New Badger Partnership update from Chancellor Martin

Chancellor Biddy Martin sent this message to campus on March 23:

Below is a message I sent to members of the state Legislature clarifying my position on the New Badger Partnership, in response to a letter they received today from other UW System chancellors in support of an alternate proposal.

I was not asked to join the other chancellors in signing the UW System letter, promoting a Wisconsin Idea Partnership, presumably because of my support for what is already included in the proposed budget. I could not, in any case, sign on to a plan or to statutory language that has not been shared. Without details, we have no way to assess whether UW System’s new plan would provide benefits for UW-Madison that would be comparable to what is proposed in the budget. At this point, we have no reason to believe it will offer the far-reaching change in operations that we need if we are to remain a world-class research institution.

We know that the new plan does not involve public authority status for the entire system, and, may, as a result, be missing at least two critical features of the public authority model that are essential to plan in the budget and to the preservation of quality of UW-Madison: the design of a new personnel system that is suited to a research university setting and the ownership of non-state-tax-dollar revenue.

The letter from other chancellors to legislators calls on lawmakers to keep UW-Madison in UW System, without providing concrete information about how the new plan and statutory language might compare to the public authority model in the budget bill. I continue to believe that public authority status will allow UW-Madison to flourish and that having UW-Madison thrive will be essential to helping other institutions and the state as a whole.

The Wisconsin Idea, which has been a guiding principle since it was created 100 years ago on this campus, will continue to be the driving force behind the university. Under a public authority for UW-Madison, the university could recommend a tuition increase that is no higher than what is anticipated for UW System institutions. An 8.5 percent increase for state residents, made up of a 5.5 percent base increase and a 3 percent increase for the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, is similar to what students absorbed this past year. As a public authority, UW-Madison would have greater flexibility to offer financial aid resources, as we did in the case of the MIU.

UW-Madison pledges to remain committed to these core principles:

– We are and will remain a public university receiving public funding and accountable to our sister institutions, as well as to the state and its residents.
– We will balance quality and affordability in a way that keeps the university accessible to students from every economic background and ensures the quality of their degrees over time.
– We will enhance educational and research collaborations as well as transfer agreements and other coordinated efforts with other UW System institutions, in addition to sharing a name and a “brand” – the University of Wisconsin.

Chancellor Biddy Martin

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Dear Members of the Legislature,

I have just received a copy of the letter signed and sent to you by thirteen of my colleagues, the chancellors of UW-System institutions. Attached to the letter is a narrative account of UW-System administration’s new plan for flexibility and increased autonomy for all UW-System institutions. I am writing to clarify my position. First, I support my fellow chancellors’ call for the forms of flexibility they believe would be appropriate on their campuses. I was not asked to sign the letter, almost certainly because I have expressed my support for the proposal in the Governor’s budget for UW-Madison, and I continue to support it. I could not, in good faith, sign on to a plan that has, as yet, no details that would allow us to assess whether the benefits to UW-Madison are comparable.

I have been presenting and vetting the New Badger Partnership, UW-Madison’s integrated plan for a new business model, for well over a year. I have also consistently argued that all UW campuses need greater flexibility and local decision-making. Given the extraordinary amount of time and effort we have put into developing an integrated plan for UW-Madison and given the support we have garnered for it, I cannot responsibly forego an opportunity to preserve the university’s strengths or support a plan that could leave UW-Madison weaker than it has the potential to be. I would like to see all our institutions get appropriate forms of flexibility, in addition to, but not to the detriment of the forms that are proposed for UW-Madison in the governor’s budget.

Is it possible that the new System plan, when its statutory details are revealed, could provide UW-Madison the benefits offered by the proposal for public authority status? Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question definitively at this point, because the statutory details have not been shared. As far as I know, they have not yet been discussed in a chancellors’ meeting or in a public regents’ meeting. For that reason, they have also not been discussed on campuses.

I am skeptical that the statutory details of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership will offer the benefits that the governor’s proposal provides UW-Madison. In our analysis, based simply on the five-page narrative account and earlier efforts to link flexibility with specific statutory changes, there are at least two critical features of the public authority model that will be impossible to replicate in the new plan, and those two elements are essential. First, we do not believe it will include the ability to design a personnel system that would be suited to the needs of a research university setting. A new personnel system would eliminate layer upon layer of red tape and rid us of some of the perverse incentives that stand in the way of optimal performance in the current system. Second, we are worried that the new plan will not give campuses’ ownership of our non-state-tax-dollar revenue, which is a critical element of the public authority plan, and one that is essential to allowing UW-Madison to deal with disproportionately deep cuts. It is critical to the management of UW-Madison’s uniquely diverse revenue sources over time that we “own” and manage our own revenue.

Given that some of the most revenue-friendly elements of the public authority model may not realistically be achievable in the new System plan and given the desire to have UW-Madison in the System, it appears that other chancellors and System administration will absorb a bigger share of the $250 million budget reduction than the governor’s plan suggests. The reduction associated with public authority status for UW-Madison (50% of $250 million) significantly exceeds our traditional share of a System-wide budget reduction (38% of $250 million). We have believed that this disproportionate share would help the other campuses deal with the deep budget cuts. None of the flexibilities associated with procurement, facilities management, or GPR block grants, all of which may be contained in the System plan, would provide relief of the kind we would need for a $125 million cut.

If UW-Madison is granted public authority status, we will recommend a resident tuition increase that is no higher than what is anticipated for UW-System in the governor’s budget, namely, a 5.5% System-wide base increase along with the already Regent-approved differentials for a number of campuses, including UW-Madison’s Initiative for Undergraduates. This is the same resident increase (8.5%) our students absorbed this past year, a year of smaller reductions. In addition, we would be able, once again, to hold harmless students with need whose families make $80,000 or less. Their increase would be covered with grants, an effective freeze. With the cuts we face and the absence of what public authority gives us, we could not commit to that hold-harmless provision.

For over a year, my staff and I have been doing what we believe it is our job to do — find a way to preserve the quality of the state’s flagship campus at a time when its potential as an economic driver, talent magnet, and educator of our young people has never been more important. Our motivation arises from a simple and compelling reality. Wisconsin cannot afford to lose what every other region in the world is rushing to establish—a world-class research university with the capacity to compete successfully for talent, new resources, and jobs. UW-Madison brings in well over a billion dollars annually from outside the state; its research supports existing industries and generates new ones. UW-Madison educates the state’s young people in environment enriched by pedagogical innovation and a rich research program.

We have never sought to make gains for UW-Madison at other institutions’ expense, nor have we presumed to speak for other institutions about what they need in order to thrive. We are not only committed to our collaborations with other System institutions, we are convinced that they can be enhanced under a new model. UW-Madison has been guided by the Wisconsin Idea for a hundred years, and will continue to be defined by the desire to serve the state’s citizens. Over the next few weeks and months, I hope we will have a thoughtful discussion on the merits of the proposals before you, a discussion in which everyone is open to the new ideas and changes that will allow us to help ourselves so we can help the state.

Biddy Martin
Chancellor
UW-Madison