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UWM’s Future

The biggest issue in the history of Milwaukee’s Riverwest/East Side is here. In the next two years, Milwaukee’s premier public education institution, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will be deciding, through UWM’s Master Plan process, whether it will remain, in the broadest sense, a University. The proposal has been laid out by UWM’s Chancellor Carlos Santiago Will Milwaukee’s UW-System University have its science, engineering, and technical research parts taken away from Milwaukee’s East Side, and put at a new campus in suburban Wauwatosa, leaving behind inefficient and obsolete buildings from the 1960s, with State taxpayer and business partner money going to the new engineering campus, and leaving the City of Milwaukee stuck with a reduced educational facility more like a college than a university? Will the loss of technical faculty, students, researchers, and staff (and their facilities) pursuing high-end business opportunities and attracting the biggest grant money for the most lucrative projects – now enriching the East Side when they live conveniently close to campus, spending at local businesses and boosting property values – decrease or increase neighborhood complaints about student behavior in off-campus housing? If the high-tech research part of UWM moves to Wauwatosa, will those located there, so highly valued by business, need special facilities for liberal arts/ business education, so they can learn more of the ways of the world without having to travel through miles of city traffic to the East Side? Will the Chancellor have a separate, duplicative office out in Wauwatosa, to keep close tabs on those projects so valuable to business supporters, and to have signing ceremonies for all the big high-tech deals? Then, why have a secondary, rarely used East Side Chancellor’s office, subject to complaints of wasting taxpayers’ money by tax-cutting opportunists, pundits, and suburban politicians? Can the neighborhoods surrounding UWM tolerate a future with the central campus of an urban university aspiring to first-tier status, seeking to advance itself toward being a peer with UW-Madison and other leading universities, or do they want students out of their neighborhoods so they can return to a lesser, more common, existence? These are among the questions that Milwaukee citizens need to start asking themselves now, so they can take a vigorous role in UWM’s Master Plan process. At the same time as this proposal to move core UWM competencies to Wauwatosa, there are many conflicts between the City of Milwaukee and the suburbs coming to a head. The City of Milwaukee has lost huge amounts of businesses and jobs, many going out to suburban locations, as well as to other national and world regions. What’s left behind are some of the worst concentrations of poverty and poverty’s social problems in the nation. When the suburbs are asked, in the spirit of regional cooperation, to help deal with these problems – because we all here in Southeast Wisconsin are supposedly one big community – the suburbs say no because, in part, many of the suburb’s citizens moved out of the City of Milwaukee to avoid dealing with the City’s problems. Generally more affluent suburbanites, who mostly have cars, don’t want to help pay for public transportation that would allow generally less affluent City of Milwaukee citizens to get out to suburban communities to access jobs and suburbanites to come into the city to attend UWM, both reducing the impact of roads on the land. Instead, they want to take State tax money that now goes to UWM in the City of Milwaukee, and have it go for a science, engineering, and technical doctoral degree granting university in their neighborhood. Turns out, there are limits to growth, but our current political arrangements don’t accommodate them well. For example, there is the latest version of uniting Southeast Wisconsin for economic gain – the Milwaukee Seven, encompassing the seven counties of Southeast Wisconsin. Business synergy is a worthy goal that businesses have done often all by themselves. But before governments and businesses make economic decisions about where money, often from taxpayers, is invested, how about first doing governmental bodies based on watershed boundaries, sharing costs and taxation that build up each jurisdiction’s entire population, and that better obey natural imperatives that serve long-term realities, before sticking it to the City of Milwaukee by picking off City assets and sticking them out in the affluent suburbs? Now, with the UWM Master Plan, informed citizens of the City of Milwaukee have got a chance to begin to set things right. By insisting that UWM stay in the City of Milwaukee, by rebuilding the obsolete west-of-Maryland-Avenue part of the East Side campus, and expanding research centers in the City at any of several underutilized sites. UWM leadership is now setting terms for a contract, set to be signed in the next couple of months, about what an outside consultant will do during the upcoming two years of the Master Plan process. Momentum is building with very little community participation. How far along will things be before the Citizens of the City of Milwaukee are invited to take a look at, and react to, plans that already have heavy investment? – Greg Bird, Milwaukee

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