Chris Rickert: Cross good; King maybe better?

2014-01-11T09:00:00Z Chris Rickert: Cross good; King maybe better?CHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6198

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents went with a more traditional choice for System president in former UW-Extension chancellor Ray Cross, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t end up being an excellent hire.

Still, it would have been interesting to see the board go with the obvious outlier among the three who were publicly announced as finalists for the job: Robert L. King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

One look at the Wisconsin Legislature of today and the likely Legislature of tomorrow suggests an outlier might be exactly the kind of medicine that would do the System good — even if those in the System wouldn’t want to admit it.

King, an attorney, didn’t get a very positive reception among some faculty and some of higher education’s traditional Democratic allies.

Lacking the Ph.D. and the background in academic ladder-climbing that are typical for budding university bigwigs, King would have been “problematic” for some faculty, according to UW-Madison professor Barry Orton.

“As you probably understand, university faculty whose professional lives are organized around the teaching and research that form the foundation for the granting of degrees have a strong bias for university leaders with earned degrees,” he told me.

King’s stint on an American Legislative Exchange Council task force some 25 years ago, while a Republican New York state lawmaker, also set off alarm bells.

For the uninitiated, ALEC is a group that brings politicians and corporations together to craft conservative and corporate-friendly model bills and has become something of the root of all evil for certain people on the political left.

Never mind that King worked well with Democratic lawmakers in Kentucky or that he gained praise for his collaboration with a coalition of interests on a 2013 report on college affordability and graduation rates for HCM Strategists, a Washington, D.C., think tank and advocacy group.

Kristin Conklin, a founding partner with HCM, called King “thoughtful and careful” and “nonpartisan.”

But practically speaking, King’s lack of acceptably high levels of book-learning, along with the bit of Republican blood running through his veins, might not have been such bad things.

The feelings state Republicans have about the over-educated “elitists” who run the System can be a tad self-conscious and defensive at times.

Or as Senate President Mike Ellis put it in one outburst during the flap over the System’s financial reserves last year: “They all think they’re Ph.D.s and we ought to be working at Jiffy Lube. ... The Legislature’s a heck of a lot smarter than they’re giving us credit for.”

Who better to squeeze money and other concessions out of Wisconsin Republicans than a former Republican lawmaker who doesn’t have to be begrudgingly addressed as “Doctor” — especially given that Republican gerrymandering means the Legislature could remain Republican for a long time to come?

Heck, with a crowd like the one in control at the Capitol these days, having ALEC on your resume may well be a feather in a prospective president’s mortarboard.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. rockysfan
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    rockysfan - January 13, 2014 11:57 am
    ALEC is running enough states, we don't need them running our higher education too! Got it wrong again, Rickert. Why am I not surprised.
  2. Cowboy99540
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    Cowboy99540 - January 11, 2014 4:34 pm
    Dear Readers:

    Wisconsin State Senate President Mike Ellis didn't get it quite right, when he opined about Ph.D.s. thinking that his brand belonged working at Jiffy Lube, which was an accurate statement nevertheless on his part.

    The reason it was accurate is, because it isn't just people holding higher post graduate degrees whom feel that many Republican State Legislators, in both GOP Legislative Caucuses, definitely belong working on the rack at Jiffy Lube!

    I know that I do, but I also think Scott Walker, who dropped out of college, belongs there grease monkeying with them!

  3. Retired PE
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    Retired PE - January 11, 2014 3:16 pm
    Yeah, right! That's all we need in another high-power job in this state is yet one more person with ties to ALEC no matter how long ago it may have been. Good grief! ALEC has control of the majority of our state reps. including our governor. We don't need an ALEC person heading the UW.
  4. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - January 11, 2014 2:10 pm
    I don't care where the debt came from. We have it and have to deal with it. Soon.
  5. pikerover
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    pikerover - January 11, 2014 11:06 am
    Mid .... Trillions in National debt???? Calculate how much the Reagan/Bush administration's 5 trillion debt increase (more than all the presidents before them combined) would be in today's dollars. This is not totally accurate but very close
  6. mt64
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    mt64 - January 11, 2014 10:13 am
    Actually, I have some concerns about King's current position in Kentucky: I am not simply basing my opinion on actions from years ago. There are other reasons I think Cross was the better candidate, and if you look at Cross's cv (accessible online) you will see that he is not exceptionally liberal either. And my issue with Ellis's outburst is that it claimed that UW employees are elitist and look down on the rest of the state. It is a soundbite that naturally angers everyone who hears it. It is also simply not true. I make significantly less working at UW than I would at similar institutions, but I stay at UW because I love this state. Since 2008 I have received one raise of 1% of my (as mentioned above) significantly low salary compared to the academic market. Dozens of positions at UW have disappeared in recent years with faculty retirements, creating much more work for all remaining faculty to do. But we stay because we love UW and we love this state. Please, in sincerity, tell me what UW has done to deserve our reputation as elitist besides the administration putting monies on reserve that were reported for years to the legislature, until individuals in the legislature chose to be outraged by it last year. Also, please find attached the link to Cross's c.v. The c.v.'s of the other finalists have been removed from the site, unfortunately.
  7. Report Abuse
    - January 11, 2014 9:30 am
    If you call closing a massive deficit, being pulled down then you must consider adding TRILLIONS to our national debt an incredible success. Guess that's why you voted for BO and still don't recognize your error?
  8. Report Abuse
    - January 11, 2014 9:28 am
    So what you mean a candidate that doesn't know how to stay within the liberal playbook and do things the way they always have cannot possibly be considered? Why does Ellis's outburst hold more weight than the thousands at UW striving to maintain? Because he is representing the Millions not at the UW who are striving to maintain! The worst part of your statement is that you automatically assume that since he once, (25 years ago ) worked at a place that you dislike, that he is extreme, despite the fact that numerous people who know and worked with him said he absolutely was not. Remember when being liberal meant accepting and being open to diversity. Now it means exactly the opposite. This is precisely Rickert's point. So glad you reared your ugly head to prove him right in your quest to prove him wrong. LOL
  9. mt64
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    mt64 - January 11, 2014 9:13 am
    Eileen, what specific change do you think the UW needs?
  10. mt64
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    mt64 - January 11, 2014 8:39 am
    No, Chris, no! A candidate who does not understand how universities work from the inside should not head a system. ALEC has policies designed to dismantle state education, and King was an officer in ALEC. And no, Chris, no! A few right-wing legislators (or legislators of any stripe) should not have their talking points and ideologies pandered to in deciding who will run one of the best university systems in the country. Why does Mike Ellis's outburst hold more weight for you than the voice of thousands of people who daily strive to maintain the UW? And for the record, yes, I do work at UW, and no, the faculty do not look down on the people of this state, but many of us do have issues with legislators who paint us as out of touch elitists. We are teachers because we love teaching. Many of us chose to work in the UW system because we believe in public education. Isn't it a given that we have a pretty useful opinion of what makes a good system president? And shouldn't the UW system be beyond pandering to one extreme wing of the legislature or the other?
  11. Eileen Wright
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    Eileen Wright - January 11, 2014 8:14 am
    Good take on this situation ChrisRickert. I do think it's unfortunate that the Chicken Little's with their straw man (ALEC) managed to keep the University, once again, from change which would have done it a lot of good.
  12. marlori
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    marlori - January 11, 2014 7:40 am
    Or just take your chances that the university system could be pulled down as the rest of the state has been. Lack of academic focus and commitment to research and squeezing money-- how could that possibly hurt a once great university? An awfully big what if for our already suffering state.
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