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Sunday, December 03, 2023

UW System needs to compromise

The future of UW-Madison's authority model grows hazier as Chancellor Biddy Martin finds her brainchild gridlocked between UW System officials and the Wisconsin state Legislature. As evidenced by her e-mail sent to UW-Madison students last Thursday, Martin's attempts to implement the New Badger Partnership—a plan to increase UW-Madison's flexibility through the establishment of a public authority model that would break the university from the UW System—are growing increasingly desperate. Although Martin earned the support of Gov. Scott Walker in his proposed biennial budget, the idea of Wisconsin's most prestigious and economically viable research institution stripping away from the UW System has sister universities and the Board of Regents disconcerted.

In response to the New Badger Partnership, UW System officials proposed a supplemental Wisconsin Idea Partnership that increases flexibilities for all UW System schools while keeping Madison tied to the Board of Regents—directly conflicting with the core idea of the NBP: autonomy. While we commend the System's initiative to provide all public universities with similar elasticity, we continue to stand by our previous editorials supporting the NBP's inclusion of a public authority model, something the WIP fails to incorporate.

Although a variety of professors and student organizations have demonstrated overwhelming support for the NBP, the battle between the two partnerships won't end with a single victor. It is clear the System aims to slam down UW-Madison's attempts to break away, so compromise seems to be the only viable solution to such an intransigant conflict. In order to preserve the UW's image, it is important Martin captures the support of neighboring universities and earns the blessing from the Board of Regents before she pushes through with her plans.

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Instead of taking the ax to UW System President Kevin Reilly's WIP, Martin recently announced a third amendment to the governor's budget. The draft combines the main elements from the WIP and the NBP, giving the entire UW System more freedom to set tuition rates and faculty salaries while allowing UW-Madison to operate under a Board of Trustees.

Unfortunately, even these generous negotiations have come under the Board of Regents' scrutiny.

As much as Reilly touts that the WIP acts in the interest of the entire UW System, he can't avoid the fact that the Board of Regents' main priority is to cling onto UW-Madison with every muscle it has to flex. Still, it would be in the System's best interest to work with Martin through these contentions rather than turn its shoulder to any compromise she suggests.

Reilly can rally up the remaining 13 institutions to lobby the Legislature as hard as he pleases, but the reality is that Martin is the only chancellor who has Walker's ear. The fact that the NBP is written into the governor's budget proposal is cause for compromise between both Martin and the UW System.

As stated in her e-mail, Martin believes, ""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."" After campaigning for so long, Martin isn't going to back down, which is something the rest of the UW System needs to understand. While the NBP may have left the System with a raw deal, railroading Biddy to deconstruct the partnership won't give birth to a new plan all UW institutions can agree with. The only real success will result in healthy negotiations that maintain friendly relationships between all 14 UW schools.

We don't foresee Martin or the UW System conceding anytime soon, but the fact that Martin strongly urged students to take action and lobby the Legislature in her e-mail proves she will use any measure possible to preserve the NBP. And as Wisconsin's flagship university and home to a historically experienced and passionate set of die-hard protesters, it's safe to say the Board of Regents won't have an easy fight to win.

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