Big Ten Conference Wrap Up & Conclusions

Last weekend I had the fortunate opportunity of attending the Association of Big Ten Students (ABTS) Summer conference at THE Ohio State University.  I learned a lot about how other Big Ten student governments are structured and how they govern.  This was Wisconsin’s first appearance in many years and the rest of the Big Ten seems quite happy that Wisconsin sent a delegation.

I feel I got a lot out of the trip. I learned about differences in governance from across the Big Ten and also shared ideas about new programs we may be able to implement in Wisconsin. The biggest success was setting in motion plans for a Big Ten lobby week in Washington D.C. Our plans are to flood the hill for a week in the spring with the Association of Big Ten Students lobbying on higher education issues. We also had elections for Executive Director, Assistant Executive Director, and Secretary.  The new Executive Director for The Association of Big Ten Students is my good friend, colleague and fellow Badger: Academic Affairs Chair Carl Fergus. I’m excited and honored to have him representing the students of the Big Ten. Cognations Carl!

For more information on some of the other benefits of being involved with ABTS please visit Chair William’s Blog here.

After what felt to be a successful and productive weekend I left Ohio feeling good and wanted to continue and strengthen this new relationship with the Big Ten. My mind instantly drifted to money and also what types of return on investments we would see.  The chart below I think speaks volumes:



United Council 109,088 dues paying members₁ $160,000 per year in MRF + travel costs
United States Student Association N/A ₂ $25,000 per year
Association of Big Ten Students 349,091 undergrad students 2 conferences per year₃

₁ Includes undergrad and graduate students

₂Information could not be found after repeated attempts of contacting USSA.

₃This year total cost for one conference was about $1000.

The real take away from this data is that ABTS is a cost effective way to interact with many students. This is not to say these should be the only criteria for determining which organizations to work with or prioritize time too. However I still think people should keep it mind.


What is your interpretation of the chart?

Does it change your opinion about the organizations listed?

What should be the next steps with Wisconsin and ABTS?

12 responses to “Big Ten Conference Wrap Up & Conclusions

  1. Ms. New Booty

    ASM leadership should push to move away from ideological leftist breeding grounds like the USSA and UC. The ABTS appears to be a better option.

  2. Jolie Lizotte

    I agree with Tom that this is not the only criteria to consider when deciding which organizations to work with, however I believe that Tom’s chart is overly simplistic. It does not show what the students receive from the cost of the organization (in other words what is that money being used for?) When comparing UC and USSA to ABTS it is important to note that ABTS does not have any full time staff to help the students. Presumably all of the Big Ten universities challenge their students, which means that the students involved in ABTS are expected to devote at least 48 hours a week to school if they take the minimum 12 credits. In addition to that, at least to my knowledge, all of the ABTS leadership is also a leader in their student government so that is probably at least 15-30 hours a week depending on the position. So taking into account that students also need to sleep and eat, they probably have 15 hours a week at best (if they don’t want a social life) to devote to ABTS. Compare that with the 40-60 hours the staff of UC and USSA put into working on student issues. The staff help the students run campaigns, lobby on legislation on behalf of students, offer trainings to students, and do countless other things that students do not have time in their schedule to do. The most important things the staff do, in my opinion, is develop student leaders who then go on to become mentors for other students. I can honestly say that I would not be the leader and mentor I am today without the staff of the organizations I work with, including the UC staff that I have had the pleasure to work and learn from this summer.

    The skills I gain from organizations like UC have nothing to do with my political ideology (for those of you that do not know me, I choose not to belong to any political parties or identify as liberal or conservative since I don’t feel the need to box in my beliefs and morals into someone else’s political definitions and would rather focus my energy on issues). Here is a direct quote from UC’s website: “Founded in 1960, United Council is a non-partisan, non-profit, student-directed organization committed to enhancing the quality of student life and protecting access to higher education in Wisconsin.” To clarify any confusion non-partisan means that UC is neither a liberal organization or a conservative organization, but instead is a place for students of all political ideologies to come together to work on issues. The Board of Directors and student leadership in UC this year has students from a wide variety of political ideologies, including the right.

    UW-Madison students gain a lot by being a part of United Council and have a lot to lose by not being part of UC. Tom, I’d be happy to talk to you about this in more detail any time!

