by Erik Gunn, photo by Tom Bamberger It was a quiet dinner with friends: Carlos Santiago and Bud Selig, their spouses, another guest or two, and the talk turned to the baseball commissioner’s professional arena. But it was Santiago who stole the show. To the other guests’ amazement, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee chancellor recited the […]
by Erik Gunn, photo by Tom Bamberger
It was a quiet dinner with friends: Carlos Santiago and Bud Selig, their spouses, another guest or two, and the talk turned to the baseball commissioner’s professional arena.
But it was Santiago who stole the show. To the other guests’ amazement, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee chancellor recited the entire starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
From the World Series.
“He could sit there and recount all the plays, the players and the scoring that went on in the series,” recalls Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and a guest that evening. “It was pretty phenomenal.”
The moment cemented in Taylor’s mind an unexpected image of Santiago: “Carlos is a baseball wizard,” she says.
Five years into his stint at UWM, yet still in the early innings of an ambitious game plan to transform the university, the region is watching Santiago to see if he’s another kind of wizard as well.
The past year was a tumultuous one for Santiago. He provoked criticism and concern when he sought a new job in Florida – only to withdraw when it became clear he wouldn’t be picked. The state’s new budget slashed his requested funding by $30 million, killing Santiago’s plan to spend $10 million for additional research faculty and forcing salary freezes and furloughs for remaining faculty at UWM.
Then there was all the drama with über-philanthropist Michael Cudahy, who had a contentious falling out with Santiago over not one, but two projects. Cudahy had promised a $13.5 million donation to buy land in Wauwatosa for a new biomedical engineering campus for UWM near the Medical College of Wisconsin. Cudahy had also bought an exclusive 10-year lease on lakefront land occupied by the old Pieces of Eight restaurant in Downtown Milwaukee. He wanted to turn the site over to UWM for its proposed School of Freshwater Sciences.
But the whole thing turned ugly. News accounts suggested Cudahy was miffed because Santiago didn’t accept his proposed design and timeline for the freshwater sciences building; instead, UWM officials announced they would locate the school elsewhere. In response, media accounts suggested, Cudahy withdrew his promised donation for the Wauwatosa project.
Cudahy, however, has denied the whole scenario, implying he pulled this money because he wasn’t sure the chancellor would be here five years from now, given Santiago’s application for the Florida job. And oddly enough, Santiago buttresses Cudahy’s story, telling Milwaukee Magazine that Cudahy actually withdrew his $13.5 million donation weeks before the university rejected his lakefront plan. Santiago implies that Cudahy pulled the funding because of investment shortfalls he encountered.
Whatever the reasons for the misunderstanding, it was a highly publicized affair, a dustup between two of the city’s most alpha of alpha males. It left Santiago scrambling to replace the Cudahy money while dealing with the brutal state cutbacks. “Still standing, but not standing still,” he gamely summed up the university’s state at his plenary address in September to assembled faculty, staff and friends.
In an interview only hours before the speech, a bullish Santiago predicted he would replace the lost millions from Cudahy. “Actually, we’ve had some people step forward and say, ‘Yeah, I think we can do something to help you acquire that parcel.’ ”
But that’s merely one of the challenges he faces. Santiago has set an enormous agenda – he’s clearly a long-ball hitter – that seems to please the community’s power elite and many faculty members. He’s hit a home run or two. (And has any UWM chancellor ever done that?) But with that big swing, he’s also struck out. On campus, pockets of dissenters have been jeering his aggressive style from the grandstands, criticizing UWM’s turn toward business. Some recall his Florida flirtation and wonder if he’s still angling to be traded up to a bigger, flashier team.
But the undaunted chancellor is working to load the bases and amping up expectations. Even his fans can’t help wondering and worrying: Can he finally connect and hit a grand slam?
