Chancellor update on the New Badger Partnership

Chancellor Martin emailed the following message to campus on Wednesday, March 9.

Dear Members of the Campus Community,

As you prepare for spring break, I want to update you again on some of the elements of the New Badger Partnership.

The discussions at the Faculty Senate on March 7 and at the campus forum on March 8 were extremely helpful. I thank the speakers for their questions, comments and analysis. I was made aware of several recurring questions and concerns that I would like to address for the larger community. I will be brief.

Core Values: Chapter 36 in current law protects academic freedom, tenure and shared governance, all of which are fundamental to this university. In the proposal for public authority status, all the protections in Chapter 36 are realized in what would be Chapter 37 and would have the same force of law. No board would have the ability to change or challenge those protections. Were the bill to be amended in a way that undercuts these core values and rights, the university would oppose the bill. I am as passionate about these principles and protections as anyone in our community, and they have always been a bottom line.

Breadth and Balance of Disciplines: Some of the most significant provisions of the proposed bill are those that give the institution authority to generate, keep and use its own revenue in the most effective ways possible. We need that flexibility and the protection of our own revenue, not only to preserve the quality of the university as a whole, but also to protect the balance among disciplines. Without more discretion and discretionary funding, we run the risk of an imbalance between those areas that can attract their own external funding and those that cannot. If we are given no new tools, a cut of the magnitude we are now facing — paired with the greater ability of some areas to attract outside funding — could put what is already a tenuous balance at more risk.

Process: The proposed bill gives the campus the ability to design its own personnel system. As with other aspects of the change, the details would need to be developed over time, but the opportunity is once in a lifetime. It would take up to a year from the time the university assumes its new status to come up with plans. Shared governance will be at the heart of our deliberations about what titles, pay practices and other human resources policies make sense for a university environment, as it would be for the development of other aspects of policy.

The Board: All universities are overseen by governing boards with fiduciary responsibility and authority for setting broad policy parameters. The university cannot appoint its own governing board. All members of the current Board of Regents are appointed by the governor and serve staggered terms. In two years, the new governor will have appointed a majority of the regents.

The proposed board for UW-Madison will be made up of 21 people, 17 of whom would be affiliated with UW-Madison, either as alumni or as faculty, staff or students. The governor appoints a simple majority of the members so that we can remain a public institution and preserve sovereign immunity and liability protections provided by the state. The language of the bill specifies that seven of the governor’s 11 appointees must be UW-Madison alumni. In keeping with our land-grant mission, one must represent the state’s agricultural community, and all appointees must have interests and expertise in the university’s core-mission activities, which are outlined in the language of the bill.

The Wisconsin Alumni Association, the UW Foundation and WARF provide a mechanism for the selection of additional members, who would be alumni with relevant expertise; who have shown that they care about the university and its welfare; who understand its culture and values; and who would work to see it succeed. Our alumni represent all walks of life, as our students do. Many of our alumni devote significant resources to help the university realize its goals. They are people whose records of giving reflect their love of the university and their appreciation of its public mission. As have the chancellors before me, I, too, have confidence in the boards of these support organizations and in their understanding of the university’s mission and goals.

This is a structure that helps assure the long-term success of the university.

Collaborations: Our relationships with other UW System institutions are crucial to the state and central to our definition of what it means to act on the Wisconsin Idea. UW-Madison maintains many partnerships and collaborations with other UW System institutions. All of these partnerships, including transfers for students, will continue to exist under a public authority model. Having reviewed our transfer agreements, I believe they should not only be continued, but also need to be enhanced for the good of the state’s young people and its families. We are passionate about these connections, and we have already begun to strengthen key institution-to-institution partnerships. UW-Madison will always be committed to the quality of higher education in the state. Our primary goal is to preserve the strength of this great institution so we can continue to serve the public. It is difficult to see how we remain helpful if our capacity to realize our mission is challenged by cuts, increased controls and the absence of change. We will do everything we can to help secure greater flexibility for all UW System institutions in the legislative session and to work in concert with them going forward.

Commitment to Affordability: For years, we have been developing strategies for an appropriate balance between affordability and quality — a challenge for all public universities as public support declines.

In 2003-05, the university system offset a $250 million reduction with large tuition increases (19 percent and 17 percent). Those increases made up for 72 percent of the cut. We do not believe it is appropriate to have tuition account for such a significant portion of the cut.

Since I arrived, institutional financial aid grants have increased by 226 percent — or $14.7 million. The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates has provided a significant portion of that funding, which it was intended to do. The Great People Scholarship campaign at the UW Foundation has exceeded its goals for need-based aid in the two past years. I am confident that a private philanthropy for financial aid will continue to increase and it is one of my highest priorities.

Since 2008, need-based aid in all forms has risen 32.9 percent. Aid in the forms of grants has risen 92 percent in that time, up to $53 million from $27 million. The increase in grant aid as a result of growth in state, federal and institutional grants has meant state grants are up 22 percent and federal grants are up more than 66 percent since 2008.

Public authority status gives us the opportunity to think about what mix of tuition and financial aid makes the most sense for UW-Madison and its students. It does not lead to irresponsible decisions.

After spring break, we will organize additional forums and create other opportunities for exchange. For years, UW-Madison has been absorbing budget cuts to its core mission activities with demoralizing effects and risks to the institution’s quality. The New Badger Partnership suggests that we get creative about how to move forward, that we take innovative new steps on behalf of this beloved university and that we protect one of the state’s greatest assets. The alternative to innovation is another very steep cut, ongoing regulation and excess bureaucracy, personnel policies and pay practices that do not meet the needs of a major research university, and over-reliance on tuition.

Thank you again for your thoughtful feedback and your questions. I hope you have a good spring break. This is a very difficult and stressful time for everyone in the state. I hope you will all take good care of yourselves and one another.

Chancellor Biddy Martin