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Mergers, Splits in Two States Could Change Systems' Dynamics

University Business, April 2011

Two states 1,000 miles apart are taking dissimilar measures in response to their budgets that plan to have the same end result: Autonomy for Wisconsin's and Connecticut's flagship state universities.

In Connecticut, where the University of Connecticut has always been autonomous from the rest of the state universities, a plan by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to merge the Connecticut State University System, the System of Connecticut Community Colleges, Charter Oak online college, and the state Department of Higher Education, would keep it that way.

The plan, which could save $4.3 million annually, would consolidate these bodies into a single organization with an 11-member board of regents. Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of the System of Connecticut Community Colleges, says the plan lacks structure, and that her board trustees has taken a position that recommends a comprehensive strategic plan. This would include establishment of the state's goals for higher ed, a thorough analysis of the affects the merge would have, and a financial plan. She says the community colleges would like to be involved in the planning process, as well, to ensure the 12 community colleges are not negatively affected.

"Community colleges are different," she says. "They have a different focus, they have different programs, they serve different students and regions of the state. All of those have varying needs that the board develops its programs and its services around. Most of those are related to the workforce development of the state so that the Connecticut economy will have the educated work force that it needs to return us to prosperity."

'Everyone wants their campus to have something special. When there isn't one governing body there's no incentive to look judicially at what's in the best interest of the state overall.'
--David F. Giroux, University of Wisconsin System

In Wisconsin, it's a story of splitting apart. Gov. Scott Walker has called for splitting off its flagship, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from the University of Wisconsin System (a merger that took place in 1971), providing it with the autonomy to deal with budget cuts, but leaving the rest of the system with fewer resources.

David F. Giroux, executive director of communications and external relations for the University of Wisconsin System, says the issues inherent in this split boil down to competition, duplication, and reputation. Individual campuses within the system have established their own niche, with psychology being the only degree offered at all of the campuses. Giroux believes this would change with the creation of a new 21-member board at UW-Madison.

"The fear is over time there would be a natural tendency toward mission creep in one or both of these governance structures," he says. "Everyone wants their campus to have something special. When there isn't one governing body there's no incentive to look judicially at what's in the best interest of the state overall.

Without the association, says Giroux, students and faculty at the other campuses may lose some of the positive association that comes from the academic prowess and strong athletics of the UW-Madison name. "There's a fear that as word gets around, even if we continue to save the UW name, that that reputation will be tarnished or diminished over time."


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