Wisconsin Indian-themed Mascots Start Disappearing

In a story yesterday on the Fox affiliate website, Osseo-Fairchild was ordered to remove it’s “Chieftain” mascot within one year or face fines of $1,000 per day.  This is the first case to be decided after Wisconsin became the first state to ban race themed mascots this past May.

Coming from a town in Wisconsin that also has a native themed mascot (the Osceola Chieftains, if you wanted to know), this law had no small amount of personal kick to it, even though I am now of Native descent myself (well, a small percentage on my grandmother’s side, but I’ll ignore that for now).  Northern Wisconsin has a strong heritage of European/Native interactions and many of the northwoods towns reflect this in their names: Ashwaubenon, Chippewa Falls, heck, even my own town of Osceola.  When many schools adopted their mascot, it was based out of feelings of respect, not hate, and I KNOW that this was the case in Osceola.

The order notes that the district doesn’t have the permission of any federally recognized American Indian tribe to use the name or logo

I believe (not 100% sure, but I remember having this conversation with my school administrators) that Osceola has this permission, in writing, on an annual basis but I could be wrong there.  Regardless, I think this law could have very unintentional consequences.

1) Who is going to pay for these schools to change their names?  Often signs, clothing contracts, all district paperwork (letterheads, pens, etc.), sports jerseys all need to be paid for and this money is coming from these local districts.  In Wisconsin, localities pay a lot towards local schools so this is a large financial burden for smaller communities that need to do a lot to change.

2) What about other mascots derived from hate or fear based names?  The Irish were a group mocked and derided by all manner of Europeans until the second World War (in Wisconsin, long after that…) but yet the Notre Dame Fighting Irish still exist as the stereotypical Irishman who cannot control his temper.  What about characterizations of our Scandinavian heritage?  The Vikings could hardly be deemed as a term of respect.  And finally, look at our own Wisconsin Badgers.  We all know that Badgers refers to the original Welsh miners in the state who lived in holes in the ground so the wealthier Germans and English called them “Badgers”.   Is the UW expected to change its name based on the mascot being created out of a mocking of a minority?  Or is it irrelevant because that group is no longer a minority?

There is a clear distinction in my mind between a symbol of respect and pride, and one of hateful prejudice. Osceola, Wisconsin was founded and dedicated to the memory of the brave Seminole Chief Osceola, and the “Chieftains” was chosen to commemorate the native allies of our early town that helped the settlers survive the harsh climate, and to commemorate Osceola himself.   I do not see why a school/community cannot honor and commemorate a culture in this way when the term itself is one of respect.

The Redmen, Redskins, Tomahawks, and other vestiges of war like savagery should probably go and that is legitimate.  However, I don’t see the harm in non-war affiliated names that are meant as a term of respect.

Please post your thoughts on the matter, and I’ll respond as I’m able.



“Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 4 of 4 -Finale!

(It’s more of an essay than a blog post, I agree. But we can’t solve (or even start to solve) these complex problems in the span of a paragraph or two. So please if you are interested, bear with me, and if you’re not, why did you click the link in the first place 🙂


Enough with me pointing out what’s wrong or the obstacles in our way.  What are our options moving forward?

Well, I have several alternatives in mind.

Option one: We explore free higher education at a limited scale and focusing on directly impacting the current economic state of Wisconsin.  There is honestly no need for all 26 UW-schools to be doing roughly the same program.  It’s a HUGE system with massive costs.  The 13 two-year colleges are spread throughout the state with low enrollment and limited options to pursue a degree in.  Most serve as a conduit for students to later attend larger UW schools after getting their associate degree.  Additionally, these schools have had the same level of tuition for several years and are not a large source of income for the system to function and will be a lower cost to offset by the state/fundraising.