From his arrival in 2004, Carlos Santiago has wowed many in Milwaukee. “He has been a gift. He is extraordinarily effective. He’s been a magnificent leader,” says Sheldon Lubar, the investment banker and philanthropist for whom the university renamed its business school as a thank you for Lubar’s $10 million gift in 2006.
“We lucked out when we got him,” gushes real estate mogul and philanthropist Joe Zilber, who’s giving another $10 million to UWM for its new Graduate School of Public Health.
At 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 190 pounds, his hair touched with silver and his suits crisp, Santiago has the air of a prosperous corporate lawyer or CEO rather than an ivory tower academic. Hispanic by heritage and personal identity, he speaks both Spanish and English with no accent. His pleasant tenor voice carries a northeastern twang, soft enough that it doesn’t stand out in Milwaukee and would be equally at home in New York, Chicago or Miami.
Santiago’s style – relaxed, friendly, thoroughly comfortable in his own skin – is key to his popularity. “He’s very humble and down-to-earth,” says Mike Lovell, the UWM Engineering School dean Santiago hired a year ago from the University of Pittsburgh. “He’s very personable and very engaging in discussion.”
Retired physics professor Leonard Parker is another fan. “He has been remarkable in the way he’s been able to connect with other people,” says Parker, one of the first UWM faculty members to cultivate a friendship with Santiago – and someone, he says, to whom Santiago came for advice early on.
Good with a crowd, Santiago is equally persuasive one-on-one, says Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and a fan since he served on the selection committee that picked Santiago in 2004. Sheehy experienced the chancellor’s charisma at close quarters on an economic development trip to Ireland in January 2006. It included Santiago, Gov. Jim Doyle, Mayor Tom Barrett and Cudahy, in whose plane they flew.
Santiago seized the opportunity, engaging the group in discussions of the university’s future and its potential for working with the business community. “There’s a lot of energy and passion behind what he wants to do. He’s not mechanical,” Sheehy says. “He’s good at building relationships, good at communicating his vision, good at understanding what it’s going to take to execute. I don’t see a hole in his game.”
Cudahy would take credit for the trip to Ireland with “my buddy Carlos,” as he described him then. But Santiago may have planted the seed: Five months before the trip occurred, he had begun touting Ireland as a model for how Wisconsin could improve its universities. And the same week of the flight to Ireland, Santiago announced a breathtakingly ambitious plan for UWM: He wanted to raise $300 million in new funding, including increased state funding (which Doyle would support), a huge private fundraising drive (which Sheehy and business leaders embraced) and an increase in research dollars raised by UWM.
All the more amazing was that he wanted to raise all this money for UWM, an underfunded, underrated commuter school with an undistinguished history. UWM traces itself back to 1885, when the Milwaukee Normal School opened at 18th and Wells to train teachers. But the university by its current name was founded in 1956 with the merger of the Wisconsin State College, Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee extension.
As the only public four-year university in the state’s largest city and industrial center, UWM is arguably “the most important institution in southeastern Wisconsin,” says Lubar. Yet UWM has always battled an image of inferiority, especially relative to the flagship UW campus in Madison. ACT scores for the middle 50 percent of incoming UWM freshmen are in the 20-24 range: That’s well behind Madison (26-30) and trails La Crosse (23-26) and Eau Claire (22-26) as well. Fewer than half of UWM’s students graduate in six years (a common problem at commuter schools), compared with nearly 80 percent at Madison. “The biggest challenge we face at UWM is retention,” notes sociology professor William Vélez.
UWM officials and supporters have long chafed at what they see as its second-class treatment by state legislators and the Board of Regents. “UWM has never gotten adequate resources from the state,” says biochemistry professor David Petering. “We’ve had such a focus on Madison, to the exclusion of everyone else, particularly UWM. UWM has suffered for many years.”
