Will UW-Milwaukee Become A Research University in Name Only?

On November 17, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone sent an email to the entire UWM community in an attempt to quash a rumor that he was working with the UW System and the Board of Regents to transform UWM from a doctoral research to a comprehensive university, i.e., one which is not accredited to offer doctoral degrees and in which faculty are predominantly teachers rather than scholars and researchers. That same day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel education reporter Karen Herzog amplified the Chancellor’s message for the Milwaukee-area and statewide public in an online article that would be published in the November 18 print edition.

It was reassuring to read Chancellor Mone’s insistence that UWM’s mission “to serve as one of two UW System doctoral-granting research universities. . . . has not changed and there are no plans to change it.” Encouraging, too, were his assertions that “UWM is the state’s only public urban research university, which is absolutely essential to the future of our region and state,” and that “Our current and future decisions and planning will continue to be guided by UWM as a research university.”

But when he goes on to explain that UWM’s status as a doctoral university “is affirmed in the Doctoral Cluster Mission Statement, which provides that UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee share a core mission that includes organized programs of research,” methinks the chancellor doth protest too much. One could never, for example, imagine UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank having to defend her university’s research mission by appealing to the mission statement of the UW System’s Doctoral Cluster. UW-Madison’s robust support for research speaks for itself.

Chancellor Mone flatly denies, however, that anyone is considering turning UWM into a “comprehensive university.”  “There has been some misinformation circulating that the UWS Board of Regents is considering changing UWM’s mission to become a comprehensive university. This is false. I’ve spoken to UWS President Ray Cross and a change in our status as a research university is not being considered.” Given that, not too long ago, Chancellor Blank herself had to backtrack from spoken reassurances she had received from Cross about Madison’s freedom to write its own tenure regulations, is there any reason not to believe that Chancellor Mone might in the foreseeable future have to do the same?  And when President Cross is invoked to deny that any change in UWM’s mission is being considered, how can we not remember the pledge he made in an open forum at UWM earlier this year (a pledge which in the eyes of many he failed to honor), to resign as System president if he did not obtain substantial reductions in the proposed State budget cuts and preserve tenure and shared governance?

But in the final analysis the real concern among UWM faculty, researchers, and graduate students is not that UWM will lose its official System designation as a doctoral research institution. People are more dramatically worried about the severe changes being floated by CCOET, an extra-governmental “Organization & Efficiency Team”initiated by the Chancellor to deal with the projected $30 million “structural deficit.  These changes, and the process itself, threaten ultimately to circumvent the faculty’s statutory authority, ignoring its expertise and diminishing the research mission of UWM.

When, for example, PhD-granting departments like English (and I presume others) are so chronically underfunded that they cannot offer their faculty even one fully supported research trip a year; when graduate assistants are paid several thousand dollars a year less than their peers, and will remain under-compensated even if a proposed salary increase goes into effect; when funding for internationally recognized research centers like the Center for 21st Century Studies and internal research awards like the Research Growth Initiative has been dramatically reduced; when CCOET is floating the idea of raising the teaching load of UWM’s research faculty above national norms, and basing their proposals upon color-coded graphics with round numbers but no specific details: these are the actions and ideas that are causing “distress and anxiety” about the future of UW-Milwaukee as a vital, successful public urban research university.

The research mission of a university is defined by what it does, not by how it is characterized to the public.  Thus it is not what Chancellor Mone says in an email or to the press about the university’s research mission, but what he does about it on campus, that will truly determine whether the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee can continue to be the high-quality public urban research university that it once was.

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About rgrusin

I am an Academic Entrepreneur and Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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