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Thursday, May 26, 2022
Dems' NBP stance vague, disappointing

Todd Stevens

Dems' NBP stance vague, disappointing

Mike Mikalsen and I don't agree on much. Mikalsen, the research assistant and lead strategist for state Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has played a central role in Nass' work as the main thorn in the side of UW-Madison. So as I spoke with Mikalsen over the phone last week concerning the proposed New Badger Partnership, it was no surprise that I disagreed with much of what he said.

However, Mikalsen is nothing if not bright, and he was bright enough to capitalize on one thing I couldn't dispute: When it comes to the New Badger Partnership, Dane County Democrats, usually UW-Madison's staunchest allies, have been eerily silent.

Madison's representatives in the Legislature have practically disappeared on the issue of higher education ever since Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his proposed budget, which included a plan to grant UW-Madison public authority status, separating it from the UW System while creating a separate Board of Trustees to run the university. During the weeks of union protests, the issue was somewhat understandably put on the back burner. But especially in recent days, which saw Nass announce his intention to push the New Badger Partnership out of the budget, UW-Madison could use some friends. Unfortunately, right now our friends don't seem too eager to jump to our aid.

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When asked to take a stance on the New Badger Partnership, no Madison legislator I spoke to was willing to pledge outright support or opposition. Worse, in explaining their issues with the proposal, many complaints echoed the same misleading and outright contradictory statements put forth by opponents of the public authority model for weeks.

State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, claimed he was ""apprehensive"" about the program, claiming that the New Badger Partnership would danger UW-Madison's status as a public institution.

""I would not want [the New Badger Partnership] to lead to an out and out privatization of the campus, especially when the state has millions of dollars already invested in it,"" Risser said.

Yet in contrast, state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, seemed to fear the New Badger Partnership would make UW-Madison too much of a public institution. She stated her central complaint was with the proposal's Board of Trustees, where 11 of the 21 members of UW-Madison's governing body would be appointed by the governor. Instead Berceau wanted the appointees to come from Wisconsin's educational community.

Even state Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, the man The Isthmus recently painted as the Assembly's preeminent grandstander, would not defend the partnership, instead preferring to take the most wishy-washy stance possible. In an e-mailed statement, Husley reiterated Berceau's complaints regarding the governor-appointed trustees, adding that he had ""concerns"" with the proposal.

""I don't think we should accept any cut to funding for the University,"" Hulsey said, before contradicting himself in his own statement by saying he looks forward to working with the Legislature to produce a compromise.

The problem with Hulsey's and many of his colleagues' ""concerns"" is just how easily debunked they are. You can't say UW-Madison would be any closer to privatization when a majority of its governing board is appointed by an elected governor. And you can't criticize the plan for putting too much control of the university in the hands of the governor when the current situation under the UW System does exactly the same thing—in fact, by the end of his term, Walker will have appointed a majority of the UW System's Board of Regents as well.

The New Badger Partnership gives UW-Madison the resources to save money by becoming independent from the UW System, while at the same time taking a share of the budget cut burden of the other Wisconsin campuses. In short, it's a good plan—one of the few good plans put forth by the new gubernatorial administration. But all Madison Democrats see is Walker's name all over the proposal, leading them to distance themselves from it out of cowardice and attack it out of opportunism.

For Madison legislators, this is nothing short of shameful. The city these people represent is what it is economically, intellectually and culturally a result of UW-Madison. But instead of jumping to defend the most feasible and fully formed plan to protect the university, Madison's representatives in the Assembly and state Senate are focused on scoring political points in opposing the Walker administration.

Campuses across the state have their local legislators fighting for them in the budget. Of all places, UW-Madison should be able find allies in its own backyard. You'd think that, but you'd be sadly mistaken.

Todd Stevens is a senior majoring in history and psychology. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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