University of Wisconsin System officials provided new details of their proposal to gain flexibilities as a united entity in a Joint Finance Committee meeting Thursday, a plan the Madison chancellor has said could pose a risk to the excellence of the system’s flagship campus.
UW System President Kevin Reilly said new flexibilities for all campuses, as articulated in the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, would be necessary to continue producing well-prepared graduates and jobs for the future Wisconsin workforce.
He said in order to cope with such a significant magnitude of cuts, the system as a whole should receive the new managerial flexibilities chancellors have sought for decades in a round of nearly three hours of testimony from Chancellor Biddy Martin and other system chancellors.
Reilly also said the committee should consider the proposal as a means to avoid fracturing the system, and Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he would be willing to work with the system officials and chancellors.
“Increased flexibilities are important to UW-Madison, but they are just as important for the other campuses,” Reilly said. “We offer you a simpler way forward, with no question about public status, so all will remain accountable to the public.”
If the current plan to separate UW-Madison from the System and make it a public authority entity is approved, Reilly said campuses risk unnecessary duplication, harmful competition between campuses and higher costs to students.
Reilly provided documents to committee members with his plans for the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, including giving the Board of Regents tuition setting powers, with the caveat that the system would work to develop new policies to ensure lower costs to students, allowing easier access to higher education for all Wisconsinites.
Human resources areas would also be governed by the regents’ oversight, which would maintain the power to recognize collective bargaining agreements for system employees and provide incentives to faculty and academic staff members, the documents said.
While the regents would retain these administrative authorities, the documents said the Legislature would still approve all construction projects over $500,000 and the Wisconsin Department of Administration would retain oversight for procurement, two notable flexibilities included in Martin’s New Badger Partnership.
At the meeting, Martin said the system’s proposal would not provide the Madison campus with the new tools necessary to preserve the excellence of Wisconsin’s flagship university.
“We’re tired of the same structures that are not getting us where we need to go,” Martin told committee members.
She said the proposal set forth by Walker in his budget address would allow essential flexibilities in areas of administration and personnel in a way that the system’s proposal would not benefit campuses in the long run.
With the two proposals for autonomy vying for consideration under the state budget, one senator said the difficult economic climate should not promote infighting between UW-Madison and system officials.
“Sit down and work together so we move the university system and the UW-Madison campus forward,” Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said.
Although the Legislature will eventually make the final decision on whether to separate UW-Madison from the system in several weeks, UW representatives for all campuses agreed greater autonomy would be necessary to face cuts of a magnitude not seen in recent years.