Most of the decisions surrounding the New Badger Partnership have focused on its promise to keep UW-Madison competitive in spite of deep budget cuts from the state. But beyond the financial benefits of increased autonomy, public authority status also presents UW-Madison students with a golden opportunity to strengthen shared governance.
At the moment, the public authority model—part of Gov. Scott Walker's biennial budget—will establish a 21-member Board of Trustees to preside over the university. Members of the board will come from a variety of backgrounds including alumni, university employees and instructors. While this new structure will increase UW-Madison's ability to effectively speak for itself, there is room for improvement in student representation.
In its current form, the Board of Trustees is slated to have just one student representative. Compared to the UW System Board of Regents model, which has two student seats, the new model seems to lack the same level of representation.
The importance of a strong student voice in university decision making can never be understated. This is why ASM should begin lobbying efforts at the Capitol to grant another seat to students on the proposed Board of Trustees.
Ideally, we would like to see an undergraduate student as well as a graduate student sit on the Board of Trustees. Each group has a different, yet equally important, perspective on how the university should function. If just an undergraduate presided the voice of graduate students on campus could potentially be disregarded, and vice-versa. Having a seat from each demographic would produce the most thorough representation of the student body.
If public authority status is to come into fruition, it will most likely happen over summer. With ASM not in session until the fall, there is an immediate need to pick competent interim members of the board before students eventually define a selection process next semester.
The most logical choice for an undergraduate representative would be the sitting ASM chair. After all, the chair was voted in by the student body and has experience with student as well as administrative affairs.
The choice for a graduate student representative is not as clear-cut. However, we believe the faculty senate should be given the opportunity to decide the graduate representative. Although faculty would already have a seat on the board, their familiarity with graduate students makes them a natural choice to pick a competent representative.
After the interim period, we hope ASM will allow a general student body vote to elect its representatives to the board. It is important that ASM creates a process that promotes the most capable candidates and steers clear of egregious campaign spending—something that has turned many campaigns into fundraising contests throughout similar universities. The importance of these seats demands a fair election.
Public authority status for UW-Madison presents students with an opportunity to greatly improve shared governance. If ASM can effectively lobby for an additional seat on the Board of Trustees, both the university and its students will be better off because of it.