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The Heart of the Public Ivies

The Heart of the Public Ivies

Charles Pruitt is the vice chair of the AGB Board of Directors, a former member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, and co-managing director of AB Data, Ltd. He recently wrote an editorial in the Washington Post about the importance of public institutions.

A number of readers of my Washington Post editorial, "Politics is Cutting the Heart Out of the Public Ivies," took exception to my criticism of the Wisconsin Assembly Speaker’s admonition that regents had a choice to either be “cheerleaders for the university or advocates for the taxpayers.” 

I continue to believe that is a false and misleading choice but also feel like I should offer a bit more in the way of explanation.

Regents should certainly be advocates for taxpayers (as well as students, parents, and other stakeholders). But an essential role for any public university regent or trustee is to make the case for the need to invest in higher education to legislators and governors.  AGB President Rick Legon often advises trustees and regents of the need for them to be good “storytellers.”  He’s right.  

In Wisconsin, as in many other states, there are many good stories to tell.  At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 39% of graduates are the first in their family to receive a college degree.  At UW-Madison’s Institute for Discovery, scientists bring hundreds of millions of dollars to Wisconsin through cutting-edge research grants dedicated to the search for cures to cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.  These students, scientists, and dollars are in Wisconsin for only reason:  Because there is a University of Wisconsin. 

How, I ask the doubters, can you not be a cheerleader for that?

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