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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, June 13, 2024

Transparency key for partnership

When it comes to details about the New Badger Partnership, Chancellor Biddy Martin has been talking in generalities for nearly a year. Martin has continually called for drastic measures to help cushion the possibility of large cuts to university funding—measures she vaguely described as ""flexibility"" and ""increased tools."" However, when a memo with specifics about the possible shape of the New Badger Partnership was released last week, it seemed as if behind-the-door details that had built up for months were finally made public.

While Martin's intention to give UW-Madison ""public authority status,"" a separation from the UW system with its own independent governing board may have seemed obvious to some, her memo seemed like a slap in the face to many and a far cry from the ""flexibility"" she's been calling for. The reality is, Martin has been speaking in ambiguities for months and while she's always been good at communicating her goals, she botched it this time.

On one hand, the details in the memo are not in conflict with the broad strategies Martin has discussed publicly.

Threatened budget cuts undoubtedly put Martin in a tough spot and in light of this, it is reasonable for her to keep some details confidential to avoid confusion among the press, students and other chancellors. Additionally, separating UW-Madison from the UW System does accomplish Martin's goals of giving the university more flexibility and decision-making power. In this respect, everyone who is up in arms about the memo needs to settle down.

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On the other hand, Martin could have done a better job of providing more information about what the New Badger

Partnership would actually look like. Though she has repeatedly said ""everything"" is on the table, it would be more than a stretch to say she's ever explained what ""everything"" means. While Martin was crunching hypothetical numbers about possible tuition increases and budget cuts, it would have been nice if she'd given the students and faculty a heads-up about the direction she was moving.

At no point did Martin outright lie, but the memo shows she hasn't been telling the university community the entire truth. The memo, drafted Jan. 7, contains everything from broad details about tuition increases and shared governance, down to minutiae about how this new business model will affect public records requests and utility maintenance projects.

Martin could have avoided ruffling the feathers of her colleagues on the Board of Regents, her fellow UW System chancellors and numerous concerned students if she had simply leveled with the university community earlier on. The New Badger Partnership has always sounded more like a bend than a break, and the way Martin has communicated her plans at numerous public forums made the plan look significantly less decisive than it actually is.

We would have been happy if Martin had kept us updated about her meetings with Gov. Scott Walker's staff concerning the partnership, or even if she mentioned she had proposed a more concrete plan than she had discussed in the past. In the future we will be more cautious of taking Martin at her word, and hope she takes steps to show she is committed to being more forthcoming about issues that have such a high impact on students.

 

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