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More reflections on the proposed UW Colleges and UW-Extension restructuring

by Noel Radomski, WISCAPE Managing Director | Oct 19, 2017
Limited comments, and minimal critical feedback, have emerged from UW System administration; UW-Madison faculty, staff, and campus administrators; and 72 county leaders and others about the proposed transfer of UW-Extension Cooperative Extension (COOP) from UW-Extension to UW-Madison, which is part of the larger proposed UW Colleges and UW Extension Restructuring. Before the UW System Board of Regents vote on the proposal in November​ -- or, more likely, in spring 2018​ -- several critical questions should be asked, discussed, and answered. Below are ​several reflections -- and there are more​ -- that should be publicly discussed in numerous locations and settings across Wisconsin.

First, a brief, contemporary historical context is helpful in understanding and critiquing the proposal to transfer COOP. From the early 20th century until 1965, Cooperative Extension, General Extension (which housed what we now call UW Colleges), and other outreach activities were integral to ​UW​-Madison's mission, and they both reflected and influenced Wisconsin’s values and aspirations. Outreach and public service activities made up the proverbial third-leg of the UW’s three-legged stool: the integration of research, instruction, and public service and outreach.

The 1975 book, The University of Wisconsin: One Hundred and Twenty-Five Years, ​contains an excellent chapter by Clay Schoenfeld titled, “The Wisconsin Idea” Expanded, 1949-1974,” which provides an excellent overview summary of the many significant transformations of UW-Madison, General Extension, Cooperative Extension, and the former Extension Centers (then UW Centers, and now called UW Colleges).

In 1965, for legitimate reasons at the time, UW President Fred Harvey Harrington divorced Cooperative Extension, General Extension, and other outreach activities from the UW-Madison campus and created a separate, non-degree granting UW System entity. Not too long after that, the former UW Extension Centers, later called UW Centers (and now called UW Colleges), was merged with the then-new, stand-alone UW Extension that ultimately had its own chancellor and administrative, financial, and bureacratic infrastructure.

Less than 20 years after the UW System Board of Regents approved the 1965 divorce of General Extension, Cooperative Extension, and other outreach activities from UW-Madison, the UW System Board of Regents listened to citizens across Wisconsin and decided that problems that had emerged since 1965 had to be addressed. In 1980, the UW System Board of Regents engaged in a large-scale study of UW-Extension that was completed by 1982. The Regents did not make rash, quick decisions without first studying and learning about the problems, and drafting, prioritizing and advancing recommendations. The key recommendation from the 1982 Report of the Special Regent Study Committee on Extension was summarized in an excellent 1992 article written by Joe Corry and James Gooch, titled "The Wisconsin Idea: Extending the Boundaries of a University." They explained:

An important conclusion of the Regent study committee was that the 1965 decision which allowed UW-Extension to operate as an independent entity had separated the Extension faculty from the academic departments of campuses, particularly the large research institutions at Milwaukee and Madison. Reestablishing the connection of Extension faculty to the campus resource bases became a top priority and was a major reason that the UW Regents accepted their committee’s recommendation that extension programming be carried out primarily by each of the System campuses, and that UW-Extension programming personnel, other than the county agents who were associated with Wisconsin’s county governments, be reassigned as campus outreach faculty and staff. The word chosen to describe this process was integration, symbolizing the expected juxtaposition of extension alongside that of teaching and research.

This integrated extension plan, adopted as a policy statement by the UW Board of Regents in 1982, added or confirmed extension programming responsibilities at the 13 degree granting institutions and 13 two-year centres. The System-approved academic majors at each campus were to be used to determine extension programming assignments, in addition to the research strengths of UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.

One result of the report was that more than 400 UW Extension faculty and staff were re-integrated into UW-Madison, and the necessary revenue followed. UW-Extension faculty and staff were also re-integrated into UW-Milwaukee or transferred to other UW System campuses.

In 1988, the UW System Board of Regents revisited this issue primarily because the integrated extension plan had some unresolved issues. Again, the Regents did not act hastily; they acted judicially as good stewards of UW System institutions. In early 1988, the Regents scheduled public hearings and hired an outside consultant team, so actual problems were studied and recommendations advanced. ​Read the May 6, 1988, UW System Board of Regents meeting minutes. The Regent hearings confirmed that responsibility for and implementation of Extension activities were to remain with each campus, not centrally controlled at UW-Extension. Also, it became clear that funding was a critical element for the campuses to plan and implement outreach and public service programs and activities. To do so, UW Extension, UW-Madison, and the other UW System campus chancellors signed separate, two-year, inter-institutional agreements (IIA’s) that consisted of a list of campus outreach programs to be implemented and the UW-Extension revenues to be allocated to each campus.

The current proposal could re-invigorate the UW-Madison mission if UW System transfers all of COOP’s revenues to UW-Madison (the federal Smith-Lever Act, WI’s General Purpose Revenue, county funds, user fees, and Fund 104 dollars). The current proposal could re-energize UW-Madison if UW-Extension central leaders and administrators are released (COOP faculty and staff who provide educational and support services should not be eliminated), thus providing significant cost savings, reducing administrative duplication, and addressing inefficiencies. Also, this approach will hold UW-Madison accountable for COOP’s future programs and activities. If all of this takes place, it could help to re-integrate UW-Madison’s research, instruction, and public service and outreach, which will help advance the quality of life, economy, and workforce needs ​in all 72 Wisconsin counties.

