Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

Chancellor Carlos Santiago is trying to transform the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from its long-time image as a commuter school into a more traditional college setting, where many of the students live on campus.

To improve the school and extend its impact on the community, Santiago wants to increase UWM’s annual spending on research from about $30 million now to about $100 million by 2015. However, instead of trying to duplicate the bio-technology research done at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Santiago says he is more interested in partnering with Milwaukee area businesses, focusing on research that can be used by existing corporations.

Santiago recently discussed UWM’s future with Small Business Times reporter Eric Decker. The following are excerpts of that conversation.

SBT: Is UWM now the default school of choice for many in-state students because of Madison’s (tight) admissions policies?
Santiago: “I don’t know if it’s because of Madison’s admissions policies, but certainly we are increasingly a destination institution. Our freshmen are now coming from all over the state. Dane County is one of the fastest-growing counties that is sending us students. And we’ve now changed in the sense that we now are disproportionately a residential campus as proposed to a commuter institution first. At the same time, this last year we surpassed Madison in the number of Wisconsin resident undergraduate students as well as graduate students. We have 28,000 students, Madison has 41,000. Sixty-five percent of Madison’s students are Wisconsin residents, and around 95 percent of our students are Wisconsin residents.”

SBT: Why do you think that’s happened?
Santiago: “Madison’s enrollment has slowed, and it’s been pretty flat. If you look across the system over the last five years, 80 percent of the UW system’s enrollment growth has been at one campus – here. I think now we’ve pretty much hit our limit in terms of new freshmen. We’re looking to keep our freshman class pretty flat. Our enrollment is still going to be higher because we’re going to improve retention. We’re going to get to 30,000 pretty soon. Last year, we enrolled 4,700 new freshmen. We have 2,700 beds on campus. We received over 12,000 applications for those 2,700 beds. There are very good students that decide not to come here because we cannot offer them space (to live on campus). We lose very good students to that. Even though the quality of the student body has continued to go up, it would go up even more if in fact we had the space.”

SBT: How big of an enrollment is too big? Is it too big already?
Santiago: “We’re close to that. If you look in terms of facilities, we’ve really gone too far. We have at this point 28,000 students on 90 acres of land. Madison has 41,000 students on 900 acres of land. Green Bay has 5,000 students on 700 acres of land. We are the most densely populated campus of the entire system, and that’s a real challenge for us. We’re in an urban environment and we’re in the biggest city, so we accept some of that. But the truth is this footprint is pretty much exhausted. We are building new residence halls. In those residence halls, we’ll have 488 additional beds up in the fall of 2007. And Kenilworth will open this fall with 300 plus beds. What I would like to do is to get at least the appropriate number of beds to give every first-year student that wants to live in a university-run facility the opportunity. That doesn’t mean they all want to. I’d like to have that option so that those 12,000 applications, where good students are saying everything is good about this institution except I don’t have a place to live on campus or in a campus-managed environment. I’d like that to go away. I think one of the reasons our retention and graduation rates are lower than some of the other urban institutions is precisely because we don’t have enough housing. I think it makes a big difference to student involvement.”

SBT: Where would you put another student housing facility?
Santiago: “Every week, a developer will come and say, ‘I’ve got some land, why don’t you consider thisω’ We’re trying to do it as rationally as possible. We’re looking for areas that really make sense, areas that are on the transportation line, areas that are not in the middle of a neighborhood, or are remote.”

SBT: With Madison getting so many grants for research and being a hub of bio-research, does it make sense for UWM to aggressively target research? Does UWM risk playing a “me too” game? Or is the university trying to do its own thing?
Santiago: “The answer is do its own thing. This notion of if Madison is growing their research, then there’s no room for Milwaukee, is totally ridiculous in the knowledge-based economy. Milwaukee is a top 50 city. One of the problems I have with Milwaukee, and we’re trying to remedy, is that a top 50 city does not have a top 100 research university.
“Our challenge is how do we build a research infrastructure that supports economic development and quality of life of this community, knowing that we can’t replicate exactly what Madison has doneω The way I think we can do it is we need some state investment. There’s no doubt. Without some state investment, it will not work. I have said it’s going to take a minimum of $300 million over the next six years to get this institution moving in that direction in a big way. One hundred million of that, we’re raising ourselves. A second $100 million of that we’re re-allocating ourselves. We’re doing $200 million of the $300 million, and we’ll continue to do that.
“What I envision is about a $100 million investment (from the state) over six years. People still gulp at that. But $70 million of that is capital, which is bonded dollars, which the state can get. We need a new engineering building, an applied science building, a business incubator, and $70 million would get us on the road to develop those. The $30 million has to go to the base. It’s $10 million over the next biennial, $10 million in the biennial after that and $10 million in the one after that. That’s to hire faculty, that’s to pay graduate students a competitive stipend and hire support staff. And it really is focusing on faculty in the sciences and engineering.
“If we make those investments and make them very carefully and take those state dollars, which is not a lot, and we leverage those dollars with the local research and development that is already occurring in Milwaukee, we have to have conversations with companies large and small.
“GE Healthcare, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, we have to sit down with them and say, ‘Look, Milwaukee’s strengths remain advanced manufacturing and emerging strengths in terms of biomedical engineering and biomedical sciences.’ If we look at those areas and look at potential partners, we can take those scarce state dollars and say we’re going to cluster-hire faculty in areas that make sense not only to us from a faculty perspective, but to you in terms of your research and development. So if we can do it that way, then I think we can get our research growth moving in the right direction.”

