Wisconsin Ideas
A UW System News Publication
UW System Turns 30
COVER STORY: Turning 30
the UW System
coming of age

Vol. 18. No. 1
Fall 2001

Editor's Note

 News Briefs


Cover Story
 Reaching a Milestone

 Jay L. Smith

News Stories
 Economic Summit II
 State Budget
 Student Ambassadors
 Art Invitational
 Millennium Mural

New Ideas


Featured Photo
 In Memory

Final Ideas

Reaching a

In the three decades since the merger of Wisconsin's
higher education institutions, the UW System has
matured in multiple ways

By Erik Christianson

In the Oct. 11, 1971, issue of the WSU System Bulletin (subtitled "A Summary of Activities at the Wisconsin State Universities"), the news from the Eau Claire campus reads as follows: "A change in name and a change in presidents has left the faculty, students and staff wondering, 'What's going to happen next?'"

Plenty, actually. This October marks the 30th anniversary of the merger combining the Wisconsin State Universities and the University of Wisconsin into one, seamless public higher education system.

Birthed through a process discussed for decades, created in part by economics, politics and not without controversy, the University of Wisconsin System has grown into a unified endeavor educating more than 155,000 students on 26 campuses each year, and 1 million citizens annually through UW-Extension.

Photo of John C. Weaver
John C. Weaver, first president of the UW System, meets with reporters during a news conference on Aug. 3, 1971, to announce his opposition to a merger compromise bill.

Moreover, business and community leaders, elected state officials and university administrators say the UW System - with its ability to touch every corner of the state - is the most important single resource available in Wisconsin to propel the Badger state culturally, socially and economically in the 21st Century.

"The UW System has evolved and matured since merger 30 years ago," says UW System President Katharine Lyall, who will host an anniversary dinner Oct. 11 at the Milwaukee Public Museum. "It is efficient, affordable, accessible, and it is benefiting the citizens of Wisconsin in multiple ways - exactly what supporters had in mind when they pushed for a merger of the two state university systems."

That push for merger was not a new thing 30 years ago. The effort to consolidate public education in Wisconsin dates back to the 1890s, says Art Hove, special assistant emeritus at UW-Madison. Hove, who worked for several UW-Madison chancellors dating back to merger, is a widely respected source on Wisconsin higher education history.

The state's normal schools, or teacher-training institutions, began operating in 1866, less than 20 years after the 1848 founding of the University of Wisconsin. As the normal school system expanded, Wisconsin lawmakers were becoming increasingly aware of the competition for state support among the institutions, Hove explains.

"Merger was certainly not a new concept when it was approved in 1971, and as always it was a political concern," he says.


"Both [former Wisconsin Governor] Tommy Thompson and I attended the World Health Organization's annual meeting in Geneva this spring. As we looked out on Lake Geneva and Mount Blanc and the Swiss Alps from the terrace of the Ambassador's residence, champagne glass in hand, we said in unison, 'Who better to be here than us!'

" . . . In reality, the thought we probably both had there on the shore of Lake Geneva was 'How did two small town boys from Wisconsin get here?'

"We would both point to one thing for sure. We certainly got to the starting line because of the opportunity we had to attend the University of Wisconsin system. It was damn near free when we attended, and the professors were world class, and, we didn't know it then, but they were to also be our lifelong friends and advocates."

Tom Loftus, special adviser to the director-general of the World Health Organization, former U.S. ambassador to Norway, former speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, and a 1990 nominee for governor, in remarks to the 7th Annual Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development, Madison, Wis., Aug. 18, 2001.

Two former Wisconsin governors, Oscar Rennebohm and Walter J. Kohler Jr., promoted merger in the late 1940s and early 1950s, respectively. By that time, the normal schools were known as the Wisconsin State Colleges. As an alternative to a full-blown merger, Wisconsin lawmakers in 1955 created the Coordinating Committee for Higher Education. The CCHE's job was to oversee an ordered development of the two systems, both academically and fiscally.

Yet as many historians and other sources point out - in particular UW-Madison's E. David Cronon and John W. Jenkins in their latest volume, "The University of Wisconsin: A History, 1945-1971" - the CCHE ultimately proved ineffective.

Several factors contributed to the CCHE's demise and the ultimate approval of merger.

By the mid-1960s, the Wisconsin State Colleges had evolved into the Wisconsin State Universities, offering degrees in a number of disciplines. Enrollments on the WSU campuses were skyrocketing, as the Baby Boom generation came of age during a time of substantial political and social unrest.

Photo of Governor Patrick Lucey after signing the merger authorization bill
Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey shakes hands with UW President John C. Weaver after signing the merger authorization bill on Oct. 8, 1971. With them are Lt. Gov. Martin Schreiber (left) and UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Lee Sherman Dreyfus.

Over at the UW, meanwhile, President Fred Harvey Harrington was determined to expand the university. Enrollments were soaring there as well, and by that time the university included the main campus at Madison, UW-Milwaukee, 10 freshman-sophomore campuses and Extension.

