By Tom Still
MADISON – Don’t suggest to UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago that research projects on his campus will get ahead by pilfering from programs at UW-Madison. He’ll probably laugh at you.
“Let’s get real,” Santiago told listeners at a recent Madison forum on the future of higher education in Wisconsin. “(UW-Milwaukee research programs) are not competing with UW-Madison. These are institutions at different periods of their evolution.”
Likewise, don’t suggest to Santiago that UW-Milwaukee should aspire to being little more than a sleepy commuter college. He wants the Milwaukee campus to rapidly triple the size of its research programs – they stand at roughly $30 million today — and he believes a growing research base is vital to the health of the Milwaukee economy.
“A region with a major research university in its midst is invariably a growing region,” Santiago told an audience gathered by the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Post-Secondary Education, which is examining the relationship between higher education and the economy. “You need to have a research university that is pushing the envelope.”
Some might argue that Wisconsin already has such a university in UW-Madison, which conducts more than $700 million in research every year and routinely ranks among the nation’s academic research and development leaders. Santiago won’t dispute the prominence of UW-Madison – in fact, he’ll favorably compare it to the world’s best. But he also believes Milwaukee needs a stronger research foundation of its own, working collaboratively with Madison, to drive its regional economy.
“The truth is that UW-Madison has transformed this region (in south-central Wisconsin,” Santiago said. “Another institution must do that in Milwaukee.”
The former provost of the State University of New York campus in Albany, Santiago came to UW-Milwaukee with an announced record of working with private business to build public-private research partnerships. He aspires to do the same in Milwaukee, in combination with major firms and other research institutions in southeast Wisconsin.
It’s not that UW-Madison’s economic development reach fails to touch Milwaukee – the campus works with hundreds of businesses there – but its start-up “apples” don’t fall far from the tree. Most new companies with ties to the UW-Madison can be found within 50 miles of the campus, Santiago said, a pattern common to research universities everywhere.
“There is a location reach in terms of research universities,” Santiago said, and UW-Madison’s reach for start-up companies doesn’t cover the full 80 miles between Bascom Hill on the isthmus to the UW-Milwaukee campus on the city’s east side.
What will it take for UW-Milwaukee to expand its research base? Santiago believes partnerships are important, especially with other research leaders such as the Medical College of Wisconsin. He’s also enhanced competition within the university, insisting that research projects must involve multiple departments in order to receive major funding. The campus is also deep into a $100-million fundraising campaign aimed at alumni and friends.
But Santiago is quick to admit UW-Milwaukee’s research facilities are behind the times (“They’re really not appropriate”), that its doctoral program offerings are thin for a campus of its size (20 programs and 28,000 students), and that it is running out of space.
“We are literally landlocked,” Santiago said, on a campus with only 90 acres of land in a crowded urban setting. UW-Madison spans 933 acres in central Madison.
Space problems at UW-Milwaukee are why some civic leaders are pushing for a consolidation of UW-Milwaukee and the two-year UW campus in Waukesha, which has ample land and is located in the heart of one of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing counties. It also happens to be close to GE Health Care, the largest high-tech employer in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has a “western” research pole in Madison and Marshfield, home of the Marshfield Clinic. It needs a larger “eastern” research pole in Milwaukee. If Carlos Santiago is successful, UW-Milwaukee will be a big part of the state’s multi-polar tech economy.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council ( He is the former associate editor of the WisconsinState Journal in Madison.