    • I think you are grossly misunderstanding the purpose of ABTS, that or your post is just laughable. The mission of ABTS is not to work on the “student power movement” nor is it meant to train and develop leaders. You stated how “all of the ABTS leadership is also a leader in their student government” so an organization like the ABTS does not need to develop these leaders to be mentors because they are already there. The purpose of the group is to “increase information sharing and networking among student government organizations of the Big Ten.” We have since started to expand that by planning a lobby week in Washington DC; however the concept of ABTS is very simple and comes with a limited scope. Also ABTS doesn’t have to waste time recruiting schools, or doing workshops so a full time staff is not needed to achieve the goals of the ABTS and a staff would just pervert the organization. From my talks with student leaders from the Wisconsin delegation as well as other schools this last ABTS conference was the most productive and educational student government conference they have ever attended. I feel this is because the other Big Ten schools are our peers and the student governments there go through many of the same issues regarding policy and programming that we do, compared with the other UW schools. You yourself alluded to the fact that the other UW schools don’t challenge the students academically, which would somehow make a group like United Council be better at representing the needs and issues of UW Madison students.

    • In re: “Here is a direct quote from UC’s website: “Founded in 1960, United Council is a non-partisan, non-profit, student-directed organization committed to enhancing the quality of student life and protecting access to higher education in Wisconsin.” To clarify any confusion non-partisan means that UC is neither a liberal organization or a conservative organization”

      I’m pretty sure big tobacco had on their websites, er billboards, that they didn’t and don’t target advertising toward children. (Especially during the Joe the Camel era)

      To clarify: Big Tobacco didn’t and does not attempt to get 10-17 year olds to smoke, but instead only advertises to adults who can legally make personal decisions entirely independently.

  3. It’s all about return for our money. If we get great value by spending more, then let’s do it, but let’s not spend money (even if the service is beneficial) if that service can be gained elsewhere for less. Pretty much the law of diminishing returns is how I see it. We could have a great student organization if we funneled a million bucks per year at it, but would it be 500 times more effective than ABTS? Probably not. Just a quick thought.

  4. Michael Romenesko

    We’d have a lot to lose by leaving UC? Strange, I’m not exactly sure we ever gained anything to begin with.

  5. Things that would not exist for Madison or any other campus if United Council never existed:
    *2 student regents on the Board of Regents
    *ASM (the structure of ASM was based on UC and prior to becoming ASM UW-Madison’s student government’s main focus was organizing social events)
    *Shared governance (prior to the implementation of state statute 36.09(5) share governance at Madison only extended to faculty)
    *The right for student governments to organize as they see fit and appoint students to committees (created through multiple court rulings)
    *Responsive state legislators and capitol staff (legislative offices are more accessible to Madison students than ever before because a high percentage of them have former UC staff working in them or running them)
    *One of the lowest tuition levels in the country and the 9th lowest in the big ten (UC had state law written decades ago to prohibit large tuition increases)
    *Financial aid linked with tuition increases (state law passed at the request of UC requires financial aid to increase at the same percentage rate as tuition increases)
    *UW-Madison alumni working in high ranking state government positions (many former Madison student leaders now work for the state and would attribute much of their personal growth and success to UC)
    *Student access to complete information not redacted by administration, especially concerning budgetary items (many ASM leaders personally know that much of the information they receive from UW and System administration does not provide the entire picture, because they often receive additional and valuable information from UC staff)

    • Michael, thank you for posting this list. As you (and many other people know), I have been quite the UC critic over the years, but I am not a supporter of disbandment or pulling out. The benefits you listed here (noting with particular importance the legislative relationships, policy work, etc) are extremely important to the work and advocacy ASM does and provides another means through which to effectuate those efforts.

      I think the latent anti-UC sentiment remains due to the lingering over-emphasis of 1960s/70s CRM-esque “grassroots” style protest and showboat theatre that many still advocate for in United Council and unfortunately on the Madison campus. This is particularly disturbing when such proposed emphasis is directed toward a seemingly partisan-affiliated agenda of issues, many of which only tangentially relate to students as a whole.

      I recognize, and I’m certain the current ASM leadership does as well, the great strides UC has made away from such an ineffective, outdated methodology as an overarching theme for working on student issues. am appreciative of this progress and somewhat reassured that you are still heading up the legislative side of things and that Madison’s top moderate and rational leadership has taken a vested interest in ensuring the Dark Ages of UC do not return.

    • Also, I don’t know if claiming ASM’s structure as a victory is a good idea.

      • Michael Romenesko

        I wouldn’t want to be claiming the current ASM structure as a victory. Further, I am curious how many high ranking Madison alumni would actually attribute their success to UC? That would be interesting to know.

      • Michael Romenesko

        Also, a lot of your “victories” could be done through other means.

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