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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, September 28, 2023

Grad school reform poorly presented but worthwhile

Grad-school reform has recently become the talk of Madison. Front-page stories and town-hall series have thrust provost Paul DeLuca's proposal into the public eye. Currently Martin Cadwallader, dean of the grad school, is in charge of both graduate education and university research. DeLuca's plan would add a vice chancellor to take up the research part. While this appears to be a feasible idea, the provost failed to justify it to the entire UW-Madison community.

It's beyond doubt that our grad school needs some changes. DeLuca brought up the same proposal years ago but didn't gain enough momentum. Now, with accumulating problems in the program, he is standing behind the lectern again. This time, he has a more attentive audience and fancy slides, but he still hasn't explained why adding a top-level position would rejuvenate the entire structure. Many issues he mentioned can be readily addressed by lower-level administrators. For example, UW-Madison's animal use operations came close to severe probation because of underequipped facilities. Why can't the person directly in charge of the program fix this problem? Why, in this case, do we need a top official who is unlikely to have the expertise to dig into specific details? To some skeptical faculty members and students, another new vice chancellor would just further complicate the administrative bureaucracy.

To convince 60,000 people at UW-Madison, DeLuca first has to prove he is among the most knowledgeable about higher education reforms. But when asked what we could learn from peer universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, the provost paused for a while and eventually said, ""We should streamline our system.""

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Streamline? Sorry, I still don't get it. The verb has been so abused that it could pair up with anything and still not present a real solution.

Obviously, DeLuca prefers another persuasion strategy: Glorify your plan if you want to push it through. But sometimes, the glazing can be too cloying. At a town-hall meeting, I asked him how his proposal would directly benefit graduate students. After pondering for 10 seconds, he told me it could curb academic dishonesty. Well, DeLuca, we have seven associate deans and six assistant deans in the graduate school alone. If they don't even bother to tackle issues of academic misconduct, how can we expect a higher official to make those problems a priority? If the plan has little to do with students, please just say it. There's no need to magnify your proposal into a universal blessing covering everybody.

Also, there's no need to shy away from the truth about the vice chancellor position: we're hiring a lobbyist. Washington said the same thing when DeLuca went there. Lobbying? That might be the last thing our provost wants to hear. Both he and Martin are concerned that UW doesn't have enough presence in D.C. to formulate relationships with federal agencies. As a result, the university may be left out of consideration when it comes to national research projects. For the new position, enhancing communication with the federal government would be high on the agenda. So far, I don't see any difference between an expert lobbyist and our prospective vice chancellor. Actually, ""lobbying"" looks like a pertinent summary of the new official's responsibility.

Despite these public relations flaws, DeLuca's plan could nonetheless be a decent solution. Currently in the graduate school 146 programs offer master's degrees and another 110 offer doctoral degrees. The task of coordinating all the educational efforts is already intimidating, not to mention research enterprises. It is perfectly legitimate if Cadwallader needs someone to share his burden.

Some faculty members are more concerned with the costs of this proposal, labeling it as a ""Cadillac"" fix. According to DeLuca himself, the reorganized structure would cost the university $600,000 to $800,000 per year once implemented. These figures may look dazzling at first sight. But let's just do a simple cost-benefit analysis. If this gets the university even one extra federal grant, the new position would probably offset all these expenses.

DeLuca has offered a novel solution for UW-Madison. He just needs to be more honest about the ""why"" and ""how"" by dropping official rhetoric. Basically, all his plan wants to say is this: Cadwallader is overwhelmed by too much work. For UW's sake, he needs some help.

Qi Gu is a junior majoring in journalism. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to

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