The Boogeyman and the UW System

During his more than five years as SUNY’s chancellor, King was accused of putting the governor’s interests first and focusing more on meeting Pataki’s budget goals than keeping tuition low. Under King, tuition for state residents at the four-year colleges rose 28%, according to a profile in the New York Times published after his departure.


That as State University of New York chancellor he increased tuition and may have kissed the governor’s rear end should be the case against Robert L. King, one of three finalists for UW System President, but at least in liberal discourse it’s not. Instead he’s being lambasted for his ties to ALEC, experience which is insignificant in the context of a long and varied career in politics and in New York higher ed.

It’s a sign of the smallness of the arena in which The Left pushes the debate.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s basically a forum where conservative politicians and business interests create templates for legislation, presumably that would benefit those businesses. The fact that this blogger works for two businesses and owns one himself notwithstanding, it’s the right of citizens to gather and petition the government.

ALEC has become synonymous among The Left with KOCH, two four-letter words that not only fit nicely onto bumper stickers but are small enough to put into your pocket, easily accessible anytime one needs a dose of outrage.

Readily-recognized boogeymen have become a sort of pharmaceutical antidote to joy and contentment for The Left. The presence of Robert King in the final three and those four letters on his resume are enough to disqualify him from contention for many liberals. Fortunately they’re no longer running the Capitol.

Of real concern is that Mr. King may have demonstrated a capitulation to politics when he ran the SUNY system, bowing to pressure from the governor to stay in budget by cuts or hikes. That led to the latter, tuition hikes, a trend we’ve seen quite enough of in Wisconsin. But here the governor and Republicans who control the legislature are on record opposing tuition hikes, placing pressure on the UW System of just the opposite sort.

All three candidates are qualified. Ray Cross, the current chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extention, has been a top-tier leader in the UW System. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said in a statement that his appointment would “go a long way in restoring trust and communication that has been lost between the state Legislature and the UW System.”

Peter Garland has spent his higher education career in Pennsylvania. He began in the state’s Department of Education, moving on to run what they call the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. For eight years he has been executive vice president and chief operating officer of the state system.

All three are well qualified to replace outgoing Kevin Reilly, who’s leaving in the wake of a quasi-scandal in which the UW System was found to be essentially hoarding money while raising tuition for years. That students were being gouged with double-the-rate-of-inflation tuition hikes year after year while Democrats slashed funding for the UW System biennium after biennium was never a complaint of the left.

Nor should it have been, evidently, as college kids keep voting Democrat, though some, if a minority, still learn the value of cynicism and question the outrage bites they’re fed.

When companies look to replace talent at the top of the pyramid they don’t often hire from within. Instead they draw in new blood with new and different ideas, as the JS notes happened when former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Janet Napolitano were both tapped to run educational bureaucracies for their unique perspective. “If the regents decide they want an outsider, and an unconventional pick like Daniels and Napolitano for a different perspective on the job, King will be their man.”

Whether the Board of Regents hires Robert King, Ray Cross, or Peter Garland, one hopes the decision ignores boogeymanism and chooses who it thinks is the best choice to move the UW System forward.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.