Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UW-Washington County offers free 'educational makeover' semester

Hi everyone,

This is the sort of thing I was talking about in the last entry.

UW-Washington County offers free 'educational makeover' semester - JSOnline

UW-Washington County offers free 'educational makeover' semester

For people whose New Year's resolutions include going back to college, the two-year University of Wisconsin-Washington County has a contest that might make it easier, particularly in difficult economic times.

The school's "Extreme Educational Makeover" contest will provide one winner with a free semester of classes, including tuition, fees and money for books - about a $2,600 value.

The contest aims to help adults returning to school. Entrants must be 22 or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and cannot have taken a class at UW-Washington County in the past two years. Contestants must submit essays describing why they need a life makeover and how education would help.

The UW-Washington County Foundation, Glacier Hills Credit Union and West Bend Savings Bank provided funding for the scholarship, which the school modeled after a similar contest at UW-Rock County.

School officials also hope the contest will draw applicants who may be unaware of the financial aid available to them. The school plans to contact people who apply but don't win to tell them about these options.

The contest runs Jan. 1 to 31, with a winner announced Feb. 18. Applications are available online at www.washington.uwc.edu. UW-Washington County serves about 1,000 students at its West Bend campus.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Where's the money going?

Hi everyone,

This week's column recounts, essentially, every conversation I've had with Pat Strachota and Glenn Grothman, back when he was still talking to me, for the past 15 years. The state is running a budget deficit and the neocons love to blame "fat in the university" for this, but: 1) I guarantee you we're not seeing any fat here locally, and 2) the yammerers are never able to identify where any of this so-called fat actually is. My best guess: the DOT.

But then, I'm just a country doctor, I don't know nuthin'.

Saturday's column.

Don’t starve the goose. We need the eggs.

The next state budget is coming up and, as always, the remaining neoconservatives in Madison are beginning to eyeball their favorite whipping boy: the University of Wisconsin system. They tore off a lot of flesh in the last budget: even though the UW was only 9 percent of the total budget, it took 38 percent of all the cuts. It was a bloody mess, especially since the UW Colleges are the bottom of the UW System food chain and always take a big hit in any budget cuts – even though we’re demonstrably the best educational deal for the taxpayer. So, I'm always shocked when I hear people complain that there’s fat left in the UW System since here, locally, we aren’t seeing any.

Here’s what I mean: the average faculty member in the UW Colleges earns around $50,000, more than $30k a year behind UWMadison, $15k behind UW-Milwaukee and less than faculty at any other UW campus. How do we compare in cost nationwide? University faculty in Wisconsin, on average, make less (including both salaries and benefits) than do university faculty in Alabama, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Milwaukee Magazine reported another figure that usually surprises people. Instructors at the Wisconsin technical colleges over the last few years earned, on average, about $74,000 a year and at the MATC’s, Milwaukee and Madison area technical colleges, nearly $90,000. So, even relative to the technical colleges, we’re a good deal for the taxpayer who wants to upgrade their education and job opportunities with a BA.

The deal gets better as we go along. UWWC is one of the ways our taxes flow back into Washington County from Madison – in the form of salaries, university spending, and the ripple effects these have on job creation, student spending and attracting a labor pool of college-educated students for local businesses.
In fiscal year 2005-2006, the combined economic impact of university expenditures, payroll and student expenditure results, including direct and economic ripple effects, came to $17.8 million for the county. That’s $17.8 million of our own money we wouldn’t get back without the university.

But wait, there’s more.

The dynamic leadership on campus has made UWWC’s academic and research assets increasingly available to local business through the Washington County Economic Development Corporation. In addition to crunching numbers for local economic planning and development, each year the campus hosts thousands of local residents at events that include everything from workshops on leadership, business training and retirement, to ACT study sessions and exams, to judo competitions and job fairs.

We even save gas. The nursing program with UW-M and the liberal arts degree program with UW-Oshkosh make it possible for Washington County residents to earn their degrees here at home. More recently the new engineering program, run in partnership with UW-Platteville, has been in the news. Not only does the program share costs, saving money while increasing Wisconsin’s stock of engineers, but it’s one of the reasons the Gehl Company cited for moving their R&D center to West Bend. The new construction came in ahead of schedule and under budget. The program begins this spring.

Oh, and one more: UW-Washington County is operating in the black. We pay our own way.

Summing up: the UW System is one of the more cost effective universities in the country, the UW Colleges are the most cost effective branch of UW System and UW-Washington County contributes $17.8 million to the local economy, operates in the black and offers programs local business wants and needs.

