Tempers flared during a panel debate Tuesday as multiple groups who have been outspoken opponents to the New Badger Partnership united to question the future of the University of Wisconsin System.
During the debate, which was hosted by the Teaching Assistants’ Association, Chancellor Biddy Martin debated with UW System and United Council representatives to advocate the New Badger Partnership, saying the proposal would serve to preserve the campus’s status as an internationally dominant research university rather than damage the other system campuses.
Opponents of the plan maintain that public authority status for the campus will weaken collaboration between campuses and, in turn, hurt the university’s tradition of affordability for Wisconsin residents.
“Going forward with the New Badger Partnership would isolate Madison not only from other UW campuses but from many of the political players in the state,” UW-Baraboo-Sauk County Dean Tom Pleger said. “It will damage this university.”
Pleger, a UW-Madison alum, said smaller schools within the UW System such as his campus stand with more to lose should the proposal in the governor’s budget be approved by the Legislature than if UW-Madison remains a member of the system.
Under criticism from the panel’s attendees, Martin said the New Badger Partnership is the proposal that is currently best not only for the Madison campus but for the greater state of Wisconsin.
“We can’t afford to lose what every other state is trying to create,” Martin said. “Changes all over the world are happening in higher education and we can either absorb those changes or construct the future. The New Badger Partnership constructs our own future.”
Martin said universities in China, Korea and Brazil are successfully “stealing” top faculty from the United States by pouring money into higher education. She said UW must pursue alternate financial options in order to stay competitive.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux said he has seen no mechanisms in the proposal that gives UW-Madison increased funding ability than it currently has as a member of the UW System.
“A lot of attention has been made to the differences between institutions that have the same goal in common,” he said. “All of us want to provide the best education for the state of Wisconsin. At a time when this state’s support for higher education is at an all time low, our voice is much louder if we advocate together.”
Martin contended private entities do not see the reduction in state support as a reason to make financial gifts to the university but instead look for the prospect of making the school stronger.
UW-Madison professor Murray Clayton said while he is neither for nor against the proposal, he believes more details are necessary for a proper analysis. Clayton added he hopes a finalized plan would make the campus’s world-renowned academics its top priority.
“I hear on the other end of State Street that there’s concern about how we’re proceeding as a university,” he said. “So far, this university has been extremely successful. We’re among the top research facilities in the world. The question is not how we can be fixed, but what problems specifically need to be fixed.”