The downtown campus of Madison College has meant the world to Katarina Brown.
“This campus has made it possible for me to work and go to school at the same time,” the art student told the college’s board Thursday night.
Which is why Brown — and many other people — are alarmed that the college’s president, Jack Daniels, is recommending the college sell the building, located just two blocks from Capitol Square on Wisconsin Avenue. The board has been asked to make a decision at its May 13 meeting.
Daniels’ recommendation comes as the college contemplates what to do with three of its campuses: Downtown, West, 302 S. Gammon Road, and South, at The Village on Park, 2238 South Park St. The college owns the Downtown campus (often called “DTEC” in the college community), but rents South and West.
The West campus lease is almost $2 million a year. The college has been given a June deadline to decide whether or not to renew that lease beyond June 2016. That deadline is putting pressure on the college to make a decision about all three campuses now.
Daniels recommended to the board on Wednesday evening that it end the West lease, sell the Downtown campus, and look for space on the south side for a comprehensive campus.
A large presence on the south side is needed because of the area’s harsh poverty and disparities facing people of color, he said. “This is the area [of Madison with] the greatest unemployment, poverty and low-educational attainment,” he told the board.
“I’m asking the board make a commitment to south Madison,” Daniels said.
He urged the board to create a task force to research plans for a new south campus, to look at programming and to research a site.
But Daniels’ controversial recommendation is to “Sell DTEC.”
“The reality of the physical needs of the building mean that it is prohibitive to renovate the building,” he said.
The downtown campus needs renovations and upgrades, estimated to be at least $19 million. Some at the college say the administration hopes to get as much as $12 million from the sale of the property.
Daniels envisions the sale taking two to three years and says it should only happen after the college decides what programs should remain downtown and finds space for them to operate.
“This is a watershed moment for Madison College,” he said of his recommendations. “It is key to our continued excellence in programming, services and engagement with our community.”
About 100 people attended the board meeting, anticipating his call to sell. All spoke against it, stressing the value of having a campus downtown that is easily accessible from all parts of town, as well as close to UW-Madison, art museums, the Capitol, restaurants and student housing.
Many feared selling the downtown building would force students to go to the Truax Campus, the college’s largest campus, located near the airport. One person pointed out that there are about 30 buses going downtown from all parts of the city, while only two go to Truax.
Arielle Harmann, an art student who lives near Seminole Highway on the south side, said after the meeting that when she has to go to Truax, she must take three buses – a commute that takes her about two hours.
“I’m a full-time student, but I work three part-time jobs,” Harmann says. “Two hours of commute time for school is just not feasible.”
Karen Redfield, a UW-Madison undergraduate advisor who used to teach at Madison College, told the board that the greatest number of transfers to UW come from Madison College, which she attributed to the existence of the downtown campus.
“We have so many transfer students who succeed beautifully at UW because of this building,” she said.
Larry Hansen, a Madison College journalism professor, said that the college is close to signing a “pathways” agreement with UW-Madison, which will aid students transferring into UW-Madison’s journalism program.
“I’m concerned that if this building is sold, it will [jeopardize] the pathways programs we’ve worked so hard to develop,” he told the board.
The college’s Assembly, a 26-member advisory body that is part of the institution’s “shared governance” system, declined to approve the sale of DTEC earlier in the week.
Many professors and students are clearly upset by the move. Several professors question the administration’s renovation estimates and logic.
And while they share Daniels’ passion to serve poor, disadvantaged students, they argue closing DTEC is counter to that mission.
“Absolutely we need to serve underserved [people],” said Marline Pearson, a sociology professor. “There’s an assumption that it’s easier for people who live [in South Madison] to get to a campus somewhere with a parking lot than it is to get on a bus and come here.”
She adds: “The fallacy is a college out there with a parking lot that doesn’t have good bus service is going to be more accessible than here.”
The school was founded in 1912 as the Madison Continuation School and was later called Madison Area Technical School. In 2009, it changed its name to Madison College, although many people still refer to it by its old acronym, MATC. It serves about 40,000 students at nine campuses.
Ald. Mike Verveer says that losing the campus would be “a huge loss for the downtown.” He says that when the college built the Truax campus in the '80s, administrators “proposed that they would always keep a downtown presence.”