UW System President talks about health of the UW Campuses

Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 9:53 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - UW System President Jay Rothman never attended a UW school, but his roots are deep in the system. His parents met at UW-Stevens Point. Sister and daughter went to Madison. His brother went to River Falls.

So the Wausau native means it when he says he has a passion for the UW schools.

”I see the impact these institutions are having and it gives me faith and optimism for the future.”

But the current health of the UW System isn’t where president Jay Rothman wants it. A recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum ranks the state’s funding for its 4-year schools near the bottom nationally.

“If we’re being funded at 43rd out of 50 in the nation, at some point you’re going to have a university system that’s 43rd best in the country. Wisconsin deserves better than that,” Rothman said.

Paying the price are the professors, and eventually the students.

“Our comprehensive universities across the state are not paying at market levels and we are losing faculty as a result.”

Increasing pay for staff was part of a long list of goals when the Wausau native took the job June 1, 2022. Another is improving infrastructure at all 13 campuses and branches.

“We have to have world class facilities if we’re going to have world class education,” said Rothman. “A substantial majority of our buildings were built in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. They had 50 year lives. I’m not a mathematician but I can do the math.”

UW-Stevens Point is finally replacing its 55-year-old Albertson Hall, home of the campus library, with a new $96-million building expected to be open in 2025. Improved campus life is crucial to increase the UW System’s declining enrollment. Making college affordable for all will help.

“We did an affordability study shortly after I started and we were the most affordable of any public university system in the Midwest, and I would think the country,” he said. “So, we are affordable. But we’re not necessarily affordable for everyone and we need to continue to work on trying to find funding to help fill those gaps. Education is the great equalizer.”

That said, undergrad tuition with room & board is increasing by 4% this fall. The first tuition hike in a decade.

As Rothman embarks on year 2 as System President, the 63 year old is ready for the challenges.

“I want to make sure that I’m making a difference. And the day that I don’t think I’m making a difference is the day that I should leave.”

Rothman said the investment from the state is critical in the UW system’s success. Just last night, the state’s Joint Finance Committee approved roughly half of the $1.8-billion requested for projects on the UW campuses.