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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

UW-Milwaukee’s Expansion Plans Move Forward

Engineering school will still move to Wauwatosa

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Although philanthropist Michael Cudahy has pulled his reported multimillion-dollar pledge to UW-Milwaukee for its planned engineering campus in Wauwatosa, the university is continuing to expand its engineering resources and promote its partnerships with the local business community.

The university plans to purchase roughly 89 acres in Wauwatosa from Milwaukee County for its Innovation Park, said UWM spokesman Tom Luljak. The site will include an academic facility for the engineering school’s graduate classroom and research work. Many faculty members will have— or already have—joint appointments with the Medical College of Wisconsin. Undergrads will stay put at the main Kenwood campus.

In addition to the academic facility, Luljak said, the university envisions a research park that would provide space for private companies’ research facilities. “By having them in physical proximity to our faculty and graduate and Ph.D. students, we believe there will be an enormous amount of synergy and leveraging of investments that exist both on the public and private sides,” Luljak said.

The university hasn’t gotten any formal commitments from companies, but Luljak said many have expressed interest and are waiting for the land acquisition to be finalized before committing to the site.

The university’s real estate foundation would purchase the land, but Luljak said the details regarding space for the private corporations haven’t been worked out yet.

“We’ve said all along that the private companies that are located out there, that those facilities would be on the tax roll,” Luljak said.

Why Wauwatosa?

While UWM is continuing to pursue its Wauwatosa-based engineering campus, some have questioned its plans to expand outside of the city.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said Cudahy’s withdrawal of support was an opportunity for the city to persuade UWM to locate the engineering campus Downtown, closer to its Kenwood campus. He said he always felt that Cudahy was the driving force behind the decision to locate outside of the city.

“As far as I’m concerned, the process has been reopened,” Bauman said.

Luljak said he didn’t want to comment on a donor’s actions, or whether the university had a written agreement with Cudahy to secure his donation for the land. But he said that a Downtown campus had been considered and was rejected.

“That’s an argument that has been made in the past and nothing has changed in terms of what Downtown does or does not have to offer as far as the engineering campus is concerned,” Luljak said. “Remember what our strengths are in biomedical engineering, infomatics, advanced manufacturing. Where Downtown are there partners in industry who have a significant presence vis-a-vis their research operations? No one has been able to answer that question affirmatively.”

Will It Work?

Also up for debate is UWM’s plan to transform into an “entrepreneurial university” that becomes more reliant on academic-corporate partnerships.

Partnerships with private companies will help to fill the shrinking funding from the state, Luljak added. State funding has lowered from about 50% of UWM’s budget to about 25% and dropping. “We have to find new ways to get the resources that will allow the institution to grow,” Luljak said.

UWM has already hired 21 engineering faculty and just launched an Institute for Industrial Innovation on its main campus, which will be transitioned to the Wauwatosa site. The institute is billed as a “portal for industry, medical and university researchers and economic agencies” to more easily engage with UWM’s engineers. Undergraduate students are already working on product development for local companies, including GE Healthcare, ReGENco LLC, Badger Meter, Eaton Corp., Briggs & Stratton, and Traffic and Parking Control Co. (TAPCO).

Carroll University trustee JoAnne Brandes, who served as a senior vice president of JohnsonDiversey Inc. and as a UW regent, said that she encourages academic partnerships with private industries, since they can drive innovation and enhance students’ experience before they enter the workforce.

“It’s a win-win,” Brandes said of academic-business partnerships. “It’s all about increasing innovation in this country, which is something we need badly.”

But professor Marc Levine, of UWM’s Center for Economic Development, has reviewed entrepreneurial universities around the country and claims their economic benefits are oversold, even though some highprofile examples, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have found success.

“Far more typically,” Levine writes, “the commercialization of academic research and investments in university technology transfer have had little discernible impact in reshaping the economic trajectory of cities or regions.”

Levine questioned the university’s investment in a suburban research park, near the already-established Milwaukee County Research Park but far away from areas in the city that are underdeveloped.

“Far from being ‘cash cows’ for fiscally strapped universities, virtually all science parks operate in the red, some incur serious cost overruns in construction, and few deliver significant revenue streams from early stage investments in business startups or intellectual property licenses,” Levine wrote.

Levine was concerned that UWM would be squandering a once-in-a-generation $240 million investment from the state for its master plan.

“In principle there’s nothing wrong with upgrading the engineering program, but don’t sell it as the salvation of the Milwaukee economy and don’t do it in a way that undercuts other important research and educational functions of the university,” Levine told the Shepherd.