The five-year tenure of former Chancellor Nancy Zimpher marked a quantum jump in the university’s image. Zimpher championed “The Milwaukee Idea” to better connect the university with the larger city. Her larger-than-life personality helped her sell the concept and raise UWM’s profile – and won her a job heading the University of Cincinnati in 2003. (Zimpher moved on again this year, and now heads the State University of New York.) But she did little to change the essential institution.
“There was a question about what the long-term direction would be,” says former Chancellor John Schroeder, now a history professor at the university. “Santiago came in and the direction of UWM since then has been quite clear – to go to the next level nationally as a research institution.”
Carlos E. Santiago was born in Puerto Rico, but left with his family at age 3. Santiago’s father, a veteran who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, moved from post to post, changing locations every couple of years.
“I know where I stayed by the military bases where I was located,” Carlos recalls, and ticks off the list: “So it was Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Sill, Okla.; then Bad Kreuznach, Germany; Fort Devens, Mass.; then back to Puerto Rico – Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; Fort Clayton, Panama; Fort Amador, Panama; back to Fort Buchanan – and that was all before high school.”
The wandering taught him to be flexible and a quick study. “You have to get integrated to the situation, a new school, a new community, fairly quickly. You have to have a fast learning curve. When I left the island, I was Spanish-speaking, and now I was thrust into English-speaking schools and Spanish-speaking at home. So I am fully bilingual.”
It was an education in diversity. “It gives you a degree of understanding of other cultures and other areas, because you realize how different people are,” he says. The military-base schools had staff from all over. “In grade school, I could tell whether teachers came from the South or the Midwest or the Northeast, because they had different backgrounds, different accents.
“The negative side is, you don’t create anchors to a particular community. If you ask me, ‘Where’s home?’ Well … Milwaukee’s home right now. I have very few relatives living in Puerto Rico. I have a sister in Maine, I have a brother in Hawaii, I’ve got another brother in Texas, I’ve got family in Florida … so where is home? We’ve got children in New York and New Jersey and now our youngest daughter in Madison. So home is where you are, and home is where people will gravitate to on a holiday.”
So other things became anchors – like the prize baseball card collection he still has. It was appraised at more than $2,000 a few years ago. Though never a resident of California, the rootless child Santiago adopted the Dodgers and idolized pitcher Sandy Koufax. Interestingly, his hero was an outsider of sorts, the era’s only Jewish baseball superstar (who missed the first game of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday). To the joy of young Carlos, Koufax would go on to win two games, including the crucial seventh game.
The young fan got to see some of his heroes up-close during winter games in Puerto Rico. But as an adult, Santiago’s learned to love the home team he’s with: the Tigers when he lived in Detroit, the New York Mets (“I’ve never been a fan of the Yankees!”) during a long Albany, N.Y., sojourn, and here, the Brewers.
A B student in high school, Santiago says it took him until college to find intellectual challenge. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor,” he says, so in his first semester at the University of Miami, he dutifully took biology and chemistry – and hated them. A course in economics – then unknown to him – changed his direction. “I liked the mix of theory and quantitative analysis and social construction,” he says. He was only an average math student, but that didn’t matter: “I liked the way economics could take a concept and you could visualize it mathematically, either graphically or in some designed or formulaic way.”
But it was a work of science fiction by Isaac Asimov that especially sparked his interest: “I remember reading the Foundation series and how these social scientists managed to sort of project the future on these very elaborate mathematical models. And I thought that was the neatest thing in the world.”
Looking back at the idealism of those days, he chuckles. “As economists, we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble, because we didn’t do a very good job of predicting this economy. We’re arrogant enough to think, ‘Oh, we can predict social behavior and human behavior based on our assumptions of rationality.’ I think what many economists have had to realize is there are a lot of these issues we can’t predict very well.”
Shortly after graduation, Santiago married Azara Santiago-Rivera, a fellow Puerto Rican and Army brat he met in 11th grade. (She’s become a scholar in her own right, an educational psychologist who joined the UWM faculty when her husband was hired.) Santiago went on to earn graduate degrees, culminating with a doctorate from Cornell in 1982 while he was a junior faculty member at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1988, he joined the faculty of the University at Albany, part of the State University of New York.
