Friday, July 22, 2005

Talking points on the value of public univeristy information labor to a state

Here in Wisconsin, university faculty and staff have been fighting to keep their benefits, gain cost-of-living raises, and avoid the need to raise tuition on students, arguing against a Republican-controlled state legislature which doesn't seem to agree that public research universities are a wise investment of tax dollars. Here are a few quick talking points presented in open testimony by the group PROFS, which lobbies the state on behalf of faculty interests -- talking points no doubt applicable to other state university systems besides Wisconsin's as well.

Other universities and states are taking note of the fact that UW-Madison salaries are slipping further behind our peers. They are pursuing our faculty at an increasing rate.

The numbers tell the story. A couple years ago, we had 52 faculty members receive outside offers, and we were able to retain 75% of them. Last year, we had nearly twice as many - 98 - receive outside offers, and we were only able to retain 52% of them.

Make no mistake about it. We are losing some very good people.

Why should you and the rest of the state care about retaining and recruiting UW-Madison faculty? There are many reasons. UW-Madison faculty members bring in, on average, more than $250,000 in federal research funding annually, which has a huge multiplier effect on the state. The university's 2004-05 budget includes a great deal more federal funding ($526 million) than state tax dollars ($370 million).

UW-Madison's economic impact on the state is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion annually. At least 218 Wisconsin companies have been started as a result of ties to UW research done by faculty. These companies employ more than 7,000 people and have gross revenues of well over $1 billion.

And momentum for business growth is building, as an average of 13 companies have been formed from the research at UW-Madison in each of the last five years. Forbes magazine recently rated Madison the best place in the nation to launch a business or career, due in large measure to the presence of the university.

While calculating the direct economic benefits of university research is an effective strategy, I hope we (and the Republican lawmakers) don't lose sight of the fact that university faculty and staff also spend significant time and effort teaching and mentoring the state's young adults, so that they too might find jobs where they can apply critical thinking skills in service of the greater public interest -- and get paid a fair wage to do so. (And many of these jobs, in todays increasingly globalized, increasingly informatized society, will necessarily involve "information labor.") That's all we ask for ourselves, and personally, that's my greatest wish for our students.

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