UW split could increase tuition, hurt low income students

Cristalyne Bell, Editor in Chief

The University of Wisconsin-Madison may be taking a step toward less state control, which could result in increased tuition rates.

In a Jan. 7 memo to Secretary Mike Huebsch, UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin outlined a proposal for public authority status, where the university would gain increased autonomy and might break away from the University of Wisconsin System.

The transition, dubbed The New Badger Partnership, would allow UW-Madison to have its own governing body appointed by the governor and the university. As such, the governing body would have the power to make decisions involving purchasing, building, hiring, salary and tuition rates without consulting the state or the UW System.

Also found in the memo is a scenario of how UW-Madison would accommodate a $50 million cut in funding if 75 percent were to be made up through a tuition increase. The scenario was submitted, per request of Gov. Scott Walker, and indicated that it would require a 26 percent increase in undergraduate tuition.

Martin stated that the 26 percent tuition hike would be unacceptable and instead proposed an average increase of 10 percent a year for the next two years.

“I am confident that our students will be able to afford (tuition increases), but it will be as a result of the fact that we provide more financial aid,” said Martin in a Feb. 17 press conference.

The announcement comes at a time when financial aid is being cut. President Barack Obama recently announced his 2012 budget plan that eliminates summer Pell Grants. In addition, Gov. Walker has openly admitted that his budget will include additional cuts to education. Exactly how much has not yet been revealed.

Other UW System chancellors have expressed concern about what major cuts would mean for their universities if UW-Madison were successful in breaking away. The likelihood of such a break is high, given that Gov. Walker appears to support the idea of public authority status.

The UW-System is one of the largest public higher education systems in the nation. It consists of 26 four-year universities and two-year colleges and accommodates well over 200,000 students and faculty. UW-Madison is the long-time flagship of the system.

Ben Manski, executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation, called the New Badger Partnership the corporatization of education. He said the transition has been in the works for a long time, and it was only a matter of appointing a chancellor who was willing to work with university leaders to corporatize UW-Madison.

“The UW-System as a public university system is very much at stake this year. This coming year will decide whether or not the UW-System is a public institution anymore and it’s really going to be essential for folks in Wisconsin to fight to protect this university that we’ve all invested so much in,” Manski said.

Madison Area Technical College Student Senate President Jacob Weigandt also expressed several concerns about the proposal.

“A 20 percent increase in tuition (over a two-year period) could detour a lot of people,” said Weigandt who plans to transfer to UW-Madison. He raised a number of questions regarding transferable credits if UW-Madison is no longer a part of the UW System.

Weigandt’s primary concern, however, was with the lack of communication with students.

“It seems ridiculous that they would make such a drastic change in the structure of the institution without consulting the very people that the institution exists to serve,” Weigandt said. “I couldn’t possibly support that kind of a transition even if there were obvious benefits, [and] I have yet to see any of those.”

Weigandt plans on pairing up with WISPERG to mobilize the student body in order to demand that this decision has some sort of student input.

UW-Madison graduate student Elizabeth Wrigley-Field said that the university might be communicating with student government, but not at all with the student body at large.

“I think it’s a really elitist move,” she said.

E-mails from the chancellor on the matter have been circulating. UW-Madison undergraduate student Kaitlin Morrick said that she received a lengthy e-mail outlining the proposal and stating that tuition increases were both necessary and warranted. No specifics were given.

Martin claimed that public authority status would ensure that UW-Madison continues to be a leading research institution.

“UW-Madison can not continue to be the economic driver and the gem that it is for the state of Wisconsin if it doesn’t have new tools of which to deal with significant budget cuts,” Martin said. “Removing excess bureaucratic layers and operating more nimbly and more efficiently is absolutely critical to our ability to serve the state.”

The Madison College Center for Arts and Sciences Dean Todd Stebbins sees no potential risk to the university transfer agreement between Madison College and UW-Madison if the changes go into effect.  Nevertheless he encourages students to express their concerns to university leaders, because it is in the best interest of the university to hear their concerns.

“Madison College is the largest supplier of transfer students to UW-Madison, so whatever they decide affects our students,” Stebbins said.

So far no one has expressed any complaints to him.

“There is so much left to be done and said about this. Everything is preliminary,“ Stebbins said.