After a lifetime of wandering, he finally settled down in one place. Curiously, it was in Albany where Santiago got in touch with his ethnic heritage. One of his earlier jobs as an economist had been studying labor market data for the Puerto Rican government. At Albany, he was appointed to the department of Latin American & Caribbean Studies as well as the economics department. He turned his research attention to people like himself – members of the so-called “Puerto Rican Diaspora” spread across the continental U.S.
Still, he continued to reach across cultures. Santiago loves Puerto Rican food, yet in Albany, when he took up cooking for relaxation, he focused on Italian cuisine – assimilating again to the Italian neighborhood where he and his wife had settled.
Santiago stayed in Albany for more than 15 years, moving into administration posts and becoming provost and vice president for academic affairs in 2001. Not long after taking the job, he faced an unexpected controversy: A classics professor was accused of plagiarism. Santiago didn’t fire him, instead telling him to publish corrections.
The matter blew up the next year, with some faculty blasting this as a coverup. But one Albany insider defends Santiago, saying he was, in fact, carrying out the directions of his boss, the university president at the time. For the observer, it illustrated Santiago’s unflagging loyalty – even at his own expense: “He was asked to execute decisions he didn’t agree with. He took so much heat for it. And he executed them like a consummate professional.” Or like a loyal soldier.
It was at Albany that Santiago began to embrace the aggressive marriage of university and business interests that has driven his Milwaukee agenda. SUNY-Albany physicist and engineer Alain Kaloyeros was blown away by Santiago’s approach. “It was love at first sight,” Kaloyeros says. “For the first time in my life, I met someone who was more aggressive than me.”
Santiago pushed Kaloyeros to think big about the department he ran – the institute for materials and applied physics.
“My initial proposal was to create one small academic unit from the institute,” says Kaloyeros. “And he said, ‘No. If this, as predicted by the National Academy of Sciences, by the federal government, by everyone, is going to be as big as it’s going to be, we should start a new school.’ ”
Today, Kaloyeros is vice president and chief administrative officer of that school, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which boasts $5 billion in investments from public sources and private companies.
Santiago has been just as ambitious in Milwaukee. “We are not a UW-Madison. That is not our aspirational peer,” he says. Instead, UWM’s mission is to focus on southeastern Wisconsin and “help this region transition into a 21st-century economy.”
Yet that sharp focus belies Santiago’s grand ambition. “UWM is the most important institution in the state,” he asserts. “We’re educating more Wisconsin students than Madison or any other institution. We’re in the economic and population center of the state, and this state needs a second research university.”
His $300 million plan aimed to reach that goal and meant raising an unheard-of level of private dollars for UWM. Early in his tenure as chancellor, Santiago took an unprecedented step that would help him with that drive.
Unhappy with the poor condition of the campus-based presidential residence, Santiago instead opted for a condo Downtown in Kilbourn Tower (where the average price was about $900,000 per condo). At the time, he notes, his youngest daughter was 13, about to enter high school, and the on-campus mansion didn’t feel very private. “It’s like a fishbowl,” Santiago says.
The Downtown condo also put him closer to the civic and business leaders Santiago wanted to court – and to the private University Club, where he often convenes meetings with donors and others. Santiago convinced the chief executives of five top businesses to head up his campaign: Keith Nosbusch (Rockwell Automation), Ed Zore (Northwestern Mutual Life), Gale Klappa (We Energies), Jim Ziemer (Harley-Davidson) and Dennis Kuester (former CEO of Marshall & Ilsley Corp.). They ultimately raised $125 million – far outstripping every previous UWM drive.
“He got the right people to collaborate with him,” says Lubar. “He enunciated the needs of the university and the paybacks [for the community], and it all came together.”
