About a month ago the UW-Milwaukee community received a save-the-date email for Friday, October 2, 2015, for “the installation of Mark A. Mone as the 9th Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.” When questions were raised by faculty governance leaders about the optics and economics of spending money on an inauguration ceremony when UWM was in the midst of the worst budget crisis in its history, they were informed that such events were crucial for development purposes and brought in much more money than they cost the university.
Chancellor Mone’s fundraising savvy was in full view on the morning of July 30. In an email sent at 12:30 AM, under the cover of night, Mone announced that “Sheldon and Marianne Lubar are donating $10 million to UWM to establish the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship and UWM Welcome Center,” part of “a $25 million initiative that will leverage support from multiple sources to support facilities, programs and faculty.” At a moment when the ongoing budget crisis throughout the University of Wisconsin System has already begun to lead to programs being closed and faculty and staff being let go, we learn that “the UW System committed $10 million over several years” to construction costs for the project, with another $5 million being sought from wannabe philanthropists.
Although Mone calls the Lubars’ donation for a Center for Entrepreneurship “an extraordinary gift,” it is in actuality the most ordinary large gift one could imagine. If you google the phrase “center for entrepreneurship” you get over 500,000 results. If you remove the quotation marks you get over 55 million results. And while entrepreneurship centers can be found at top business schools around the US, they can also be found at regional universities, religious schools, and community colleges. There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of such centers across the world. In noting my disappointment in the purpose of the Lubars’ gift I do not mean to question their generosity. Rather I mean only to express my regret that they were not encouraged to do something truly extraordinary with their generosity, something that did not seem tone deaf to the ongoing fiscal crisis at UWM.
An extraordinary gift might look more like the $100 million donation by John and Tashia Morgridge recently announced by University of Wisconsin-Madison. To my eyes what makes this gift extraordinary is not its magnitude, but more importantly the fact that “the record-shattering donation is to be used exclusively for recruiting and retaining world-class faculty through endowed chairs and endowed professorships. Some of the money will go toward salaries, but a substantial amount will help launch research of top-flight faculty and hire students to work with them.” This is a gift framed to acknowledge the budgetary crisis faced by UW-Madison and the rest of the system.
But wait, you might object, the Lubar gift will also build the UWM Welcome Center, which will help UWM bring tuition-paying students to campus. “‘Welcome centers today are really important,’ the chancellor said. ‘They’re the first thing you see on a campus.'” And as all businesses know, customers’ purchasing decisions are largely dependent on their first impressions. But to invest money in a Welcome Center when the university to which prospective students are being welcomed is in the process of being devastated, makes it appear as if the UWM administration is more interested in marketing its brand so that “customers” will “purchase” UWM with their tuition than it is in investing in the quality of the “educational product” that these customers will receive when they enroll as students at UWM.
One day perhaps the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee might receive a truly extraordinary gift, one that would sponsor exceptional undergraduate teachers in the liberal arts and sciences, fund talented graduate students to pursue their degrees without being exploited as over-worked, underpaid labor, or support world-class faculty research in the production of cutting-edge knowledge in traditional and non-traditional fields.
For now, prospective student, welcome to the University of Entrepreneurship at Milwaukee. We don’t invest much money in faculty to teach you or to conduct scholarly research. The infrastructure on campus is failing and the library has no money to buy books. But if you are sold on UWM by your first impression of the Lubar Welcome Center and decide to purchase our educational product, welcome aboard. While on campus, you would be well advised to keep your eyes on UWM’s administrative class, so that some day you may learn the innovative entrepreneurial techniques that will allow you, too, to capitalize on your talents for your own (and perhaps even others’) personal gains.