Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wisconsin Real Estate: A Century of Tradition, and Innovation

Real estate and urban economics have a long and distinguished tradition at the University of Wisconsin.  We trace our roots back to Richard Ely, a century and a quarter ago; and Wisconsin's real estate program has benefited from many distinguished faculty, students/alumni, and other associates, including the Graaskamp Center's famous Eponym.

I've documented that history, and explained a bit of the context around it, in my teaching note The Wisconsin Program in Real Estate and Urban Land Economics: A Century of Tradition and Innovation.  The paper started as a 4 page teaching note, and, kind of like a weed, just kept growing; it's now about 45 pages.  Internally, we often refer to it as "the T&I paper," for reasons that will be explained below.

In this first blog on the subject, I'll first briefly outline what's in the T&I paper; and then a bit about where it came from, why it's taken its present form.

First and foremost, it's a teaching note, so I begin with some tedious academic stuff about how "urban land economics" fits in with finance and economics and so on.  Next, we discuss "The Wisconsin Idea." Often discussion of the Wisconsin Idea plays off a famous quote that "the walls of the University are the boundaries of the State;" more generally, it's a statement that UW is not simply a collection of ivory tower academics, but that the University is engaged with real world problems and their solution.  That allows us to segue into The Wisconsin Tradition in Real Estate; which we view as first and foremost a set of values that stem from and elaborate on the Wisconsin Idea.  These values -- including, just to give a few examples, ethical dealing, a holistic approach to real estate, and a passion for our business -- are sufficiently important to rate their own blog post, maybe several, sometime in the next week or two.

After very brief discussion of some of these values, the teaching note discusses some of the people who have developed and espoused these values at UW.  The focus is on four key real estate educators that were critical in developing the Wisconsin Tradition, namely Richard T. Ely; Richard Ratcliff; Richard Andrews; and of course Jim Graaskamp.

Chronologically, Ely started real estate and land economics at Wisconsin (and, to a large extent, in universities generally as the T&I paper explains); Ratcliff and Andrews came later.  By the late 1980s, Graaskamp was the dominant force in the program, but in poor health -- he had contracted polio in high school, and the virus left him a quadriplegic, albeit an amazingly active and effective individual.  In 1988, Graaskamp passed away after a sudden decline.

The paper then describes the post-Graaskamp era.  After Graaskamp, it was an open question as to whether the program would continue; but with the support of students, alums, and key UW faculty and administrators, the University and School of Business decided to rebuild.  In 1989, Kerry Vandell was hired to spearhead the next stage; in the following year Kerry recruited myself, Jim Shilling, and Richard Green to join Senior Lecturer Rod Matthews to rebuild a Wisconsin program still reeling from Graaskamp's untimely death.

Real estate is in no small part a "people business," and so is real estate research and education; the T&I paper then provide biographies of some of the other key Wisconsin Real Estate faculty members, including all the current faculty and staff.  The paper also outlines the four key institutions of Wisconsin Real Estate, namely the Department, the Graaskamp Center, the Real Estate Club, and the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association.  Related institutions -- including of course the University, and the Wisconsin School of Business -- are also described.

Universities, and their programs, have three overarching missions: research, teaching, and outreach/service.  Well functioning programs, in real estate as elsewhere, tend to be those in which these missions are complementary and integrated, rather than independent silos.  A good part of the T&I paper discusses each of these missions, and how they are integrated.

Today’s Innovation is Tomorrow’s Tradition

Why a title of "Tradition and Innovation," why do we refer to it as the T&I paper?  In recognition of the fact that we have a tradition today because we were innovative in the past.  Ely’s vision of a true real estate curriculum, the land market and valuation research of Ratcliff and Andrews, Graaskamp’s innovations in teaching and analytic methods are the bedrock of our program’s success.  Graaskamp himself famously summarized the original innovation in the real estate “market:”  

Someone rolled a rock to the entrance of a cave and created an enclosed space for his family – a warmer, more defensible shelter, distinct from the surrounding environment.  This can be called the first real estate development.  Since then, real estate activity has evolved and taken many forms to meet the needs of man and his society.  Once based on need and custom, real estate is now based on social economics and statute.

In future posts, we'll have more to say about the specifics of the Wisconsin Tradition, and our Innovations, including discussion of Graaskamp Center Executive Director Michael Brennan's championing of the Wisconsin Innovator Award. Stay tuned!

An update to T&I is coming!

The current version of the T&I paper, link above, is dated December 2015, before my recent change in status to Professor Emeritus.  I plan to do a major revision to this paper sometime in the next year, after the University has recruited my successor.

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