So, we can explore two parallel paths here in two-year college reform.  The first path is focusing on funneling talent into the upper UW system.  This is for students of lower income who cannot feasibly afford to come to the UW-Madison/anywhere else in the state.  These schools would allow a student to start their degree and after two years transfer to a larger school, effectively only paying HALF the regular amount for the education.  Not enough, some of you may say, but let’s start somewhere.    Additionally, to make this feasible at a single school, we would need to limit major selections at these schools OR focus on general education.  A small school could have Political Science/History at one UW college, and Business/Economics at another.  This keeps professor and advisor costs lower (everyone is pursuing similar things) plus it allows system to allocate proper resources by “specializing” in the school.  A foreign fellow who is teaching Poli Sci for a semester at Madison would likely be willing to give one guest lecture at the “UW-College of Political Science and History” which gives access to top talent to these students.  That’s pretty narrow, I admit, but I mean to stress that core areas should go together (Poli Sci/History/International Studies/Religious Studies/ etc) and not try to be all encompassing.

OR these schools could go to a general format where they only offer courses which satisfy general requirements at all the other UW-schools (think Calculus, Chemistry, Comm A/B, ethnic studies, etc.)  This allows students to take a broad spectrum of courses while actively pursuing a degree and keeping costs low by allowing the high powered upper level faculty to focus elsewhere and have other educators at these institutions.

Second path is establishing vocational training at some institutions.  Our local economies need mechanics, they need clinical nursing assistants, and they need agricultural experts.  Of course, that is not exhaustive but its representative of what our community colleges should focus on: helping the immediate community prosper.  So, that would entail eliminating much of a traditional “Liberal Arts” degree (which parallels most Euro-versities) and focusing on vocational education.  Of concern, of course is the overlap with Wisconsin Technical System and since the state also funds parts of them, perhaps the answer lies in turning some of their schools into the vocational ones and having the UW ones be pipeline schools.  This is one part of my argument that I’m up in the air about and am having difficulties coming to grips with a plan.

Additionally, existing tech schools are too general.  The one in my neighboring town offers majors in psychology, political science, history, and sociology, in addition to the standard clinical nursing assistant, welding, etc.  A tech school should not be doing these exhaustive programs that detract resources from their primary value and focus.  Let’s be smarter about these schools and stick to the do what you do best principle.

So we break up our two-year institutions into 3 groups; one that remains in the current format, one that switches to specific pipelines, and one that focuses on vocational training.

According to my calculations, with a total enrollment around 11,350 students, this will be a $48,441,800 drop in revenue (from tuition) for the UW-System (statistics taken from here: http://www.uwc.edu/) This is a drop in the bucket compared with the $2.4 BILLION operating budget of UW-Madison and the $65.7 Billion budget of Wisconsin[i].  $48 Million, while substantive, is not insurmountable.  Some cuts to corrections (not by using Minnesota’s faulty techniques, but by using smart measures such as more efficient courthouses (we should be able to get through more cases per day), and decriminalizing possession of marijuana are good starts), in addition to modest taxes, like sales, should provide enough to make up this shortfall.  It is also important to remember that out-of-state students will be coming to these schools and their tuition will not be free so we will not lose ALL $50 million. And, in my plan the two or three largest colleges would retain their current status as tuition charging so a chunk of that fund will remain.

So with a handful of colleges remaining tuition charging, to help balance the sheets and to provide more options than the baseline, a handful of vocational schools and a handful of pipeline schools, we would have a revamped and substantially more affordable system while not tarnishing the reputation of UW-Madison by detracting resources.  A relatively modest amount of money could accomplish this.


The second alternative is much more long term but necessary to achieve any semblance of parity in higher education and to allow Wisconsin to become the higher education leader it rightfully is.  Basically, we need to concentrate on getting K12 more money, specifically struggling areas.  More money in K12 brings in a demand for more educators (and especially those upper-tier ones from fancy schools like Madison), and the higher base level of education immediately benefits the community.  Secondly, once education levels across the state begin to stabilize (where predominantly rural white communities perform the same as urban minority communities) we can move towards a merit based scholarship system.   Such a system would allow the state to draw top talent from not only Wisconsin but across the country and further increase the prestige (and therefore research funding) coming into our state.  This perpetuates a cycle of increased funding which translates into better education and lower costs for students.

