Bill Tracy: National Business Leaders Call for More Money for UW-Madison

Tracy-BillAgronomy Professor and PROFS President Bill Tracy discusses a recent national report, Research Universities and the Future of America, in an op-ed in The Capital Times online. The column is reprinted here with his permission:

National business leaders who understand the importance of research universities to our economic future are telling Wisconsin lawmakers that they need to put more state money into the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“America is driven by innovation – advances in ideas, products and processes that create new industries and jobs,” the report says. “In the past half-century, innovation itself has been increasingly driven by educated people and the knowledge they produce. Our nation’s primary source of both new knowledge and graduates with advanced skills continues to be our research universities.

“As America pursues economic growth and other national goals, its research universities have emerged as a major national asset – perhaps even its most potent one,” the report states. “This did not happen by accident; it is the result of forward-looking and deliberate federal and state policies.”

The report goes on to say the “alarming erosion of state support for higher education over the past decade has put the quality and capacity of public research universities at great risk.” As states recover from the recession, the report says, they should restore the state funding that was cut over the years.

The report, “Research Universities and the Future of America; Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security,” comes from a committee chaired by Chad Holliday, former chairman and CEO of the Du Pont Corporation. It includes other leading business people from the technology and venture capital sectors, along with university leaders.

By any measure, UW-Madison is one of our nation’s leading research universities. The university is consistently one of the top institutions in securing federal and private research funds. It has a huge footprint in the technology and innovation world. The university’s annual economic impact in the state is $12.4 billion.

And UW-Madison, along with other UW institutions, has certainly been subject to alarming budget cuts. In the 2011-12 fiscal year alone, the UW System endured a 13.3 percent one-year reduction in funding. This was the seventh-biggest cut in the nation. By comparison, Illinois universities received a 12.1 percent increase, while Iowa and Minnesota received 2.6 percent and 7.1 percent decreases, respectively.

One of the toughest cuts to the university occurred earlier this year when the state slashed an additional $66 million as part of a “lapse.” This amount entailed a much larger percentage of the overall state budgetary lapse than had been required of the UW in previous budgets. Gov. Scott Walker’s recent announcement that the lapse will not be a permanent cut to the university is welcome news, but it is just a start.

As a professor and department chair at UW-Madison, I can attest to the fact that the university is struggling financially. The quality of the university is eroding. We need to reverse the losses and rebuild.

That is why it is so important for Wisconsin lawmakers to listen to the business leaders who understand just how important UW-Madison is to the future of our state and our country. It is time to begin reinvesting in UW-Madison.