Jay Rothman is making a solid, even obvious, business decision. I still think he’s wrong.
Rothman, President of the UW System, has decided to shut down the UW Platteville – Richland Center campus. In 2014 that campus had almost 600 students and today it has only 60. When Rothman goes to the Legislature to ask for more money they’ll ask him how well the System is being managed. It’s hard to justify a whole UW campus for a few dozen students. I get it.
There is an issue with communication with the Richland community and how the whole thing has been handled. Officials in Richland Center and Richland County, which leases the land to the UW, have felt blind-sided and shut out of the process that produced this result. It has gotten to the point where the County Board demanded that a third party mediator be present in any meeting with the UW. That seems like an over-reaction, but nonetheless it gives you a sense of the strained relationship.
Communication isn’t the main problem but it’s indicative of the larger one and that brings me to my case for keeping the campus open, even if it’s bad business. The biggest underlying issue that concerns me in Wisconsin (and in the country and in the world) is the growing chasm between urban and rural areas and between those with a college degree and those without one.
Anything we can do to build the connection between Madison (literally, the city, and more broadly, the capital and the university) and the rest of the state is a good thing. Campuses like Richland aren’t just nodes of a college education, they are (or at least should be) listening points for the UW, places where the System can hear about the needs and concerns of people outside of Madison and their other bigger campuses. If anything, Rothman and other senior UW officials should be spending more time on these two-year campuses and in rural Wisconsin in general.
And in that sense Richland is incredibly important and valuable. And worth the investment.
Have a good weekend.