As research continues to pile into the state and entrepreneurs with basic high school education start up new businesses, jobs and the economy will grow, resulting in increased revenue for the state, allowing the regents to lobby for lower tuition rates and higher funding for the system.  Additionally, since many of the lagging schools are urban, the renewed focus will help revitalize struggling economies like Milwaukee’s and Green Bay’s.

As I said, this is a long term plan, but it is absolutely essential if we want anything close to lower tuition.  Without parity at the K12 level, free education at the University level just leads to increased admission standards and further exclusivity of the higher achieving suburbanites.


Basically we have two options: lower costs at select schools in short period of time by focusing on just higher ed funding or lower costs at all schools by focusing on K12 spending over a long period of time.  In all reality, both would likely occur within a few years of each other if one was ever enacted.

However, I do recognize several (many) flaws with my plans.

  1. The Supreme Court just announced that Wisconsin owes $200 million to an internal fund that it transferred to pay its deficit last year, so we’re deeper in debt.[ii]
  2. A tremendous amount of calculations for this idea need to be done.  This is an FY 14-15 budget proposal at the earliest.
  3. I do not address changes to the comprehensives or research schools.  Partially, its because I would like them to remain the same and partially because I’m unsure how the new system would affect their own admissions and administrative offices.
  4. What about student fees? Textbooks? Dorms?  This was an analysis of just tuition and I honestly think that we need to just start small and somewhere.  Student fees, etc are still payable because if they don’t we can kiss the entire idea goodbye.  WAYYYY too much money then.

So there it is, my 4 part series on higher education and funding problems and solutions.  I hope you found it informative and thought provoking as I put great effort into researching and writing this.  Please, post any comments, questions or concerns below and I will do my best to reply to questions.  I seek to encourage discussion on this matter because I believe a middle ground between two extremes does exist and we could be close to finding it.


[i] http://www.legis.state.wi.us/lfb/2009-11Budget/Act%2028/2009_07_22_2009-11%20budget%20summary%20information%20(Act%2028).pdf

[ii] http://www.cnbc.com/id/38323249

“Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 3 of 4


This post will be a little different and will be examining how Higher education is handled in various sectors of Europe backed up (when I cite statistics) with links to tables etc.  Please note that I am not

First off, let’s get some information straight.  Other than Canada, the United States has the highest percentage of population that has completed at least a higher education degree at around 40% (Canada has 49%).  Denmark, Sweden both hover around 8% lower  than the US and the US beats both nations in terms of population who has at least attained primary school education.  (Soure: http://www.eng.uvm.dk/~/media/Files/Stat/Tvaergaaende/PDF10/100629_Tal_der_taler_engelsk.ashx Page 34)

That being said, we can look at what we are all interested in, which is the economics of the situation.

So going back to that document (which has a lot of information I’ve discovered), we first look at Table 3.5 which is Public Expenditure on education as a percentage of total public expenditure.  Basically, what % of all money given out goes to Higher Ed.  Norway leads the pack with New Zealand, both spending over 5% of their public funds on education, with Slovakia, Denmark, Canada, and Finland all between 4.0-4.9%.  Then it gets pretty interesting.  The USA spends 3.9% of public funds on higher education, higher than all other nations except the 6 I just mentioned.  That means more money than France, Sweden, Germany, the UK, and the rest of the world.  Check page 40 of the document if you don’t believe me.

This, of course, is easily explained by the large increase in public universities in the USA compared to everywhere else.  We average over 100 schools per state and lead the world in total universities so we should naturally spend more money but we are richer too so I think it roughly evens out (I’m not doing the large amount of math required to prove this either…not nearly enough time)  And with more schools per capita than other nations as well, this seems to lead to a scenario where there is a large number of options for students wishing to continue their education.