In his desire to build political clout, Harrington then proposed new UW campuses in Green Bay and Kenosha. He advocated funding levels and faculty workloads at UW-Green Bay and UW-

Parkside equivalent to the Madison campus. This upset WSU officials, who felt Green Bay and Parkside would in reality be nearly identical to their institutions with the primary focus of serving undergraduates.

"More than any other development of the 1960s, the two new universities highlighted the failure of CCHE coordination and paved the way for Governor Lucey's state-mandated merger in 1971," write Cronon and Jenkins.

With the retirement of Harrington in 1970, along with the announced 1971 retirement of Eugene McPhee, executive director of the Wisconsin State Universities, the stage for change was set. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Patrick J. Lucey revived the long-discussed idea of merging the two state university systems.

"It seemed with a change in presidency of the UW and an upcoming change of the head of the state university system, that this would be an ideal time to bring about merger," says Lucey in a recent interview. "If you looked at it from an historical perspective, the missions of the two systems had in fact already merged."

Lucey's position on merger didn't get much attention in 1970. After he defeated Republican candidate Jack Olson and took office in 1971, Lucey raised the issue again - and raised the stakes by linking it to passage of the state budget.

He and other vocal supporters, including future Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, president of WSU-Stevens Point at the time, pointed to several benefits: merger would contain the growing costs of two systems; give order to the increasing higher education demands of the state; control program duplication; and provide for a united voice and the establishment of a single UW System budget in the Legislature.

Not surprisingly, those arguments didn't win the day with Madison faculty and administrators, who by and large opposed merger, fearing it would diminish the great state university. Most WSU faculty and administrators favored merger, believing it would add prestige to their institutions and level the playing field for state funding.

Merger legislation easily passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly. After much maneuvering and lobbying it was approved by a one-vote margin in the Republican- controlled Senate.

Lucey signed Senate Bill 213 into law Oct. 8, 1971. The legislation was published in Chapter 100 of the Laws of 1971 on Oct. 11, taking effect Oct. 12. The UW System was born - although it took until 1974 for implementation legislation to be finalized.

"I had to be pretty heavy handed - no merger, no budget," says Lucey.

Photo of David Adamany
David Adamany, president of Temple University, is regarded by many as the chief architect of the merger.

In most university systems nationally, there is inherent tension between flagship institutions and comprehensive campuses over funding, prestige and who gets the best students and faculty. For that reason, there is still a lingering sentiment among some UW-Madison faculty and administrators that merger did not and has not benefited the state's flagship campus. Interestingly, Cronon and Jenkins refer to merger as the "legal demise" of the University of Wisconsin established in 1848.

But merger has been a boon for Wisconsin higher education - and for Wisconsin. In fact, those who played a key role in merger say the Madison campus would have taken a huge hit politically and financially without it.

David Adamany, Lucey's 1971 campaign issues manager and the person who many consider the chief architect of merger, explains that several years of anti-war violence on the Madison campus in the 1960s fostered enormous hostility among citizens and legislators.

"When Madison opposed merger, the feeling was that we would do something negative to Madison," says Adamany, now president of Temple University, in a recent interview. "Our feeling was that merger would protect Madison in a political environment in which it had been badly weakened."

Adamany, who served as president at Wayne State University before going to Temple, downplays his role in merger. He took a leave from his faculty post at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to join Lucey's 1970 campaign. The two were well acquainted. Adamany worked as Lucey's administrative assistant when Lucey was lieutenant governor. Before that, they knew each other from Lucey's role as head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and Adamany's employment in the state attorney general's office.

Adamany wrote Lucey's 1970 merger speech, which sketched out the framework for the current UW System.

"There is often the misimpression that people in charge of position papers put words in candidates' mouths," says Adamany. "I didn't do that. I did draft the speech on merger. Then Pat looked it over, gave it back and asked me to make changes. The speech represented his ideas; I was the draftsman."

Photo of Art Hove
Art Hove, special assistant emeritus at UW-Madison, says merger was not a new concept in 1971.

It fell to two skillful administrators, Don Percy and Don Smith, to craft the operating protocols to implement the merger. Working rapidly and with an eye to long-term excellence, they created the new systemwide guidelines governing academic program approval, financial management and personnel that still form the basis of many UW System operating policies today.

"Without their heroic work, the UW System would not have matured as well or as collaboratively as it has," Lyall says. "We owe a great deal to their foresight and unswerving commitment to core academic values.

Regardless of who takes credit for it - and there were many who played critical roles - the merger created one of the largest and finest university systems in the country.

The UW System has deftly shepherded the development of its institutions and their unique missions, and at the same time it is the most cost-efficient system of higher education in the nation, with administrative costs half the national average.

The UW System also has led the orderly progression of academic programs and is exploring and embracing new ways of teaching and learning, such as distance education and interdisciplinary faculty appointments. Just as important, the System is managing enrollment pressures, especially at Madison, where now more than 20,000 students apply each year for a freshman class of between 5,000-6,000 students.

Most of all, the UW System has matured into a unified entity, focusing its collective wisdom and resources to educate Wisconsin's sons and daughters and help solve the state's current and future challenges.

