Apparently, I attend Koch University.
At least, that’s what a flier from last week’s protest of the New Badger Partnership atop Bascom told me. The flier also had a picture of Chancellor Biddy Martin photoshopped onto the body of Queen Elizabeth.
Students against the push for UW-Madison’s independence from the UW system rallied last Tuesday, and the tone was pretty harsh. Members of Student Labor Action Coalition and Teaching Assistants’ Association, as well as UW faculty and staff, held a mock auction of UW to corporate interests — their interpretation of what the NBP would mean.
So where does “Koch University” fit into this discussion? Frankly, nowhere. At least, nowhere relevant to the merits of the proposal.
Much of the opposition to Martin’s proposed split from the UW System has become tainted with the polarizing political reactions to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill, blurring a reasonable discourse.
The intense ideological divide over collective bargaining has spilled over into many tenuously-connected political areas. So when Walker showed he was willing to accommodate Martin’s plans — albeit not quite what her original vision consisted of — naturally many turned a distrustful eye toward her.
It seems almost forgotten that Martin has been framing her proposal for increased UW independence since before Walker was even elected to office. Martin first hinted at her vision for more independence as proactive steps she needed to take to ensure the continued high standards of the state’s flagship university while dealing with hard budgetary times.
Martin’s fiscal concerns are by no means unfounded. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle brought UW System dollars to an all-time low in his last biennium budget — only 18 percent of UW’s funding came from the state. Education funding cuts are not as partisan an issue as one would think, so Martin wisely took initiative and began planning ahead.
Perhaps the most contentious parts of her proposed split from the UW System are the tuition increases and a lack of transparency, which lend themselves most conveniently to attacks that align Martin with Walker and his seemingly dictatorial approach to governorship.
Now, it’s perfectly reasonable for students to be concerned about tuition increases. Many students, myself included, will leave UW with a considerable amount of debt bearing down on them, on top of the stress of finding a job.
However, it’s important to realize tuition increases are inevitable with or without the New Badger Partnership. Walker, along with leading members of the state Legislature, has already made it clear overall spending is going to be reigned in considerably in the new biennium budget. UW will see further cuts to its already-meager funding and will likely need to make up that difference though students.
At least with the increased freedom to decide where resources go, UW can try to make the best of a bad situation.
So how do I know many criticisms of the New Badger Partnership are more politically-based than content-based? The adversarial Board of Regents basically scooped up the proposal and slapped a new name on it to gain independence with administration, yet keep UW in the System. It doesn’t sound like they’re denouncing the merits if they want the same thing for other system schools.
As for Martin’s transparency issues, critics do have a bit of a point. When it was revealed she and Walker were in talks over how the New Badger Partnership would translate into the biennium budget, she saw a lot of backlash: She was treated like a Walker crony making backroom deals and withholding just what the proposals would entail — specifically a split from the UW System and the Board of Regents.
Martin admittedly could have handled that situation better and divulged more information to certain parties. But I can understand why she didn’t go into detail about the specific proposals — she herself didn’t know exactly what they would look like.
A lot of the New Badger Partnership plans depended on what state government was actually willing to let Martin have, so naturally she didn’t want to speak about things that were still uncertain. Releasing details and proposals that were by no means finalized would have likely led to more confusion and misinformation than what is already being seen.
Yet since that misstep, Martin has made numerous honest efforts at reaching out to the campus community about the New Badger Partnership and its effects, hosting public forums and tweet sessions to clarify her plans and respond to criticism.
In fact, Martin came out to speak to the impromptu Bascom protest last week despite the outright rude reception she received. I found their treatment of Martin completely disrespectful and not appropriate if they want to call themselves a thoughtful, intelligent opposition. You’d be hard-pressed to find other university chancellors who work so diligently to reach out to students. Former Chancellor John Wiley likely wouldn’t have batted an eye.
I chalk Martin’s difficulties in garnering support to a simple case of really bad timing; she’s trying to float a major change in university administration policies at a time where politics have become a volatile propaganda tool. Unfortunately, it seems Martin is becoming a martyr for the continued excellence of UW.
Alicia Yager (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in journalism and French.