But yes, in Denmark (and most parts of the EU) higher education is free (sometimes even for foreign students) if you qualify to attend.  And hereinlies the HUGE distinction why a European system cannot be applied to the US without MASSIVE change in every state.  In the US, our schools are very general, allowing students to come and try out a few majors before settling on something.  This is in great parallel to Euro systems where most schools (except the private  tuition charging ones) are specific in nature to career paths (Example: an engineering school,  or a politics and economics school, or business school)  The few public generals that exist offer nowhere NEAR the number of majors (Antwerp, Belgium’s biggest, offers 20 + a few professional programs and that includes 5 variations of a business degree).  So a shift to free tuition would likely mean the demise of general education universities and the rise of smaller specialty schools.  Schools like Madison (in their current form at least) would die.  Catch that?  Wither and die.  The largest University in Europe only has roughly 40-44k students so it is close but again, that’s the absolute biggest (U of Cologne if you’re wondering) whereas in the United States MOST major state flagships average that amount with some like Ohio State and Minnesota jumping to 50k or more.

Secondarily, we would have restrictions on who can go to what school.  Like the ACT, students in Europe must pass a rigorous exam (MUCH worse than the SAT or so I’m told from a few French students  I spoke to today about it –in French I might add, so yay UW language programs!), an exam that is directed at your future career interests and its pass/fail.  So if you pass you’re eligible and if you fail, you’re not getting into these universities and you will be forced into a vocational school if you still want to go on to more schooling.  The amount of studying required seems to be more then the ACT or SAT, if I’m understanding the other students accurately.

Without first K12 reforms, we would have no framework to apply such a test nationally that is accepted as the be all end all of admissions (there are other factors but this is a dealbreaker…)  So we would need more equality and parity in K12 first and this is something I’ll be looking at in the Solutions section next time.  And before it’s brought up, yes the ACT/SAT is a comparable exam but it is not MANDATORY for admittance to all schools (think tech schools, or even some community colleges) whereas these European exams are.

Finally, and with regard to UW-Madison in specific, public Universities in Europe, while free, are considerably less prestigious and not nearly as well regarded as their private counterparts.  Which schools can you name in Europe?  Oxford? Cambridge? London School of Economics?  They’re private tuition charging places folks.  These are where the best and brightest go to prosper, shine, and lead the world in a variety of fields.

So how do we keep our reputation (and the reason that students come here) and yet do something to make university education more attainable?  Next post J

“Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 2 of 3

(Part 2, on non budgetary issues blocking adoption of “free” education.  I’ve decided to do another part looking at the European system of education so that will happen next, with Part 4 being Solutions and New Ideas.  Capiche?)

Where does that leave us then?

It leaves option 1 unsustainable and requiring more funds than our state (which is one of the worst 15 or so hit by the recession in terms of budget deficits) has available or will in the next two decades.

Option two is the one with heated debate and strong opinions on both sides.  My opinion, is that on a large scale it is impossible and impractical for the United States to switch ALL public universities to free tuition.  That is not to say that SOME couldn’t be free but for the major flagship institutions, it would be impossible for the Chancellor/President to manage.

The first reason is legal.  These Universities are the domain of the states, meaning EACH state would have to adopt this in turn.  Say Wisconsin and California (with our big nemesis Berkeley) adopt a law making tuition free at all state institutions.  Naturally, states don’t have unlimited resources and a tax would unlikely make up the difference in tuition lost (unless the lawmakers went crazy and fully raised taxes to fund this, something only the staunchest Democrat would have the cajones to do), so as part of this plan, professors would not make near as much money as they were before, or increases will be minimal.  So even if Berkeley would no longer have the vast funds available to poach our best professors, what’s stopping Michigan? Or Minnesota? Or any other university in the US?  Our faculty would be fleeced of the best and brightest because the law is not universally applied.   What President/Chancellor would be bold enough to allow the talent that sustains the Universities reputation to brazenly leave?

