Chancellor urges action on New Badger Partnership

Chancellor Biddy Martin today sent a campuswide message to update faculty, staff and students about the New Badger Partnership.

In it, she makes a call to action, urging supporters to contact budget-writing lawmakers, UW System President Kevin Reilly and the Board of Regents to “speak out as individuals, citizens and taxpayers, and not on behalf of the university. With your own time and resources, tell them we need their support of the public-authority model in the current state budget, not only for the good of UW-Madison, but also for the good of the state.”

Here is the full letter:

Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,

I write with an important update on the New Badger Partnership and also with a
call for action.

Last Thursday, I attended the higher-education briefing of the Legislature’s
Joint Committee on Finance at the State Capitol. UW System President Kevin
Reilly asked several chancellors from other campuses to make a case for the new
System plan for increased flexibilities. The co-chairs of the joint committee
then asked me to answer questions about the proposal that is already in the
budget bill — a new public-authority model for UW-Madison. I was happy to do
so, and I believe I was able to clarify a number of misperceptions about our
proposal. Near the end of the meeting, Senator Luther Olsen urged UW System and
UW-Madison to work together and find a plan that would work for both parties.

The following day, in response to Senator Olsen’s request, I invited my fellow
chancellors and President Reilly to meet for a discussion of a third option. The
invitation included a draft amendment to the governor’s bill that would provide
much-needed flexibilities to the other campuses. It also included an offer to be
open to their new ideas about how to move forward. The amendment would add
flexibilities for the other campuses and System without subtracting from what
UW-Madison would gain through the existing budget bill. Prior to issuing the
invitation, I spoke with several chancellors who expressed interest in
discussing the merits of this approach.

Some have already asked why the suggested amendment did not compromise on
public-authority status for UW-Madison. I believe UW-Madison needs all the
flexibility that the governor’s budget provides if we are to continue competing
with the best research universities in the world. There is a clear nationwide
trend toward differentiation in higher education. The American Association of
Universities, an organization of top research universities in the country, has
on its meeting agenda for next week a discussion of the urgent need to preserve
the quality of public flagship universities. If we can’t preserve their
strengths with innovations in our mode of operating, it will harm not only
UW-Madison and other great research institutions, but also the states in which
they are located and the nation as a whole.

President Reilly sent an email announcing that System would need to respond with
a written analysis before discussions with other chancellors could take place.
He then sent a System-wide communication promoting the Wisconsin Idea
Partnership, the details of which will be presented to the Board of Regents for
the first time this week. I asked for a brief period of time at this week’s
Regents’ meeting to present the amendment to the existing budget bill. I was
again denied the request on the grounds that System first needs to provide a
written analysis of our tentative proposal.

System’s new plan does not come close to doing for UW-Madison what public-
authority status would. First, with one exception in facilities management, the
plan does not delegate any new statutory authority or flexibility to UW-Madison
or to any other campus. President Reilly’s explanation of the plan states that
System and the Regents will “press down” the flexibilities they gain, where
appropriate. Second, there is, therefore, no acknowledgement of the unique
needs, competitive position or the capacities of a major research university.
Third, our legal staff is skeptical about the claim that the university system
could remain a state agency and get its non-tax-dollar revenue off the books.
Public-authority status for UW-Madison would give us ownership of our
non-state-tax-dollar funding, allowing us to use it flexibly and avoid having it
swept. Fourth, the statute changes proposed by System do not allow for a
redesign of our personnel system. If successful, it would introduce some helpful
changes, but does not go nearly as far as public authority does.

In response to concrete concerns from other chancellors and the public about the
future of transfer agreements, research collaborations, shared infrastructure
and a shared brand, we have responded with Memoranda of Understanding that
pledge not only the continuation, but also the enhancement, of our
collaborations. To those who say we would not maintain transfer agreements over
time, we have pointed out that our most robust transfer programs are with
Madison College, direct campus-to-campus agreements. We do not need yet another
layer of administration to ensure that we do what is mutually beneficial and
good for the citizens of Wisconsin.

To those who have claimed that we would raise tuition higher than it would be
raised within the System, we have shown that the increase for next year would be
the same. In response to those who worry about prestige, we have ensured, from
the outset, that we continue to share the name “University of Wisconsin” with
every other campus. To those who have said that the terms of the members of the
new board are too short, we have agreed and begun work on an amendment to
lengthen those terms.

We have spent well over a year developing the analysis, strategy and tactics
that would create what is no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime chance for UW-Madison
and for the other campuses. For many years, the System and Madison chancellors
have talked about the need for flexibility. Making the case in a holistic plan
and getting it into the governor’s budget have created an opportunity that I do
not believe we should forego. The most effective approach to getting all the
campuses the flexibilities they need would be to support what is already in the
governor’s budget — amended to provide other System campuses the flexibilities
and forms of local decision-making that make sense for their institutions — and
then to move forward together to persuade the public and the Legislature of the
need for what we have fought so hard to obtain.

During the past several months, I have tried to proactively communicate as we
move forward in what I believe is a critical chapter in UW-Madison history. I
have continually asked for your feedback. But I am also asking you for action.
If you agree with me that the New Badger Partnership and the public-authority
model are crucial to the future success of UW-Madison, I urge you to express
your support more openly and vigorously. There are those who do not want this to
succeed, and they are reaching out to the Legislature. We need you to do the
same.

Here is contact information for the Joint Committee on Finance, President Reilly
and the Board of Regents.

Time is of the essence. Ask for their support. Please note that I am asking you
to speak out as individuals, citizens and taxpayers, and not on behalf of the
university. With your own time and resources, tell them we need their support of
the public-authority model in the current state budget, not only for the good of
UW-Madison, but also for the good of the state.

Chancellor Biddy Martin