Last week was bad for the New Badger Partnership’s prospects in the state Legislature. Reps. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Robin Vos, R-Burlington, each said they had doubts that the University of Wisconsin-Madison will garner the votes to split from the UW System, casting a pall over Chancellor Biddy Martin’s hard-won successes thus far.
When the chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities and co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee say something like that, it is enough to immediately change the dialogue.
“I think it has a good chance — I don’t think we have the votes right now, and I don’t think it’s guaranteed by any means, but I am very hopeful,” Martin said at a recent campus forum.
That’s a far fall in tone from just a few weeks ago. The state has finally found an area where the Legislature will not follow Gov. Scott Walker, and it means the uphill battle for Martin will only get taller.
So with the possibility of the Legislature striking the New Badger Partnership growing, why is Martin not panicking? Why is the pressure to find another immediate fix to deal with $125 million in cuts not growing?
It is because the New Badger Partnership never was the immediate fix. That job will fall to the Administrative Excellence initiative, which is already being carried out by the Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group.
The idea, according to the Administrative Excellence site, is to make UW “more effective, efficient and flexible.” That reads eerily similar to the New Badger Partnership, which is not accidental. No matter what plan we go with next year, Administrative Excellence will determine where the first changes are made to deal with the loss of tens of millions of dollars in state funding over the next two years.
It is funny Administrative Excellence has not been more publicly displayed as a complement to the New Badger Partnership, as even a quick read of its goals eases many concerns about the New Badger Partnership’s shortcomings in the immediate future.
The site says, “areas of focus will include the university’s administrative structure, accounting and financial reporting, human resources, facilities, construction management, information technology, internal auditing and budgeting, procurement and other areas.” So by streamlining our current structure, pinpointing unnecessary costs and making a lot of smaller changes in what we currently have, the idea is we can cut our budget without chopping programs that benefit students.
Administrative Excellence will also follow something closer to the shared governance process the New Badger Partnership would have gone through in a perfect world. A committee that includes Martin, the provost and the vice chancellor for administration will oversee the project. A panel that includes students, faculty and external stakeholders will also contribute, along with smaller “working groups” tasked with specific goals.
It’s collaborative, careful and clear in its goals. Not convinced? Visit the Administrative Process Redesign website, which provided the principles adopted by Administrative Excellence. Quality management jargon aside, the program has worked to make UW more nimble. And it can do it again with Administrative Excellence.
So, we are going to get through this, with whichever plan we wind up with. We will absorb the cuts and grapple with tuition hikes, and it will hurt. But UW will live to see another finals week.
That being said, it is not time to abandon the New Badger Partnership. The principles behind it still stand: We need means to overcome cuts in the long term while still competing with peer institutions, and that means more alternative funding and freedom from state oversight. Something must change, and it can’t be enough to simply keep us afloat financially.
The New Badger Partnership is not the only way; it is just the best way that has presented itself. Nass and Vos said it themselves that greater flexibilities are on the way — they just might take the form we expect. In the meantime, Martin must continue to be bold in what she asks for and fight for that with everything she has.
Signe Brewster ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in life sciences communication.