Chancellor Biddy Martin sent a letter to the Board of Regents on Feb. 16, making the case that the flexibilities offered by the New Badger Partnership would allow the university to best generate revenue and use it in the most effective ways for the good of the university and the state.
“There is nothing to be gained, in this economic and political environment, from opposing an innovative and helpful step that could move the entire system and state forward,” Martin wrote. “I do not believe the preservation of administrative form matters nearly as much as the substance of the argument we have been making.”
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I write to explain why I have ventured as far as I have in promoting the “New Badger Partnership” and why I have taken the steps I have taken. Let me begin by expressing my deep respect for the Regents, for your role in coordinating the campuses of the system, and for your efforts to do what you think best for all of our institutions. We are all under enormous stress because of the fiscal contingencies faced by the State, the Governor and by the Legislature. You have argued for more operating flexibility for all UW institutions and I have enthusiastically supported that flexibility. You have also charged me with leading and protecting the University of Wisconsin-Madison as one of the nation’s major public universities. The New Badger Partnership is essential to meeting this responsibility.
As you know, I have advocated passionately for UW-Madison because of its value to the state. I have made the case, openly and publicly, that flexibility is essential to the university’s continued success. The landscape of higher education has changed rapidly, not only nationally, but also internationally. Every region in the world is rushing to establish a world-class research university, precisely because of the talent magnets and sources of innovation that they are. It would be a terrible disaster to have the state of Wisconsin lose the quality and stature of its flagship campus at a time when higher education is more competitive than ever and when education, knowledge-based industries, and technological innovation are critical to the state’s near term and longer-range success.
I have been completely open about the New Badger Partnership, presenting it publicly for many months. System administration and members of the Board have expressed support for it on many occasions. We never specified a particular model for the flexibilities we seek, but discussed a range of available options, including public authority status, which is listed on the web site and in our other materials as one among other possible avenues. When we were formulating our proposals last winter and presenting them in the summer and fall, it did not occur to me that changes to UW-Madison’s place in the system could be entailed; I continue to believe that extending flexibilities to all UW institutions would be optimal. However, if the governor proposes flexibilities for UW-Madison, it would be irresponsible to forego the opportunity. It will enable the university to do what is required, namely, to generate revenue and use it in the most effective ways for the good not only of the university, but the state.
I have consistently promoted flexibilities for all the campuses, in my public presentations, in media opportunities, and in my interactions with the governor’s staff. A stronger System-wide proposal at an earlier point, with more input from the chancellors, might have been more persuasive, but time may have run out on such an opportunity. I have never advocated for Madison at the expense of others. I do not share the view that changes in the system will damage the other campuses. We are firmly committed to collaboration with others and to our partnerships with other campuses.
In my view, it is dangerous not only for UW-Madison, but for the entire System and the state to have the System administration and the regents oppose the possibility that its flagship campus, or any other campus, be given the tools it needs to preserve quality and contribute to economic recovery. There is nothing to be gained, in this economic and political environment, from opposing an innovative and helpful step that could move the entire system and state forward. I do not believe the preservation of administrative form matters nearly as much as the substance of the argument we have been making. Campuses need their own appropriate forms of flexibility in order to thrive. If flexibilities for all the campuses are not to be granted at this point, let UW-Madison be the test case. Let our campus show the public that its universities can operate more nimbly and be an even greater resource to the state. To strike down the possibility that any one of our campuses, and, over time, all of them could gain what they need seems to me to contradict everything that is good for public higher education and for the state.
I am sorry that things have become confusing and contentious. I do think it is important for the Board of Regents to hear different voices on the issues before us.