Relating to that, the federal government obviously could not interfere because the Universities are by and large run through the state system and could not break all sorts of laws by “annexing” control of them.  A possible work around to this does exist however and will be discussed in the SOLUTIONS section of this series.

The second reason is practical.  If tuition at UW-Madison was suddenly free, what would the application pool look like?  It would skyrocket!  We only have facilities for Appx. 6000 Freshmen (and not even for that amount) so how would these students get selected? I imagine the admissions standards and averages would also take a jump, making Madison much more difficult to get into because the lowest ACTs that get in will be 29s or 30s, if not higher.  How else will they decide?  Additionally, this implicitly makes Madison more exclusive, as typically students with better primary education score better, and typically those students have more money to pay for the better education.  I don’t want to go to schools with everyone who is just like me and I don’t think many who choose a flagship school like Wisconsin want that either.

Thirdly, it’s a matter of what we want from our school.  Madison is regarded globally as a leader in education, mentioned in the same breath (albeit after a comma) with the Ivies, and prestigious European schools.  A degree from UW-Madison is recognized as assurance that the student is competent and capable to take on high level work without additional training and receive good recommendations going into the professional world because of our many successful alums.  This degree has achieved the value it has because we have funded it well.  Tuition at Madison is higher because our degree is worth more!  Better faculty with better connections, leads to a better degree.  Nothing against the other UW schools but if they develop a superstar professor, Madison will likely poach them.  And that is how the flagship is supposed to act.  It is supposed to be the one with the best talent, and the best facilities, to provide the best education, but, like our Mustang, if you want the value, you need to pay the price.

Other UW schools cost substantially less than Madison (The UW-Colleges just received a 2nd consecutive tuition freeze allowing low income or those otherwise inhibited from going to a comprehensive, a pretty dang good deal to get an associates degree or half of a bachelors) while still offering quality education.  While perhaps an issue for some, for which I am sympathetic and we should find a solution for, the cost of attending UW-Rock County is not going to mortgage your future.  I know more successful people to have graduated from smaller schools than flagship institutions anyway (probably because these other schools cumulatively graduate more) so there is clearly no shame in attending a smaller institution.  I have friends who chose UW-River Falls because they liked that campus the best and preferred the smaller school.  In short, the UW system IS most definitely accessible to near every level of income as it is, and we should feel  fortunate to have that as most states do not have anywhere close to the comprehensiveness of the UW system.

Finally, I would like to point out the obvious but sometimes overlooked ideology that some people just don’t believe in subsidizing others.   Whether its healthcare, education, or welfare, some people fundamentally believe that this is not a societal issue and while I disagree with that premise (mostly, I’ll qualify) it’s one that many lawmakers hold and makes realizing this incredible difficult.  Of course, perceptions change, and new people are voted in and you can always negotiate, but it is important to remember that there would be simple ideological opposition to the whole concept as well.

Ok, part 2 is done, I’ll have part 3 on European systems up sometime later this week when I get the chance, and then finally, our favorite, my solutions section 😉  Au revoir!


“Free” Higher Education in Wisconsin: Obstacles, and Possibilities pt 1 of 3

(This is Part 1 of 3, focusing on budgetary issues regarding “free” tuition at public institutions.  Part 2 will focus on other issues not directly fiscal that affect this proposal and Part 3 will conclude with solutions to our current problematic state.  I welcome comments throughout the series but please keep in mind that I may be addressing sometime in a future post.)

Everyone loves to get something for free.  Especially if it is something that we would normally pay for.  A brand new  Ford Mustang is something that many people, if they are financially able, would purchase because, well, it’s pretty damn sweet; but what if you could get that Mustang for free?   Everyone seems to be really excited to win that brand new car or RV or trip to Timbuktu or what-have-you, but no one seems very excited to win that “brand new ottoman(!)” that they bid on in the opening competition.  Why is that?  Well, clearly the value of that Mustang is much greater than the value of that ottoman (although I’m sure it is a very nice ottoman).

