shit happens.” We need to find the persons or circumstances to blame, not so we can demand a penance, but so we can start to avoid these failures in the future.

I believe there is plenty of blame to go around, and will examine it in alphabetical order.

ASM certainly failed here, and I believe that was an undertone of Begun’s column. (As a former ASM representative, I am perhaps overly sensitive to anti-ASM biases in the press, real or perceived, and the blame here goes beyond ASM). Regardless, it is important to understand how ASM failed in this instance. The City of Madison posts its weekly meeting schedule online, and Brenda Konkel and Kristin Czubkowski digest the schedule and post the highlights of each committee on their blogs each week. Furthermore, the Housing Committee meets on a regular schedule of the first Wednesday of the month, and ASM knew that the ordinance would likely appear at the September meeting. ASM has a web browser and a calendar, so the Housing Committee meeting should not have been a surprise.

ASM has made more involvement at the city government level a strategic direction for the organization, but, as it has discovered, the city operates 12 months of the year. ASM overall is woefully understaffed for May, June, July, and August and if it expects to be a credible player in the city, it needs to address how it will be able to function while most of the rest of the organization is operating in a reduced mode.

The Badger Herald shares some of the blame, along with other media outlets. Reporting on the news after the fact is of limited utility, and the Herald needs to decide if it wants to tell students how events unfolded, or give them the information they need to shape events. The Herald knew the Housing Committee was going to meet – it sent staff to cover the event. The Herald may not have been in print, but its website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page all functioned, and a short story noting that the Housing Committee was going to meet and what was at stake would have at least alerted some students — likely the students who were most inclined to actually go and testify.

Alder Maniaci shares a good portion of the blame, along with Ald. Bryon Eagon, District 8, and Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4 — the three whom UW students look to as “their” representatives. Maniaci is the primary sponsor and shepherd of the ordinance, and it has been at the heart of her efforts to help UW students. So, when her legislative priority was up for a crucial vote, and her strategy for passing it relies on an outpouring of testimony from a constituency, it completely baffles me that she didn’t make an all-out effort to ensure that the constituency shows up. Yet, that’s what happened — there was no contact made ahead of time to ASM to coordinate any sort of turn-out, save for a chance encounter with the ASM Chair and Chief of Staff a few hours before the meeting at lunch.

I place some of the blame on Alders Eagon and Verveer because they know the process, the timelines involved, the importance of the issue to their constituents, and the avenues of contact for mobilizing students and they didn’t sound the alarm either. Successful representation requires not just speaking for your constituents, but knowing how to rally your constituents so they can speak with their own voice. Current and future Alders would do well to remember that.

Finally, some of the blame lies with those of us who are paying attention but either didn’t check with others to ensure that some action was being taken, or go out and take action ourselves. I’ve stayed in touch with ASM this past summer pointing out things that are important, and I knew the Housing Committee was meeting, but yet I didn’t send an email or head out to the meeting that night. I’m sure I’m not the only downtown resident who was in the same position. Perhaps we could have made a difference.

I will end this letter like Begun ended his piece: with the hope that things turn out differently at the Common Council meeting later this month. What I hope I have also provided is a framework to ensure that it does.

Edgewater predictions

Praise the lord, tomorrow (well, Wednesday morning) we will finally be done with the Edgewater.  Here are some predictions.

1. My money is on it passing. That’s been clear since this fall when the budget passed. The big hurdle is the 15-vote zoning change override. I think it makes it – Verveer, Rhodes-Conway, Rummel are ‘No’s. On the 14 vote Landmarks appeal, it’s probably Verveer, Rhodes-Conway, Rummel, Cnare, and Solomon as ‘No’s, as nothing has really changed from last time around except it’s gotten bigger. Maybe Cnare and Solomon join in on the 15 vote zoning protest petition, but it’s different criteria so who knows, but even if they do, it still doesn’t get to the 6 necessary to block the project.

Sanborn and or Pham-Remmele are the wild-cards here. They’re opposed to the TIF usage, but could care less about historic districts or what neighbors care about zoning. I think there are 11 votes for TIF on the council, so the only way to block the TIF is to join in on a different vote. Sanborn is probably too much of a stickler to do so, Pham-Remmele, well, she’s full of surprises.

Odds: 3 in 4, passes.

2. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t get financing. A luxury hotel in Madison is a risk – especially in today’s economy. Presumably Hammes has things lined up, but when push comes to shove, investors are going to have to decide: will Madison be able to support a hotel at the level Hammes claims to aim for? Does the Monona Terrace train station, and the increased likelihood of a second Monona Terrace hotel actually happening, change the equation at all for the Edgewater?

Odds: 2 to 1, it gets funding – but that’s not a slam dunk. That said, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have the project approved but then be in a zombie state trying to get funding. (See: Union Corners)

3. If it gets approved, it does serious damage to the nature of Madison’s historic districts, but it’s not a death blow. It’s a matter of trust. A historic district is a restrictive covenant – just like the craziness out in the suburbs that say all houses in a development shall use the same sort of siding. I couldn’t handle living in one of those sorts of neighborhoods, but to plenty of people it’s important that the neighborhood has a consistent look. Fine, more power to ‘em. In full disclosure, I don’t think I could handle living in a historic district, either. The first thing I’d do when I moved in would be to stick a solar water heater on the roof and upgrade windows and doors to be maximally energy efficient. I’m sure you can do so in both an energy-efficient and historically-sensitive manner, but I doubt you can do so without extra cost, and that’s not a cost I’m willing to pay. I’m not willing to have that level of detail dictated to me.

And that’s the point of the historic district – if someone invests in a property in a historic district, the value of their property, both as a financial and emotional investment, depends on everything else in the district acting in good faith to also value the existing character of the district.

The Edgewater, regardless if you think the hotel itself adds or detracts from neighborhood, undoubtable shakes people’s confidence in the sanctity of a historic district. If the Landmarks Commission can be completely overruled, then it’s not of much comfort to anyone who thinks it is a strong protection.

Does the Edgewater immediately destroy all of the improvements Mansion Hill homeowners have put into their homes? Of course not. The council isn’t going to order everyone to put vinyl siding over the brickface of every home in Mansion Hill. But, if you own a home in a historic district and have spent the time to restore it, but live next to a couple of buildings that haven’t, are you now nervous about new ways those buildings may evolve in the future? You bet you are.

Would Madison historic districts be in the free and clear even if the Edgewater is turned down? Of course not. They’re always going to be under pressure – finding people with the patience and the funding to fully restore older homes is difficult. More homes are deteriorating faster than new owners are restoring them. There’s no guarantee that there will be enough left to justify a historic district in a generation or two.

There is a public benefit to having historic districts, and even if I don’t want to live in one I appreciate that we have them. At a minimum, a good historic section of town should be a source of civic pride. The diversity of the housing stock makes it easier to attract a diversity of people. In Madison we’re fortunate to have historic homes, cookie-cutter tract housing, lakefront homes, upscale condos, small workforce-housing bungalows,  highrise dense apartments, rowhouses, mature suburb ranchhomes, and more.  Short of houseboats, pretty much anything you want to live in we’ve got.

We need to think of new ways to preserve that diversity of housing stock, and in particular, how do we stop losing ground in our historic districts? I don’t have a definitive answer, and I don’t think anyone does.  And in that, overruling the Landmarks commission will at best make things no more difficult, but likley more difficult.

4. We’ll regret the loss of the view, but it’s not the obscenity that is the Dane County Courthouse. Ultimately, we’ll just get used to it. I still get angry every time I drive up John Nolen Drive, and am counting down the years til we can tear down the Courthouse. I don’t think I’ll feel that way about the Edgewater Tower. I don’t ever think I’ll like it, either,  but as people move to town they’ll never realize there was a time without it.

5. The “public” terrace won’t feel particularly public and of the Edgewater/Union/Monona terraces, the Edgewater will be the least-used of the three. The Monona Terrace rooftop has never really felt that inviting, and every time I go there I always feel like I’m not welcome unless I have some business or other reason to be there. The Edgewater Terrace, nestled in between the hotel, is always going to feel like its part of the hotel.  Here’s the test: can Scanner Dan hang out there all day without being shoo’d away? My guess is no.

6. The economic benefits of the Edgewater will be hard to detect. Yes, it will have some impact during construction, and that’s good. But after that, it’s not much of an economic jumpstart. The jobs that it creates are mostly low-wage and the multiplier doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t inspire new businesses to grow around it. (The closest thing is some regional management company thing Hammes may locate in Madison.) The additional travelers to Madison, if they materialize, will only have a modest impact because there simply aren’t that many of them. Much as I love Madison, the people who are going to stay at the new Edgewater are people who were going to come here anyway, and will now stay at the nicest hotel in town (think rich parents of UW students, etc.) I just don’t believe that there are that many people who say “Oh, you know, now that there’s this hotel in Madison WI, I guess I’m willing to go.” I believe Hammes when they say there’s a market for a higher-end hotel in Madison, but I don’t believe them when they say it’s going to bring new people to Madison.