Photo of UW President John Weaver and Senator Walter Chilsen
UW President John C. Weaver discusses merger with State Sen. Walter Chilsen following a news conference on Aug. 7, 1971.

That is probably the greatest strength of the UW System: its ability to marshal its diverse and widespread forces to address key economic and societal issues. The most recent and best evidence is last year's Wisconsin Economic Summit and this November's Economic Summit II.

Hove says that "using the Summit to determine where Wisconsin is going in the future is a modern-day iteration of the Wisconsin Idea - a concept that has been enormously successful in forging a partnership between the university and the people of the state."

And in the context of Summit II, that partnership must endure for the UW System and Wisconsin to stay strong, says Jay L. Smith, president of the UW System Board of Regents.

"The Wisconsin Idea and the UW System must continue to be cultivated and strengthened for the betterment of Wisconsin and its people," Smith says.


Katharine C. Lyall,
1992 - present

Katharine C. Lyall (acting),

Kenneth A. Shaw,
1986 - 1991

Katharine C. Lyall (acting),
1985 - 1986

Robert M. O'Neil,
1980 - 1985

H. Edwin Young,
1977 - 1980

John C. Weaver,
1971 - 1977

No one downplays the challenges ahead for the UW System. Faculty retirements, and recruiting top new professors to replace them, will pose a problem in the coming years, as UW System salaries generally have lagged behind those at peer institutions. The battle for federal research dollars at the national level will only increase, and enrollment pressures will grow, too.

The key challenge in the future, though, will likely be the level of commitment that Wisconsin makes to its public university system. Since merger, state taxpayer support for the university system has dropped from about 50 percent of the UW budget to less than one-third - a downward trend the Board of Regents has turned its attention to in earnest.

"We no longer accept the notion that the university is the one item in the state budget that does not cost money," says Dreyfus in a recent interview. "It actually makes money because the university produces taxpayers, model citizens, and research that could lead to the next big breakthrough, such as stem cell research at UW-Madison. That issue (the amount of state support for the university) will have to get settled out in the next 30 years."

What seems to be settled in most people's minds, however, is that merger resulted in one of the most constructive, long-term developments in the history of Wisconsin public higher education.

"To people of my age, merger is still fresh in our minds, and some continue to view it as highly controversial," says Adamany, who maintains ties to the UW System as an adviser to UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs and Department of Political Science.

"But when I talk to younger faculty members, they don't think of it as an issue. So like many white-hot controversies of the past, for the next generation it is totally accepted. New administrators and chancellors don't see barriers or rivalries but are looking for ways to collaborate."
"Higher education in Wisconsin is in good shape," Adamany adds. "Most states would give anything to have the system Wisconsin has in place."


University of Wisconsin System Mission Statement
The mission of the system is to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.


University of Wisconsin System Timeline
1848 State law creates the University of Wisconsin, the same year Wisconsin gains statehood.
1849 Classes begin at the University of Wisconsin.
1866 First state normal school opens at Platteville.
1868 Normal school opens at Whitewater.
1871 Normal school opens at Oshkosh.
1874 Normal school opens at River Falls.
1885 Normal school opens at Milwaukee.
1891 UW-Stout begins as a private institution.
1894 UW Board of Regents adopts the "sifting and winnowing" statement on academic freedom. Normal school opens at Stevens Point.
1896 Normal school opens at Superior.
1906 UW creates University Extension Division.
1909 Normal school opens at La Crosse.
1911 The Stout Institute becomes a state institution.
1912 Publication of "The Wisconsin Idea" by Charles McCarthy.
1914 UW creates Cooperative Extension Service, putting agents in counties throughout Wisconsin.
1916 Normal school opens at Eau Claire.
1927 Normal schools change name to State Teachers Colleges, begin granting bachelor's degrees in education.
1951 State Teachers Colleges change name to Wisconsin State Colleges, add liberal arts programs.
1955 State law creates the Coordinating Committee for Higher Education, a political compromise and precursor to merger. Stout joins Wisconsin State Colleges system.
1956 Merger of UW Extension Center in Milwaukee and Milwaukee State College creates UW-Milwaukee as part of the Universityof Wisconsin.
1959 Mining school merges with Platteville State College.
1964 Wisconsin State Colleges change name to Wisconsin State Universities.
1965 University Extension and Cooperative Extension merge to become UW-Extension.
1968 UW-Green Bay, UW- Parkside become part of the University of Wisconsin.
1971 State law creates the UW System by merging the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Universities. UW System includes 13 four-year universities, 14 two-year centers (now called UW Colleges), and UW-Extension. Legislature sets 1973 as date to complete merger.
1973 Merger implementation bill fails to pass the Wisconsin Legislature.
1974 Merger is completed through passage of state law creating a new Chapter 36 of the Wisconsin State Statutes for the University of Wisconsin System
1981 Two-year center at Medford closed by state law.
2001 30th Anniversary of the UW System.

Erik Christianson is news and publications editor at UW System.


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