Santiago also began to accelerate the transformation of UWM away from its commuter school roots. To build more dormitories more quickly, Santiago borrowed an idea from UW-Green Bay and created a real estate foundation to develop and manage new buildings. This separate nonprofit operates as an arm of the university, but can bypass some of the state rules and regulations. With a 400-bed dorm finished and another 700-bed dorm scheduled for completion in the coming months, “we will have 3,900 beds next summer for a freshman class close to 4,100,” Santiago says. And all done in record time: While UWM’s Sandburg Hall dorm took some 13 years to be realized, Santiago says, each of these two projects have taken 20 months or less.
As Madison becomes harder to get into for an ever-rising number of interested state students, they are turning to UWM. “Two years ago, 90 percent of our freshman class requested housing,” Santiago says. “The campus isn’t big enough to hold all the students who want to live here.”
This year, 44 percent of students attending UWM came from outside the metro area, up from 28 percent two decades ago. It’s a sharp contrast to the days “when the only housing complex we had was Sandburg, and it wasn’t filled,” Santiago notes. “Now we have waiting lists of students that want to live on campus.”
Santiago was also successful selling his vision to Gov. Doyle and the legislature. Two years ago, the state budget gave the university a $10 million bonus for new faculty, and this year, the state extended $240 million in bonding authority for UWM to invest in three big projects: the new School of Public Health, the School of Freshwater Sciences, and the Wauwatosa engineering campus.
The public health school idea was triggered before Santiago arrived. The UW medical school in Madison wanted to add “public health” to its name, and Milwaukee took umbrage, with both Barrett and later Santiago arguing that a public health program belonged in the state’s largest city. The Board of Regents found a way to please everyone, approving the medical school’s request, but leaving the door open to Milwaukee to start its own school.
For Santiago, it was an early lesson in Milwaukee’s clout – and his own. “It was the first example I had that you could get significant community support for what you’re trying to do,” he says. “Because this really did come out of the mayor’s objection. Then local press got on it and we got a letter from Gov. Doyle supporting what we were doing.
“I didn’t come to Milwaukee and say, ‘I’m going to build a school of public health.’ It’s not on my mind, it’s a heavy lift, but we did have some strengths here in public health. And it’s taken on a life of its own since then.”
The project Santiago ranks as most important is establishing an engineering campus in Wauwatosa that will tighten links between UWM engineering students and researchers and the biomedical industry growing up around Froedtert Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The third project, the freshwater science school, grows out of both the university’s established Great Lakes WATER Institute and an industry-led campaign to remake Milwaukee as the “Silicon Valley of water.” That campaign was set in motion by executives at companies that helped form the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, including A.O. Smith (which makes water heaters) and Badger Meter (which makes a variety of water metering devices). The water council, in turn, commissioned UWM’s Sammis White to write a report examining the region’s potential for such a project.
“Water is increasingly being recognized as the next oil, the next truly essential ingredient for the survival and growth of the human race,” he wrote. “The race is on. … Unless the community steps on the accelerator hard and soon … Milwaukee will lose the race.”
All three projects will require complex partnerships. For instance, a new health science center proposed for the old Pabst Brewing bottling plant at 11th and Highland would bring together not just the new public health school, but also some of the university’s existing health sciences programs, and tie them closely to Aurora Heath Care. And the Wauwatosa campus site ties UWM to the city’s only medical college and its prime generator of federal research dollars. It’s the economic hub of southeastern Wisconsin, Santiago says. “They are employing thousands of people generating research; new companies are spinning off.”
The belief that such connections can benefit both a university and its surrounding community is one Santiago shares with Mike Lovell, the engineering school dean he recruited to UWM from Pittsburgh. “What sold me on coming here was Carlos’ vision,” says Lovell. “I saw Pittsburgh transform itself from a struggling town that had lost a lot of its manufacturing base to a high-tech city. The university’s played a very important role in driving the local economy.”
