New Badger Partnership still sparking debates

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Illustration by Theo Howard

Sarah Blaskey, Managing Editor

A highly controversial part of the governor’s biennial budget proposal, the New Badger Partnership, would allow University of Wisconsin-Madison more flexibility in certain areas such as tuition, financial aid, faculty compensation, and building. The plan will also allow the university more autonomy by breaking away from the rest of the UW- System schools.

Some on the UW campus believe the New Badger Partnership is a move toward privatization and greater corporate influence in higher education. Others see it as a way to avoid negative consequences of cuts to state funding for the school.

“The benefit is to be able to afford UW-Madison the ability to be nimble,” said Lori Berquam, Dean of Students at UW-Madison. “UW-Madison has been known for really making a difference in the world.”

The UW-Madison is currently ranked in the top 20 best research institutions in the world. Many are afraid that this status will be unsustainable if the current system is maintained. They fear that faculty will be attracted by higher salaries in other states, and financial aid will not be adequate as it is.

“A new “Badger Partnership” would provide a world-class education to even more students, reduce the burden on the state budget and maintain UW-Madison’s status as one of the best public universities in the world,” wrote UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin. “To safeguard the investment of generations of Wisconsinites and the quality of UW-Madison, we need a new partnership between the university and the state.”

Under the New Badger Partnership, the university would be governed by its own Board of Trustees. The Wisconsin governor would be responsible for appointing 11 of the 21 board members. The board would include student, staff and faculty representatives. “Having the executive branch appoint a majority of the Board of Trustees will preserve the university’s public status and its sovereign immunity from certain types of lawsuits,” according to the university’s website.

Walker has supported Martin’s plans for UW-Madison from the beginning. However, the Badger Advocates say that the proposal for the New Badger Partnership was not Walker’s idea. The plans for the university have been around for years, even before Martin became chancellor.

“Most of the tenants in the New Badger Partnership were laid out by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institutes in their reports going back as far as 2000,” explained Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of sociology at the university. “The other thing is that a lot of the language in the New Badger Partnership has been around since the mid 80’s. However, I will say that the current version of the New Badger Partnership with public authority status does seem to have emerged under the leadership of Scott Walker.”

As part of his budget proposal, Gov. Scott Walker would reduce aid to UW-Madison by $125 million. This is a gap that he says can be filled with the flexibilities provided by the New Badger Partnership. Many don’t see a better option for the university.

However, Goldrick-Rab is concerned by the “if not this, then what?” mentality.  She said if more constituencies would have been brought to the table, then other plans could have been formulated to reduce the budget shortfall that would not include breaking up the UW-System.

“The absence of a plan does not indicate the absence of real alternatives. The absence of a plan was a political plan to make sure there were no alternatives,” Goldrick-Rab said.

Many current students, faculty and administrators stand to benefit from increased flexibilities which will provide for higher wages for faculty and more dollars for research at UW-Madison. Martin, maintains that UW-Madison will still be a good “investment” for the future.

However, Goldrick-Rab said that the shift toward this new “business model” of education will potentially harm undergraduate education. She also expects certain fields of study to be favored over others.

“For those in the business school, they will probably do fine, for those in engineering and hard sciences, they’ll probably do fine. For those in the humanities and social sciences and education I really do think so because I don’t think our Board of Trustees are going to see the value in that form of education,” Goldrick-Rab said.

Significant increase in tuition, which could be in the double digits, has been a source of stress for many current and future students. Proponents of the New Badger Partnership claim that increased need-based aid would help students of lower income and minority backgrounds still attend school.

Transfer agreements between the university and Madison College will remain in place. However, many are still concerned that the New Badger Partnership will prevent them from ever going to UW-Madison.  However, Berquam says that there will be no negative impact on transfer students.

“MATC is the school that gives us the most transfer students, and we want to keep that active,” Berquam said. “We have far more seats at the junior and senior level than we do at the freshman and sophomore level.”

Dr. Bettsey Barhorst, President of Madison College, has endorsed the New Badger Partnership. If approved, the New Badger Partnership would go into effect along with the rest of the state budget on July 1.