The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership spent a fraction of what was anticipated to bring speakers to UW System campuses in its first year, and left more than one-quarter of its $1.5 million overall in public revenue unbudgeted.
Only $80,000 was spent to fund diverse voices on UW campuses outside Madison, according to a budget summary provided to members of the center’s Public Leadership Board.
That was part of a total $1.08 million in spending budgeted.
But at least $500,000 was to have been spent to sponsor speakers at campuses outside Madison under the legislation that enabled the founding of the center. The center was created with $3 million in state funds over two years as part of the 2017-2018 state budget.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, a champion of the center’s founding, said at that time that funding speakers on campuses around the state was part of an effort “to maximize free speech on campus.” He has complained that publicly funded speakers on UW campuses trend too far left. Vos, who had the power under the legislation to name two members to the center’s six-member governing Public Leadership Board, put himself on the panel.
Chair of the Public Leadership Board is former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who is now a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, a school voucher advocacy group.
An eight-member faculty advisory committee also helps guide the center.
Ryan Owens, acting director of the center, said that more campus speakers were not funded because the legislation calls for the Public Leadership Board to allocate the money.
“The faculty advisory committee believed that (the) language envisioned the Public Leadership Board making decisions as to speaking engagements off the Madison campus. Because the board was unable to meet until later in the year, it was unable to fund much,” Owens wrote in an email.
Board members are looking into transferring unused money to spend it next year, Owens said.
At its first meeting April 30, the Public Leadership Board okayed $131,000 in expenditures for conferences it organized or helped sponsor, including $60,000 for a conference on criminal justice system reform, $18,000 for a Leadership Across the Branches conference, and $12,000 to host George Koonce, a former Green Bay Packer whose is now a college administrator.
Board members also approved 2017-2018 budget expenditures of $124,394 for salaries and benefits, and $95,000 for office computers, furniture and supplies.
They delayed making a proposed $500,000 in research grants to further consider the potential practical value of recommended projects.
The board did not act as expected to appoint Owens, a UW-Madison political science professor, to the director position for a three-year term, with members saying they needed more information on their powers in evaluating the center director’s performance.
Members said then that they hoped to meet twice before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled, Owens said.
Speaker grants to campuses outside Madison for the academic year just ended included:
“Beyond the Headlines,” events on journalism’s role in American democracy, Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, UW-Marathon County, $20,000;
Temple Grandin, animal behavior expert autism spokesperson, distinguished lecture; UW-Platteville, $19,500;
Carly Fiorina, former Fortune 20 CEO and presidential candidate, distinguished lecture, UW-Milwaukee, $20,000;
Marc Edwards, Virginia Tech professor whose research group helped uncover lead contamination in drinking water in Washington, D.C. and Flint, Michigan, distinguished lecture, UW-Whitewater, $18,000;
Local government leadership workshop, UW-Whitewater, $2,500.
A planned program of scholarships to allow students on UW campuses outside Madison to host speakers was not undertaken “due to the inability of the Public Leadership Board to meet to approve this year’s budget until late in the fiscal year,” according to a budget document.