Unfortunately, the current restructuring proposal does not include the full transfer of funds needed to offer COOP programs and activities across Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Why not? It is because, for some unknown reason, the UW-Extension division of Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning (CEOEL), which generates revenue that partially funds COOP programs and activities is proposed to be transferred to UW System ​administration?

If the proposal to transfer CEOEL to UW System ​administration is not changed, then a reasonable question is whether Governor Walker, President Cross, Regent President Behling, and the UW System Board of Regents is purposely or inadvertently setting up UW-Madison for failure​. In this case, are the aforementioned willing to quietly and deliberately sew seeds of discontent in Wisconsin’s 72 counties because the lack of revenue will cause COOP program closures and elimination or reduction of outreach activities? Could this really be a crafty way for UW System and UW Colleges and Extension leaders to shift blame and statewide criticism away from them, redirecting it to UW-Madison leadership, and COOP faculty and staff?

Also, if the division of CEOEL is transferred to UW System ​administration, red flags must be raised and waved about. Does Wisconsin want educational programs, such as UW Colleges Online and the UW Flex program, to be controlled by UW System and CEOEL administrators with a limited number of CEOEL faculty and staff​ who are closely tethered to the governor-appointed UW System Board of Regents? This is not a question or criticism about Governor Walker; ​it is pertinent to any future governor from any side of the political aisle. The UW System’s research, instructional, and public service and outreach quality and reputation came about because the campuses have hired world-class faculty to conduct research, instruction, and public service and outreach. Should UW System and CEOEL administrators take over the instructional duties from our world-class faculty? Who will draw an educational "red line" in the administrators’ sand?

In the recent past, UW System leaders and the UW System Board of Regents pursued a Regents University, which never got off the ground. The idea of creating a university in the UW System administration would not serve the public good. It would serve the interests of the UW System leadership and UW System Board of Regents. ​We should question the current proposal to move CEOEL to UW System ​administration.

Legislators, county executives and board supervisors, business leaders and associations, and citizens need to be consulted, invited to provide testimony and offer information, and ask these questions and others before the UW System Board of Regents votes on the restructuring proposal. This cannot take place before ​the November UW System Board of Regents meeting. And it is not feasible nor desirable for the restructuring proposal to be implemented on the first day of the next fiscal year. (Artificial deadlines tied to a new fiscal year are a bad way to make decisions.)

The November 2017 and July 2018 timeline is folly and should be extended. ​Maintaining the current timeline could negatively affect the quality and public perception of the Wisconsin Idea and lead to adverse (intended and unintended) consequences for Wisconsin’s citizens.

What are your thoughts? Please comment using the form below or email us.

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  1. Peter Nordgren
    CEOEL does not subsidize Cooperative Extension; each has its own funding.  I confirmed this with Extension leadership.

  2. Badger Elsewhere
    Sure, but I would also take some issue with "full on" release of UW Extension leaders. One thing that NextGen revealed is that the work of Coop is complex and in some places intricate- I would not expect a faculty/dean serving at UW Madison to be prepared to take all of it on- we need someone at the top of Coop who focuses on Coop.

  3. Dan M
    Thank you for writing this. I am a student at UW Marinette and I feel that the fact that we are being told that this merger will not affect our education is offensive. I pay a premium to attend the UW instead of a tech school or online university because of the weight its programs carry. The complete lack of detail available for the implementation of the plan leaves the door open for an unknown number of variables to affect my education. Furthermore, if this plan fails to improve enrollment, which they claim is the driving force behind this proposal, what would the next plan be? The fact that we are not being given any information about the implementation of this proposal is disturbing. The fact that we are not being provided a way to voice these concerns is even more so. Keep fighting this, and please keep us informed on ways we are able to help as well.

  4. Peter Nordgren
    Having been a chief outreach person, I can confirm the existence of the UW Continuing Education Extension Council (CEEC), consisting of the chief outreach person at each institution and the Dean of CEOEL. CEEC actively works on improving the IIA process every year; it's one of the major activities of the Council.

  5. Noel Radomski
    No, I was not and do not suggest that integrated extension positions on other campuses be eliminated. On the question of the IIA's, those budgetary tools should continue to exist or be improved by a working group of the chief outreach person at each institution that has an IIA. What do you think?

  6. Badger Elsewhere
    The transition between your 7th and 8th paragraph seems to imply that the concluding arrangement described in 7 should be replaced with a different arrangement (mainly, running everything through Madison). There is a concern/fear in the hinterlands that UW Madison will first and foremost seek to serve UW Madison, and that directive will either gradually or quickly erode the presence of Extension integrated specialists at the out-state campuses.

  7. Noel Radomski
    No, absolutely not. I am not proposing that. The October 11, 2017, UW System press release is the only thing that is out there and there is no plan. So, who knows? Have you heard anything? Do you have a recommendation?

  8. Badger Elsewhere
    Are you suggesting that the IIAs go away and integrated extension positions on other campuses be eliminated? You realize the rest of the state views Madison as a bubble?

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