With Santiago’s support, Lovell is in the process of nearly doubling UWM’s engineering faculty. “We’re going to grow from 60 to 100 faculty in a period of three years,” the dean says.
And not just low-priced, junior professors either: Santiago has authorized senior faculty hiring and even some creative strategies – such as arranging a quarter-time appointment at the Medical College of Wisconsin for an M.D./Ph.D. researcher who wanted to keep his hand in clinical work after joining UWM. Says Lovell: “The chancellor’s been very helpful when I needed him to open doors so we can do these creative things to get senior faculty.”
On campus, Santiago’s support is more mixed. “He’s a strong advocate for our university,” says Cindy Walker, a psychology professor who chairs the University Committee of the Faculty Senate, which represents the faculty on policy issues.
“He makes really good arguments for our campus system,” says Walker. “And I think his vision is right on target. With the level of support dwindling from the state, it’s important that we bring in research dollars to help fund the university.”
A University Committee survey of faculty (just one in 10 responded) found most neutral about Santiago’s plans. But 43 percent of respondents criticized the proposal to move even part of the engineering school to Wauwatosa.
Last spring, biochemist David Petering and engineering professor Carolyn Aita published an op-ed article in the Journal Sentinel challenging Santiago’s plans to move so many operations off campus. Instead of Downtown, they wrote, “the obvious location” for the public health school is the soon-to-be vacant Columbia Hospital building just off the UWM campus. That would enable the school to more effectively bring together a wide range of disciplines from across the university.
As for the Wauwatosa engineering campus, it would only house “a small contingent of engineering faculty in biomedical engineering, not the whole college,” Petering and Aita wrote. “We wonder how this small fraction of engineering faculty will be able to support an innovation park and the associated hotel development that is being contemplated.”
Santiago defends both off-campus sites by virtue of the potential partners: the medical school and hospitals for biomedical engineering and Aurora Health Care for the public health school.
But on the freshwater school, he’s accepted critics’ arguments, pulling the plug on the Pieces of Eight property. He cites the objections of lakefront lovers who feared shrinking access to the shoreline and WATER Institute scientists’ complaints that the restaurant site was too small. Not to mention limitations placed on the project by leaseholder Mike Cudahy.
Petering isn’t a knee-jerk Santiago critic. “He certainly was right to focus on developing resources and [adding] new faculty for the sciences and engineering,” the veteran researcher notes. “UWM is incredibly small in those areas.”
He’s also not opposed to all off-campus expansion. Petering praises an ongoing project to renovate 70,000 square feet in a UWM-owned building at Capitol Drive and First Street for engineering programs in energy and sustainable manufacturing. “Those areas are already strengths in the engineering school,” he says. “And there already are strong partnerships between the engineering school and We Energies, Johnson Controls, Eaton Corporation and others.” (Interestingly, little attention has been paid to this project, which has been a real success.)
By contrast, Petering contends, the proposal for a biomedical engineering program doesn’t build on a strong base of current faculty. “It was not vetted among the faculty,” he adds.
Petering says he has gotten more than $30 million in grants for his research in metals both as toxins and as medicine, making him the top recipient at UWM and among the top 5 percent of National Institutes of Health grant winners. He also runs a research center that partners with Children’s Hospital and the Medical College. He organized a group to discuss research with Santiago during his visit to UWM as a candidate for chancellor, then had lunch with him after he was hired. “Really, I’ve had almost no contact with him since then,” Petering says. “You’d think someone would want that sort of feedback in terms of what you can do in Milwaukee. But that doesn’t happen. And I’m not alone. Carlos doesn’t listen well.”
Others disagree. “He’s very open to dialogue about how we can make the institution better,” says Lovell. Retired physics professor Leonard Parker agrees. “I’ve been impressed by his approachability. He was actually seeking out things.” That’s unusual for a chancellor, says Parker, who has found most to be “pretty unapproachable.”
