I was hesitant to write this article. It’s on a complex, dense issue — which means I’m going to be berated for whatever I say. But over the past year and a half I’ve been writing for The Badger Herald, it’s been the insightful comments (many of which have disagreed with me) that have meant the most. I’m writing about the New Badger Partnership this week, and I’ll start off by saying that I’m incredibly ambivalent about the proposal, which makes it both a wonderful topic to write about and an incredibly intimidating one.
There has been so much debate and contention over the New Badger Partnership that the substantive discussion over the content of the proposal has often been lost. Bitter accusations are spewed by both sides, and it’s hard to know just what the effects would be. It’s practically impossible to find outside sources; pretty much everything is coming from the university (see http://budget.wisc.edu/ for info). What both sides can, I think, agree on is that $250 million dollars are most likely going to be cut from higher education in the 2011-2013 budget. And $125 million of that is going to come from Madison’s budget.
That’s practically an incomprehensible amount of money. The University has to deal with those cuts somehow, and Chancellor Biddy Martin has settled on the New Badger Partnership. Martin’s NBP was changed by Walker in the budget — under his plan, Madison would be a public authority school — but Martin is defending the change, the most contentious part of the entire package.
Proponents of the NBP stress the added flexibility the school would have in terms of allocating its money and securing funds. Opponents argue that the NBP will reduce diversity on campus, contribute to increasing tuition and start Madison on the slippery slope to privatization (click here for details on the NBP versus the status quo and the UW System’s proposed alternative, the Wisconsin Idea Partnership).
When I first heard of the NBP, one of my biggest concerns was the replacement of the Board of Regents with the Board of Trustees, 11 of 21 of whom would be appointed by the government. But I then learned that, in order for the institution to be a public school at all, a majority of the board has to be appointed by the state government. By the end of his term (pessimistically assuming he’s not recalled), Walker will have appointed a majority of the Board of Regents. But, Regents have to be confirmed by the Senate; the Trustees wouldn’t have to.
The other concern that is often expressed is that the NBP will reduce diversity on campus. This is a very serious concern, as this campus already suffers from a lack of diversity and a weak commitment to inclusion. These concerns ought to be more fully addressed before the NBP is passed. If we do want to remain a “world class institution,” we need to have a plethora of ideas and backgrounds represented in the student body. According to one analysis, the NBP would potentially increase racial/ethnic diversity, but decrease socioeconomic diversity. I’m not endorsing this analysis as it’s based on rather non-transparent logic, but it is an interesting conclusion, and one that should be thoroughly explored.
Various faculty members have publicly declared their support for the NBP, and while I do not base my decisions on the opinions of others, I hold a lot of respect for the professors I have had who have signed on to these expressions of support. The points raised are valid, and I find them compelling. Tuition is going to increase because Madison is facing a $125 million budget cut. How much will be largely dependent on how well Madison is able to adjust its expenditures, and the NBP will increase this flexibility.
Opponents of the NBP have called for Martin to oppose all cuts to UW System schools, promise not to raise tuition and to remain in the UW System. Pragmatically, these demands are simply impossible. But they’re also very emotive. The NBP is an emotionally charged issue, and it’s a proposal that affects constituencies across the state. Other UW campuses believe they will be more affected than Madison by the changes to the system, and they have waged an effective campaign to erode legislative support for the proposal.
Steve Nass, a powerful Assemblyman from Whitewater, has proposed delaying any decision on the NBP. Democrats won’t vote for the NBP because it came from Walker (a sentiment I understand, if I don’t necessarily like), and Republicans’ constituencies are more powerful than the governor’s office. The chances of the NBP passing are pretty slim. Whether that’s good or bad, the fact is the debate dealt more with exaggerated fears than substantive questions.
I hope you have an opinion on the NBP, and while I may be leaning towards support, there are definite concerns that need to be addressed. There’s no rule that says the NBP can’t be amended. Instead of rejecting the call for reforms, we should make sure the reforms are actually going to contribute to the longevity of our wonderful school.
Elise Swanson ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and English.