I’ve been hearing rumors from people involved in university policy that the board of regents is stacked with major Democratic contributors, especially contributors to Gov. Jim Doyle’s campaigns. I did some research on my own to assess the charge, and I come back with mixed results, which leave me cynical enough to believe the accusations, but not convinced enough to declare Doyle “guilty” beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here are the regents Doyle selected, including the amount they contributed to his campaigns since 2003:
Jeffrey Bartell – $17, 474
Mark Bradley – $20,219
Eileen Keesler–Connolly – $500
Judith Crain – $150
Danae Davis – $2450
Stan Davis – $1,350
John Drew – $0
Tony Evers – $0
Michael J. Falbo – $14,000
Thomas Loftus – $1,100
Charles Pruitt – $2,150
Brent Smith – $7,187
Michael J. Spector – $22,050
David Walsh – $24,250
Like I said, not enough to convict the man. A handful of very big contributors, including three who surpassed the 20 grand mark, a pretty impressive feat. Essentially that means they gave the maximum allowed ($10,000) for his first two campaigns and are probably planning on maxing out their contributions for his next campaign if he runs again. Of the two who gave no money, one is John Drew, a representative for the United Autoworkers, and the other is Tony Evers, the state superintendent, who is not selected by the governor. There are a handful of prominent lobbyists, including David Walsh, who represents communications interests, as well as many other members who have seemingly no experience in education whatsoever. Granted, it’s not just education buffs you need on the board of regents – you also need people with legal, financial and other cultural expertise.
What is extremely disappointing about the board of regents is how few of them come from outside Madison or Milwaukee. Many schools in the UWS system lack representation completely. Six come from the Madison area, seven come from the Milwaukee area, two come from Green Bay and one comes from La Crosse. Since the inception of the Board of Regents over 30 years ago, there has not once been a regent nominated from the Eau Claire area. Luckily one of the student reps on the board this year comes from Eau Claire.
But here’s the sad truth: under the current system, there should probably be even more regents from Madison.
This is relevant in the broader context of higher education in this state. The Board of Regents is an antiquated structure, which does not properly address the needs of the different UW campuses. UW-Madison, by far the largest campus in the system, needs separate governance. This has been proposed before by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and it needs to be evaluated more seriously. Not only does Madison account for more than a quarter of all students in the system, it also supplies more than 90 percent of all doctoral degrees, and takes in 93 percent of all research funds in the system. UW-Madison is a state school and should remain one, but it is also a nationally renowned research university that can compete with the top public and private universities in the country. It needs to be independent to pursue this competition.
Not only would independence help Madison, but it would benefit all the other UWS campuses, who would then have the opportunity to have a board composed purely of regents with their needs in mind. Eau Claire would finally get some representation!
That’s why I don’t believe the legislation authored by Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire), which seeks to nominate the regents based on seven geographical districts (all must be represented by at least one regent) goes far enough in addressing the inadequacies of the system. If anything, I believe this legislation would be a very bad deal for Madison.