My info is pure heresay from the interview trail but here goes - I was told that the residents there are very unhappy (they turned their own program in!), Madison has low surgical numbers and the residents generally have poor supervision. Its a big research place tho - if thats what you are into. Surley they'll clean that program up tho - its Madison for goodness sake!
Well, I hope I can offer some insight. I'm a 4th-year MS at UW, and actually just matched at UW for 2006. The probation issue is an important one, but it has been overblown by many people. (Note: if there are any current UW residents lurking, please chime in to confirm or deny my comments).
First, the program was never "turned in" by any residents. When the ACGME site visit occured last spring, the interviewers asked the residents all the questions they typically ask, and got honest answers. Please don't try to tell me that your program's residents are happy about everything all the time, because you're lying. Interviewing across the country, I found that even though programs put their best foot forward when it comes to choosing which residents are available for interviewees, every program had at least some weaknesses that the residents were willing to discuss. The residents at UW may have been a little too candid, and this did result in some minor infractions, which I discuss below, but nothing the residents said was significant to warrant probation. From what I understand, having infractions from resident comments is quite common.
The infraction that put the program on probation resulted from a new policy that had residents taking call at a community hospital, which didn't have adequate staff supervision at night. It was a new policy intended to increase their exposure to eye trauma, but it may not have been thought out completely before implementation. Needless to say, the policy was stopped immediately, the residents no longer take call there, and the issue is now resolved. Other minor infractions revolved around parking access (a problem faced by all MD's in the city, and isn't specific to ophtho residents), having access to grand rounds and teaching conferences while doing a senior rotation in New Mexico, and that's about it.
The result of the probation status has actually been very positive so far. They are implementing many changes designed to improve the program as a whole, but I don't have the space to go into specifics. Not a single resident that I talked with is at all concerned about the program losing accredidation. (There will be another site visit in early 2006, I believe). Everyone is looking forward, and are working on the same page to elevate the program to elite status again.
Now getting back to your question. The point of interviewing is to find a program is right for YOU. Perhaps the UW residents that complained were only doing so out of frustration for not being in a program that was right for them, but this is only speculation.
All I know is that the current residents that I worked with are very happy there. I spent > 2 months with >90% of them, and not once did I feel like someone was unhappy. (Well, one PGY2 did leave the program, but only because he didn't want to be an ophthalmologist--it had nothing to do with the program.) Madison has an excellent program, and there is nothing different about the program today compared to 4 years ago when it was ranked in the top 5. One exception would be the new chairman, Paul Kaufman, who is bringing a renewed enthusiasm to the program. The program director, Neal Barney, is one of the most genuine, hard-working physicians I've met, and is very resident-oriented. While there are many research opportunities at UW, the program doesn't require anything more than a junior project. Lastly, it is an outstanding clinical program. The faculty in retina, glaucoma, and neuro-ophth are some of the best in the world. (I was told this by folks at Bascom, MEE, and Wilmer!)
As to surgical numbers, they may be lower than your surgical mills like Bascom, etc, but never have they graduated anyone even close to the minimum of cases required by law. (Trust me, I asked). That, and the cases are all well-supervised, so your learning/case ratio is very high here. If you think you need 200 cataracts to be good at it, then I don't want you operating on my mom when she needs it.
Bottom line: you should consider UW-Madison. I had the opportunity to interview at all of the top programs, but I still found UW to be the right fit for me. Madison is a great town if you are single or married, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a nicer group of people to work with in the department. Right now you could equate it to an undervalued stock, and it is sure to rebound to its status of the late 90's very quickly.
Thanks for letting me give you my 2 cents, and please PM me if you have any other questions about the program.