Petering contends Santiago mostly listens to people off-campus rather than to faculty. “He has this quintessential notion that the chancellor’s the outside person. He operates pretty much on his own.”
Santiago’s entire strategy of using university research to build the local economy drew a blitzkrieg of criticism from Marc Levine, a UWM professor of history, economic development and urban studies. Levine’s 129-page report, issued in September, asserted that there is “no support for the rhetoric that entrepreneurial universities are engines of local economic development.” Widely heralded success stories, such as Stanford University’s seeding of Silicon Valley, arose from highly unusual circumstances – in Silicon Valley’s case, in large part because of the Department of Defense’s role as an investor in the region’s high-tech industries.
Levine’s paper also blasts the notion of Milwaukee as a “Silicon Valley of water.” He contends the number of other cities with strong water-related industrial bases already dwarf Milwaukee’s claimed list of 120 such companies – a list Levine says is highly exaggerated. By other measures – where water companies are headquartered, where they have plants and operations, even where water technology patents originate – Milwaukee is middling at best.
Levine also notes that the two leading corporate sponsors of the Milwaukee water initiative – Badger Meter and A.O. Smith – have been moving or creating jobs outside of Milwaukee. Given this, his paper asks, “what is the likelihood that water companies will be a source of future employment growth?”
In an interview, Levine expands his criticism to echo the complaint that Santiago isn’t seeking enough input from others. “There hasn’t been a robust discussion, either internally or externally, about whether the strategy taken by the chancellor really measures up to the claims for it,” he says.
Nor has there been a weighing of this strategy’s costs to other UWM departments. “At the same time the chancellor’s out touting the university as the research driver of the metropolitan Milwaukee economy, we are slashing our library acquisition budget, we are slashing scholarly journals on which research depends,” Levine charges. “While we were adding 20 or 21 people in the engineering school last year, we had a hiring freeze throughout most of the rest of the university.”
Professor Dick Blau points to his own film department – once named one of eight “Centers of Excellence” at UWM – as one casualty. Blau is a staunch critic of linking the university with commercial interests. “Had we [the film department] constituted ourselves to, let’s say, serve the advertising industry in Milwaukee, we wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful at building the kind of media culture that you now see everywhere in the community,” he asserts. “We did that by encouraging people to follow their interests, to ask difficult questions, and in the process they became very, very skilled and creative media artists.”
When the work of UWM film graduate Chris Smith, known best for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize documentary American Movie, was featured last year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “I couldn’t get an article on the university’s home page about that,” Blau says. “The reward for a five-film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was that we had our technical staff budget basically cut by 25 percent” – a cut he says was incurred to help free up funds for Santiago’s agenda.
To Blau and Levine, Santiago’s spending priorities represent a move away from the university’s core mission. “So you’re putting the commercial sector on steroids and you put the traditional sector of the university on a diet,” Levine says. “You end up with a fundamental restructuring of the university.”
A week after the Journal Sentinel published an op-ed by Levine, former UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley jumped to Santiago’s defense. Madison’s own patent-licensing programs have brought the school $70 million annually in recent years, Wiley wrote. The research park linked to the campus “is now home to more than 115 companies employing more than 4,000 people at average salaries of about twice the Wisconsin per-capita figure.”
“Only UWM is in a position to take the lead in putting the Milwaukee area … on the map in building our future economy,” Wiley noted. “Santiago has mapped out a path to make that happen, and I hope he is supported enthusiastically.”
Such a robust defense may contradict impressions of a Madison-Milwaukee rivalry. Wiley has actually been a consistent Santiago supporter and two years ago appeared before the legislature to urge funding of UWM’s research initiatives.
“He is doing a terrific job,” Wiley says. “He’s got a vision for the institution, and he seems to be very effective in delivering it, bringing the campus along and convincing people.”