Well, what if the geniuses over in Detroit decide, “Gee, the Mustang is so popular on the Price is Right, let’s make it free and then everyone can have one!”.  Well, in order to be feasible, several alternate series of events would occur.  First, Ford could continue to produce the same quality Mustang and simply lower the price tag, making the production cost vastly superior to the income it generates.  This is an unsustainable path and more funds are needed, but from what source?  They could try to sell more stock, or simply jack up prices on other cars but with a free Mustang, that wouldn’t work very well.  So then we have option two; Ford could lower the quality of the Mustang by replacing chrome and steel with plastics, the V8 engine with a V6 one, the leather interior with cloth, and the fancy gadgets with an AM/FM radio and manual windows.   Sure, it’s still technically a Ford Mustang, but it has been diluted to a point where it is not recognizable as such.

So, now that I’ve introduced this, why is it pertinent to students here at the University of Wisconsin at Madison?

Well, the answer is simple.  We are that Mustang and the State of Wisconsin is Ford Motor Corporation (without actually having to be in Detroit ;).  We are that incredibly valuable thing that people will continually pay money for because the value is universally known and respected, and of course, everyone would love to have that value for free, if they could.   However, that is unsustainable for the two reasons illustrated above: lack of funding or the lowering of quality.

To address the first reason and why it would not work, we look at our own budget and compare it to a similar one in Minnesota.  Advocates of higher education (and I am certainly one) often argue that the state puts too much funding into the Corrections system while not enough into Higher Ed and point towards Minnesota where the Corrections system is funded substantially less, with far less prisoners in the state system, and still managing to achieve virtually identical crime statistics.  But the state budget only tells part of the funding tale; what about local property taxes or county taxes?  These certainly play a substantial role in policy areas.

Here’s the secret and the downfall of the argument that Minnesota spends less on corrections and more on education: Clever Accounting. In Minnesota, the counties foot the corrections bill while the state foots education.  It’s a mix in Wisconsin.  In Minnesota, inmates with under a year on their sentence serve time in the county jails, OUTSIDE of the state system, and outside of the state’s funding, leaving the counties to tax on their own.  Wisconsin doesn’t really utilize the county jail system, instead using the state one substantially giving the illusion of higher gross state spending.

Let’s look at education; Minnesota under Jesse Venture eliminated local funding for K12 education, intending to create a new funding stream through the legislature, a new funding stream that was never passed.  This left the state high and dry footing the entire K12 education bill for the entire state.  Wisconsin still has a dual funded system where the state kicks in a good amount and the local property taxes fund the rest.  This provides districts the choice to build new facilities, etc by holding a referendum.  My hometown, which has an average income only slightly above the poverty line, voted about seven years ago to rebuild our aging high school through an increase in property taxes.  This increase in funding would not be shown at the state level but it clearly exists.

So, how does this all tie together?  Well, basically, pulling money out of corrections leaves a substantial shortfall in facilities, jobs, and would also require the repeal of Wisconsin’s Truth in Sentencing Law.  We can skim Corrections, but fleecing it would be very difficult (there is a prison in just about everyone’s district…who is going to vote to cut jobs in their own district?  Thought so…)  Additionally, it is much easier to argue that if any more money should go to education, it needs to go to K12.  UW-Madison already receives $2.4 Billion every year (granted some of that is tuition), while the entire University of Minnesota (and their Minnesota State system) receives $2.8 Billion…a pretty shocking comparison.

So in short, when we come to legislators asking for more money for the UW system (Madison in particular), to them it sounds like we are asking for more water for Lake Michigan.  While it’s no Lake Superior, it’s still pretty damn big and could probably work just fine on the water that it currently has.