That explains why I’m startled whenever I hear that we need to cut the university budget even more. It might well be possible to competitivize some of our health care costs, as John Torinus has done at Serigraph, but I already included benefits in my comparisons above. Relative to most universities nationwide we’re cheaper, we’re better and we cost the taxpayer a lot less.

So, here’s my question: If all that tax money isn’t trickling down to us here at UW Washington County, then where the heck is it going?

I don’t know either, but Rep. Pat Strachota, as demonstrated by her thoughtful and measured column a few weeks ago in these pages, seems dedicated to finding out the answer. I hope she’ll report back to us as the budget process begins.

One difference between Pat and Glenn is that Pat will punch the calculator with her fingers rather than with her ideology.

oh, and a p.s. I'll have to add to next week's column: I do not now, never have, and never will speak as an agent for or on behalf of the University of Wisconsin system or any of its divisions. The truth is I drive our administration as crazy as I possibly can -- from our own local dean up to the Chancellor's office. It's part of my job.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Cure for Christmas affluenza.

Hi everyone,

Yep, getting ready for final exams and a cold clobbered me last week.

This week, I'm thinking about how badly we've screwed up Christmas. :^)

Saturday's column:

Seasonal shopping got you down? Here’s a cure for Christmas affluenza

Got Christmas affluenza? There’s a cure.

If you’ve ventured into the maelstrom of traffic and survived the angry, exhausted shoppers thronging the malls, Christmas shopping begins to look like a psychological disorder. Call it shoppaholism or affluenza.

We’ve watched the contagion spread for years: Christmas presents have replaced Christmas spirit, the true message of the season swallowed by the cocaine of commercialism. The news we hear is not about Peace on Earth but about frantic holiday shoppers who seemed to believe a new TV was more important than the seasonal temp worker they trampled to death. Maybe everyone is infected.

This illness, spread mainly through advertising, has become an annual Christmas epidemic, like the flu. Our entire retail economy now depends on everyone buying stuff for Christmas. How’s that for irony?

Here’s some more: St. Nicolas is the patron saint of merchants.

Does it all make sense now?

And don’t forget, the Christmas holiday began as a marketing tactic. During the first few centuries AD, most Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on Jan. 6, but around 400 AD the date was permanently moved to Dec. 25.

Why? Public relations.

The early church moved Christmas in order to tap the seasonal popularity of a bunch of other Roman festivals. Dec. 25, the winter solstice under the old Julian calendar, was crowded with holidays, most famously, the Saturnalia, held to honor Saturn (aka “Cronus” or Time, a party we now hold on New Year’s Eve – you know, the Old Year carrying a scythe replaced by the diapered, New Year baby during ritual revelry).

Another party held each year paid tribute to a god called Sol Invictus (“the unconquered sun” who returned, after the longest night of the year, bringing Spring with him). And don’t forget the massive members-only bash for followers of Mithras, the Zoroastrian savior deity who ascended into heaven to judge the quick and the dead. Christianity joined this parade and, by 500 AD, took it over.

There’s another, old-fashioned, name for this perennial affluenza, something well documented and diagnosed by scholars for nearly 2,000 years. It’s other name is greed.

Greed turns out to be pretty interesting, especially when you start to think about it, as early Christian scholars did, as a kind of illness.

The earliest Christian scholars put greed in their Top 10 (OK, Top 7) list of capital sins because of a peculiar quality the top seven share.

Their diagnosis? Greed is not bad merely because of the damage it does to others, but primarily because of the damage it does to the person who is greedy. Greed is even worse for the greedy than it is for others.

How does that make any sense? Greed is bad because it encourages us to believe something that harms us personally; it encourages us to believe that money is more important than people or, worse, that owning things is better than the (much) harder work of pursuing a spiritual life. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed threatened human happiness because in it “man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”

Bad idea, that.

Fortunately, there’s a well-established cure for this spiritual, and psychological, illness. The antidote, the preventive vaccine, is charity. Charity, by definition, is the love we develop for others when we realize, deeply and completely, that we’re all in the same boat. Charity cancels out the psychologically and spiritually corrosive effects of greed by reminding us that people are more important than possessions and by inoculating us against the addictive and pernicious belief that simply owning things will make us happy.

So, this year, before you expose yourself to too much of the affluenza virus, get your Christmas flu shot. Give yourself a shot of charity by giving to charity.

You can take the cure, and help your neighbors, right here in West Bend. The “Give at Home” program through the United Way of Washington County funds 35 local programs: from Red Cross services to the military, to the Full Shelf Food Pantry, to the Threshold, to Friends of Abused Families.