Milwaukee is poised to become the state’s second great research institution, Wiley says. Santiago points to university-sparked development in Pittsburgh, Albany and around Birmingham, Ala.: “I’ve seen these initiatives develop. But it takes a long time. This does not occur overnight.”
Talk of time, though, brings up the question: How much longer will Santiago remain in Milwaukee? Santiago says his invitation to apply for the post of president of Florida International University last spring came “out of the blue” from a headhunter he’s known for years. Warned it would be a public search, he was nonetheless taken aback by how much had to be revealed under Florida’s sunshine laws. “The meetings with the search committee are public, the meetings with the board of trustees are public,” he says. “While we’re having an interview, you have a whole wall of reporters and community people sitting in the back.”
Increasingly convinced he wouldn’t get the job, Santiago withdrew the day before the winning candidate was to be announced. In the aftermath, he’s had to do damage control. That included a dinner with Lovell and other key faculty at the chancellor’s home. “We had a very candid conversation about the future and how we all felt,” Lovell says. “He has assured us he is committed to his vision more than ever.”
Cudahy implied that the Florida trip cost UWM his donation to the engineering campus. “Who knows who will be chancellor five years from now?” he told the Journal Sentinel.
Santiago’s cheerleaders, though, are more pragmatic. “You want somebody good enough that you might lose them,” says Sheehy. But he quickly adds, “I don’t get the sense he’s looking for the very next job to come along.”
The Florida job isn’t likely to be the last offer that comes Santiago’s way, says Lubar. “He’ll get others, but I hope he’s past that time in life when you feel you have to go on to the next challenge. He’s got so many challenges here.”
Psychologically, Santiago seems very focused on Milwaukee and all too aware of how much needs to be done. For all the publicity about the three off-campus schools he wants to create, he hasn’t broken ground on one of them. “We haven’t been able to get over that hump,” he says.
There’s an air of knowing disappointment, the philosophical tone of the home-run hitter explaining how he’s handling a batting slump. “I still haven’t finalized the acquisition of land anywhere. And we still haven’t built any academic facilities. It’s all still a work in progress.”
But he’s ready for the bases to load, ready to step to the plate before his fans and detractors, wait for the right pitch, and swing away.
A Mixed Record on Diversity
UWM sociologist William Vélez credits Carlos Santiago with a commitment to improving the school’s diversity. Not everyone agrees.
Since Santiago’s arrival, the number of “students of color” – a term that includes all ethnic minorities – in the incoming freshman classes has risen from 16.3 percent in 2004 to 20.7 percent in 2009. But that’s just freshmen, and doesn’t reflect the fact that minority students are more likely to drop out.
When all students are considered, the growth has been much less dramatic, rising by about 2 percentage points, from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 17.6 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, “targeted” minorities, consisting of traditionally underserved African-American, Latino, Native American and Southeast Asian students, have risen by only 1.3 points, to 14.7 percent. And this growth, Santiago acknowledges, has been has been largely among Hispanic and Asian students, while the number of African-Americans has actually shrunk.
The declining black enrollment and paucity of black faculty members became the subject of a scathing report from the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP in 2008, which criticized UWM’s hiring practices and also the impact of its building of new dorms. “The UW-Milwaukee master plans to move from a commuter school to a residence hall-based campus will further distance UWM from Milwaukee’s African-American community, as well as from lower-income and part-time students and parents (of all ages) living throughout Milwaukee County,” the report charged.
Santiago says he strongly supports “keeping the doors open” to minority students. The big problem is that they go in and out the door too often. “We were losing 75 percent of those students,” he notes. “This university looks like a revolving door.” Santiago says he’s pushing for more retention efforts: An early-warning program to alert faculty and administrators to students having trouble keeping up is one such approach.
But the issue is one for the entire community, he adds, as some schools are not preparing minority students for college. “The pipeline,” he says, “is not as big as one would like.”
Erik Gunn is a frequent contributor to Milwaukee Magazine. Write to him at email@example.com.