SBT: When there are so many other needs in Milwaukee, like job training, that the university needs to meet, why is research so important?
Santiago: “You need to attract talented people. And you need to have a research university in the midst of the community that’s going to attract those people. Research is a little different than building widgets, in the sense that when you have scientists together and you add another scientist to a group, it doesn’t mean that you get, in economic terms, diminishing returns. It’s just the opposite.
“More and more scientists together tend to feed on each other, and the number of ideas and creative interaction that occurs just grows exponentially. Part of the problem that UWM has is – we are a very good research university across the board – but we have not built the funded research side of the operation, which is the sciences and engineering. And we just don’t have the critical mass. It’s too small.
“So, you have to get more and more researchers in that area, science and engineering, and that will engender a lot of new ideas, new technologies will come out, new innovations, you will start commercializing those innovations, and that will create jobs. A lot of the students that will be graduating will be running those companies or starting those companies or moving forward in their own areas of expertise. That’s what our hope is.”

SBT: Grade yourself on how you think the university has progressed on the research front since your arrival.
Santiago: “I think I’d have to evaluate it in different terms. My objective was, in the first year, to learn about Milwaukee, learn about the university, the state, state legislature, really to take an environmental scan of everything. The second year, we wanted to get our message out about growing research with access. And I think we’ve succeeded in getting the message out. I think, increasingly, people understand what we’re trying to do, the press understands it. We’ve had people tell us we’ve had better reporting on UWM than they’ve seen in 30 years. I think that’s all very positive.
“We still have not started to really put the building blocks in place. We need to get the cluster-hire faculty in, we need to start getting more research dollars. It’s grown, but not at the rate I’d like it to grow. We need more facilities. We need better facilities. That really hasn’t gelled. It’s a long-term process.”

SBT: Is merging with UW-Waukesha a good idea?
Santiago: “It’s to be determined. I met with the president of the UW Extension and two-year campuses, and we have a group now that’s looking at three different options. One is to expand programming in Waukesha to provide more opportunities for students. We would provide those opportunities there. We have a number of degree opportunities there now, we’re looking to expand those degree programs.
“Model number two is Waukesha creating its own four-year campus. Model three is a full merger between Milwaukee and Waukesha. We’re working on some of the numbers to see how that plays out.
“What I’ve said all along is Waukesha is the third-largest county in the state and among the fastest-growing counties. It really does need direct access to four-year degrees that the UW system provides. And it should have access to those degree programs. We are willing to be part of the solution in one way or another, whether it’s with the expanded model or a merged model. If it makes sense, we would certainly do it.”

SBT: How can UWM improve its external perception so that it is viewed as a highly desirable institutionω
Santiago: “I think in many respects it already has. Our degree is very reputable, our graduates do very well. If you look at the campaign co-chairs for our fundraising campaign, you’ve got the presidents of Northwestern Mutual, Harley Davidson, We Energies and M&I Bank. They’re all undergraduates of UWM, and some of them have graduate degrees and some have honorary degrees as well.
“The things we need to do so we move up in the U.S. News and World Report rankings or the other prestige indicators that universities have are very simple. It’s all metrics. We need to increase our retention rates. We need to increase our graduation rates. We need to reduce the student/faculty ratio. We need to increase the percentage of alumni giving. If we do those things, we will skyrocket in those prestige indicators.”

SBT: What is the status of the name change proposal
? Do you like the hyphenated name?
Santiago: “I can’t say I like a hyphenated name. What the name would be if I were to change it, I don’t know. People think a chancellor is able to change a name. On a campus, a chancellor has a lot of influence, but has very little authority to do many things.”

SBT: Who makes that decision?
Santiago: “I think the decision would have to be made following a lot of input. Students would have to be the primary ones to move a change. Who are the ones who contacted me when the name change came upω Students and alums. You don’t want to make a mistake. Names do mean something. I think a name should reflect the institution and where it’s going. So I’m pretty much staying neutral. I like Milwaukee in there somewhere. I think we are a reflection of our city.”

SBT: What effect has the school’s highly successful men’s basketball program had on raising UWM’s profile?
Santiago: “I think it’s made a big difference. We couldn’t pay for the publicity we’ve gotten over the last two years when they got to the NCAA tournament. It’s national exposure. When you’re on the cover of USA Today, that does reach a large audience. It’s been very helpful. Athletics is one of the biggest fundraising units that we have, which is also very important. I think it’s had something to do with the growing interest in UWM. And I think it’s all been to the good.”

SBT: What is the status of your contract?

Santiago: “I don’t have a contract like that. I serve at the pleasure of the (UW System) president. What I have is an offer letter which basically determines salary and some other things. There is no contract. They could remove me any time the president wanted to.”

Vote of Confidence

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago, like all of the other UW system chancellors, serves at the pleasure of Kevin Reilly, president of the UW system. Reilly said he is pleased with the job Santiago has done.
“He’s doing a very good job,” Reilly said. “He will be there as long as we can keep him. I’m impressed with his vision for the future, and he’s bringing in the people with it, the faculty, staff and students.”
Reilly heaped praise upon Santiago for his work with Milwaukee’s business community, particularly the involvement of four Milwaukee-area CEOs who are spearheading a campaign to raise $100 million for the university. Reilly also said Santiago’s emphasis on research at UWM is a step in the right direction.
“I think he can do this,” Reilly said. “The strengths he wants to develop at UWM will complement what Madison is already doing. For any metropolitan region to be successful, (its universities) need to be an engine working with the other institutions in the region to propel the metro area forward.”

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