Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison know their school can hold its own as a first-class public research institution rivaled by only a few dozen universities across the world. But our state’s current budget debates forecast spending cuts that could slash into the core of what makes the campus great.
As a student regent appointed to represent students on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, I’ve heard from many students who are concerned about this budget. Students are consistent in what they say: Maintain our high quality of education, make sure we can afford to get our degrees and ensure a Wisconsin degree offers students pathways to new possibilities and better lives.
The upcoming state budget will make achieving these goals very challenging. In the last 10 years, our universities have sustained deep cuts to funding, including a $255 million cut in the last biennium. Now Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a budget that would cut $250 million, plus an addition $90 million from staff and faculty pay. Every student at every campus will be affected by these cuts.
That is why I am encouraged that chancellors from across the UW System have put forward some straight-forward proposals that will allow our institutions to squeeze more value out of tax and tuition dollars. You’re probably familiar with the proposal to provide flexibilities to UW-Madison, called the New Badger Partnership. Chancellor Biddy Martin has shown strong leadership by seeking administrative tools to help protect UW-Madison from proposed cuts.
The Wisconsin Idea Partnership is an expansion of the New Badger Partnership that students and chancellors from across the UW System support. This proposal extends the New Badger Partnership to benefit every campus in the system, in a framework that keeps the campuses together. This proposal offers the same flexibilities — ones that have been endorsed by Martin and Walker — to the other campuses, providing cost savings and tools to make education more efficient across the system. When I think about the values students have voiced to me — of maintaining high quality education, of affording a degree and of accessing opportunities to benefit themselves and the state — I am convinced these efforts to increase efficiencies and expand flexibility are desperately needed at all campuses across the state.
Despite the importance of these changes, I am concerned that separating UW-Madison from the system will result in needless duplication, wasteful competition and a tarnished reputation for all campuses in the UW System. Some voices in this debate seem convinced UW-Madison will lose out if the New Badger Partnership is altered in any form, despite the reality that it was developed from proposals the UW System has long been advocating for, and the fact that the UW System-wide Wisconsin Idea Partnership simply extends those flexibilities to other campuses as well. Again, under the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, UW-Madison would benefit from the same flexibilities Martin has advocated for.
As I said at the outset, UW-Madison students (and Wisconsin taxpayers!) are rightfully proud of the world class status of their institution. I am proud of UW-Madison. I can say as a student from UW-Eau Claire, my campus benefits from the status held by our flagship. However, it is equally true that when other nations and states seek to establish fine systems of education, they look to the University of Wisconsin System. That standing benefits UW-Madison, just as UW-Madison’s reputation benefits the UW System. Undoing the reputation of this system would be unwise, unneeded and shortsighted.
The difference between these two proposals is not just the chance to extend flexibilities to other schools. It is also a savings to everyone by avoiding a costly, hazardous fissure between our flagship and the system. There’s no reason Madison would have to separate from the system to have the kind of flexibility it needs and wants, and that Martin has fought for. Given the similarities between the plans, I encourage students at UW-Madison to lead as their institution does — by supporting the Wisconsin Idea Partnership and a role for Wisconsin’s flagship that is inclusive and supportive of our other campuses. We must move forward through these challenging times, together.