Ninety-eight percent of all the money they raise stays here in Washington County. If you’re starting to feel a case of sniffles coming on after an overdose of Christmas shopping, head off your affluenza. Give today to the United Way of Washington County, P.O. Box 304, West Bend, WI 53095.

You’ll feel a lot better – and you’ll be a lot better, too.

All it takes is a little light, a little Yule, and a little mead and mistletoe for fuel.

You can do it.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

West Bend is finally turning ‘Barton blue’

Hi everyone,

Saturday's column.

I see national politics is still simmering on the front burner of our local opinion page. Some of my fellow columnists are busily reconstructing Mr. Obama as a centrist others while others are varnishing Mr. Bush’s otherwise disastrous career with a glossy coat of compassionate conservativism. In stark contrast to these larger-than-local insights, I’ve been thinking about that new paint on the West Bend water tower.

It started like this: driving back from Minneapolis on Saturday we stopped for lunch at the Norske Nook in Osseo. Osseo is a cute little town but, apart from offering weary travelers a rest stop with pie (and those delicious hot sandwiches with gravy your gramma used to make), there is not much to the place – except this: Osseo has a snazzy water tower. It’s the typical mushroom shaped bulb, but it has the words “Osseo Est. 1857” written in the snappiest whiplash-causing two-color font you’ve ever seen. I got excited about being in Osseo solely on the basis of their font selection. “Wow,” I thought. “Osseo!”

Now remember, I’m talking about Osseo, Wisconsin. No matter. The pizzazz in that font made me feel like I’d been somewhere.

OK, so have you noticed the new paint on the main West Bend tower? Does our font selection strike anyone as snazzy? Does it make you think, “Wow, West Bend!”

Me neither.

The font on our utility bills is more inspiring than the font on the city’s water tower.

I felt like we weren’t keeping up with the Joneses. I mean, what does it say about West Bend that Osseo has a cooler water tower than we do – not to mention Eagle and Oconto Falls? (They have smiley faces on theirs. Really. In fact, turns out there are entire Web sites devoted to photos of water towers with smiley faces on them. Surely, another sign that the end times are upon us. The mark of the beast?)

I felt better about this, however, after talking to one of the guys at West Bend’s Public Works Department. He patiently answered my water tower related questions even though this rotten cold I have made it hard to concentrate. (Thanks Jim!)

It is possible that water towers are not an important part of your day but, you know, when you drive by them every day you begin to identify them as landmarks for where you live. You start to take them personally. My water tower, the Barton water tower, is prominently blue and that distinguished us from the rest of West Bend.

After the main tower was re-painted and the shroud was removed to reveal a color selection identical to Barton’s, I thought “Ha, maybe West Bend just wants to be more like Barton.” Not true, alas. All of West Bend‘s water towers are scheduled to be repainted “Barton blue” when their time comes. (Jim didn’t call it that, but that’s what I’m planning to call it from now on.)

I also asked about the boring BLOCK LETTER font selection and mustered all the irritable-citizen-complains-to-publicworks I could. Unfortunately, the explanation made sense.

Are you sitting down?

It cost $435,000 to paint the main water tower this year. Seriously. And nearly half the cost was in the labor required to install and manage the protective shroud. The name in block letters was included in the price, but fancier graphics would’ve cost thousands and thousands of dollars more in labor.

I had some sticker shock thinking about spending half a million dollars every 20 years to paint these tanks but, it turns out, they earn their keep. Have you seen the cell phone antennae stuck all over the city water towers? The city rents that space to the cell phone companies for serious money.

In 2008, (drum roll) $120,555.

So, I’m torn about this. On the one hand it feels like buying a car. You think, “Hey, it’s pretty darned expensive already, so why not get the moon roof and a nicer stereo?” On the other hand, we are talking about spending tax dollars for a font on a water tower. Saving thousands of dollars means a new plow, more salt or sand or maybe a new squad car or fire truck.

Font or fire truck? That is the question.

And yet, I keep thinking about Osseo.

I know I know. With this kind of hard hitting commentary what's next, kittens?

Hmmm. Maybe socialist kittens.


Monday, December 01, 2008

It's official: U.S. in a recession since December 2007 - Dec. 1, 2008

Hi everyone,

Only people who lived in Manhattan didn't know about this.

It's official: U.S. in a recession since December 2007 - Dec. 1, 2008

My only surprise is that they didn't endorse another $100 billion in bailouts for Executive bonuses... but then, my cynicism is getting away from me.