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Friday, January 28, 2022

Looking Ahead: the New Badger Partnership


The New Badger Partnership has sparked serious discussion about the future of UW-Madison and many questions remain unanswered as summer approaches.

""Obviously at the end of the day it will be up to the governor, the legislature, to decide what to do with the budget proposal that is in front of them,"" Darrel Bazzell, vice chancellor for administration, said. ""But we are still optimistic and hopeful that they will endorse the New Badger Partnership and include it in the budget.""

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 Wisconsin's legislature is working toward a July 1 deadline to pass the budget, which currently includes Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to shift UW-Madison to a public authority model.

As it stands today, the proposal would give the university certain flexibilities that the UW-Madison administrators argue would raise the university's revenue and allow it to continue to compete with other institutions worldwide. They have also said these flexibilities will help the university cope with a $125 million cut in state funding over the next two years.


Preparing to Implement

The university administration, with Chancellor Biddy Martin leading the campaign, has been the most vocal proponent of the public authority model. However, others on campus are charged with actually implementing these potential changes.

            Deans of colleges and schools throughout the university oversee the budget cuts in each of their respective divisions. The administration has asked all deans to prepare for a hypothetical 10 percent cut.

""We haven't assigned formal cut numbers to schools and colleges,"" Bazzell said. ""So what specific things they would either deemphasize or eliminate all together we don't know.""

He also said the deans have provided some information about potential impacts.

College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy said he and his faculty and staff have been developing a plan to absorb the cuts for several months. According to Peercy, even with the flexibilities in the New Badger Partnership, the College will still have to merge some units and decide which functions are most important to educating students. Ultimately, though, he said this could be a positive change.

""We will protect the educational function at all costs,"" he said. ""So the functions that we are talking about is how can we become more efficient … to make sure the students have access to everything they need and to make sure we do not reduce the number of sections that we offer, so that we do not make it difficult to graduate in a timely manner.""

Peercy said the engineering department would provide more efficient computer and library support while moving more classes online.

In early March, Bazzell predicted that the university would release concrete budget numbers to all campus units either by the beginning of April or May, but said that ""moving parts"" were making this process difficult.

Since that time, the University of Wisconsin System proposed the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, a similar structure to the one proposed by the UW-Madison administration. State Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, also presented an option to separate the public authority debate from the budget bill.

            Bazzell said preparations to implement the New Badger Partnership or the Wisconsin Idea Partnership were similar while Nass' proposal requires no implementation efforts on the part of the university.


Flexibilities in Flux

Although the administration has pushed hard for the New Badger Partnership flexibilities, some remain unconvinced the proposal will make it through the legislature.

Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor, said he does not think any of the proposals have a legitimate chance of being adopted by the legislature.

""I think the last couple weeks we've heard a lot of legislators express concerns about the New Badger Partnership,"" he said. ""They want more time to investigate it and they want to compare it against the Wisconsin Idea alternative, where the system would still be held together but there would be some additional flexibilities.""

 He also said legislators worry about addressing these proposals when they are simultaneously confronting other major issues like collective bargaining legislation.

Before the bill can be voted on in both houses, it must pass through the Joint Finance Committee.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester and co-chair of the JFC, said in a recent statement he did not think the New Badger Partnership would pass. Still, he conceded that some flexibilities for UW-Madison in addition to the UW System may make it through the JFC even if the entire proposal does not.

However, according to Burden, at this point it is difficult to determine if the budget will even be passed by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year for state administrations.

""If we had to project at the moment, I'd say it seems unlikely that anything will be done before July 1,"" he said.


New Resource Develops for Tracking Changes

But even with such uncertainty, many people will be tracking the proposals' progress through the legislature over the summer months.

UW-Madison geography professor Kris Olds has been uploading resources to his BadgerFutures blog ( and the related Facebook page since the beginning of February.

Olds said he wanted to see the situation as it unfolded, including the stated positions of both critics and advocates.

""I started to get a little bit confused, like everybody, about what was being proposed and it was hard for me to track what was going on,"" he said. ""And then I started to realize that there were people either advocating or criticizing the New Badger Partnership … I sort of wanted to see the big picture of who's doing what, who's saying what and so on.""

He noted each side only presents its own side of the argument, making it difficult to view the situation objectively.

""I think it's good for people who are supportive to see what the critics are saying and then vice versa,"" he said.

Both proponents and opponents of the New Badger Partnership will continue to advocate for their respective views as the school year comes to a close. Although at this moment a concrete roadmap is not in place for the future of Wisconsin's higher education, actions this summer promise to move the UW System closer to a final decision.

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