It’s biggest impact is likely to be serendipitous, ie we had a highend-enough hotel to persuade someone with a bunch of money who decides for whatever project he or she is working on that Madison is a serious enough place to do it. (The great thing about that prediction is I can take as long as I want to see if it turns out)

The money we’re investing in the Edgewater is four BioAg gateways. I doubt the Edgewater comes even close to the impact as one BioAg gateway.

7. The TIF money we’re locking in here will come back to bite us later. I have to believe that somehow, in the next few years, another project will come along that creates more jobs in the downtown or achieves some bigger civic aim that won’t be able to be done without TIF – and with all of the extra cash from TID32 being redirected into the Edgewater, there simply won’t be the money available to do it. I don’t mind putting some TIF into improving public access at an improved Edgewater, but this just ties the hands of the Common Council for the rest of the decade. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity cost and we’re going to regret it.

There’s still the DNR, tax credits, and if there’s a legal challenge to be waged I’m sure Fred will give it a try, but that’s all mostly out of the city’s hands. If it passes tomorrow, then there’s still the management agreement, but that doesn’t seem like it will derail the project. It will be good to have most of this behind us, so we can start to see how much damage this has done to our processes. Mostly, I want city staff to be able to get back to the Downtown Plan, to focus on East Wash, and on think about transportation issues. Those are all far more important to the future of the city than the Edgewater.

New Development at Johnson and Bassett

The corner of W Johnson and Bassett St (behind the Aberdeen) may finally have something happen. For now it’s just an informational presentation at the Urban Design Commission, so it’s not a sure thing, but this is a pretty important step. I’ll spare you the 40 meg download of the UDC file, and show you the three images that tell you most everything you need to know.

The site (inside the yellow polygon):

The description:

The massing:

Some first thoughts: Boring design, but it’s just a massing diagram and not a final design, so hopefully it gets better. It’s the right scale for the area (we wanted to put all of the high rises together).

If the hotel portion is meant to serve the UW, it’s not where I’d put it. I’d put something down by the WID  – vacate Lorch St and build on the triangle  of Randall/University/Johnson where Campus Drive splits, and serve WID/MIR, the new Wisconsin Energy Institute, and the Engineering/Life Sciences part of campus. [Edit 2010-05-17: The WID site would be a different scale hotel with a smaller number of rooms. On thinking about it the next morning, it's not clear to me that the room count would be high enough to economically justify a project there. I think there needs to be a standalone hotel in the area - I'm still horrified by the rooms at the old Union South and am not prepared to ask people to stay in the new Union.]

The downtown hotel market is going to have a tough time absorbing these new 163 rooms, the just-opened 151 room Hyatt, and most likely the new ~100 rooms at the Edgewater. (For comparison, the DoubleTree is also 163 rooms.) Maybe as a UW-serving hotel it’s easier.  I’d also be a bit leery of a hotel connected to a residential apartment building, particularly one that’s likely to be dominated by undergraduates – hopefully they can isolate the fire alarms. I sure as hell would never have my parents stay there.

For now, it’s a good deal for students – the high rises are very popular, and having more options is good. I’m a bit concerned about how these buildings will work long-term: what sort of shape will they be in circa 2035, but I guess that’s not a question for today.

There’s also a question of what this does to the older housing stock in Madison. 10 to 15 years ago, the only high rises were La Ciel and La Ville, so virtually everyone lived in old houses, but that’s obviously changed. The building adds 262 bedrooms, let’s say half of them will actually double up in rooms, so figure 393 people will live in the building. (I have no idea if a 1.5 multiplier is at all correct.) From a Google map, I count about 35 houses on the 500 block of W Mifflin. Many of those are big or have multiple apartments, so let’s say they’re an average of 7 people per house, so 245 people on the block. If this building is built, then there will be essentially a block and a half worth of new vacancies in (presumably) older houses. This is good for renters, and bad for landlords. Things are going to change, and that doesn’t always bring out the best in Madison.

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