A January memo containing explicit details on the University of Wisconsin’s plan for increased flexibility was a hypothetical response to hypothetical questions, Chancellor Biddy Martin said Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, the UW System sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker urging him not to include a complete separation of UW-Madison from the rest of the system in the next biennium budget. For several months, Martin has advocated for more flexibility and independence for UW-Madison with the New Badger Partnership.
The memo from Martin to Department of Administration head Mike Huebsch, sent shortly after Walker’s inauguration, was obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wednesday night. It explained the ideal future administrative model for UW going into the future, including a governance structure fully independent from the Board of Regents.
The memo caused immediate confusion and controversy among student government officials.
At a press conference Thursday, Martin said she believed recent reports of a 26 percent tuition hike and criticism of not being transparent enough throughout the Badger Partnership’s presentation to the university was the result of a misunderstanding about the memo and the Badger Partnership’s approval process.
“To say there’s been no discussion of this is simply false,” Martin said. “There’s probably been more public discussion of the Badger Partnership and the flexibility it entails than there’s been of any other single thing related to higher education in this state for years.”
She also said she had met with members of the Associated Students of Madison to reassure them about the future of the New Badger Partnership and address any doubts in her leadership.
“Where I do anything that puts in jeopardy their trust in me, I am eager and ready to meet with [ASM] and discuss it at any point, as I did early this morning,” Martin said. “From my point of view, it’s the most important thing to me, and I think the relationship remains strong.”
Members of ASM leadership said Martin apologized to them at the meeting Thursday morning.
Vice Chair Adam Johnson said he had “professional disappointment” with the way the administration informed students about the new administrative model but added he understood the political sensitivity of the issue.
“Due to the political circumstances and dealing with a governor that clearly has a mind of his own, many political issues need to be dealt with delicately,” Johnson said. “I’m kind of with the chancellor in the idea that we need to do something radically different because otherwise the university as we know it (currently) is not going to exist.”
Martin also reemphasized her belief in the importance of the New Badger Partnership, which she said could act as a “test case” for university flexibility in the UW system.
She added she believes UW needs to compete with other institutions throughout the world set to become major research institutions similar to Madison. The Badger Partnership, she said, is an essential component of remaining competitive.
Within the last several days, members of the UW Board of Regents have said they would prefer autonomy for specific system schools without completely separating the Madison campus from the UW system, as Walker could propose in his upcoming budget.
Martin said she does not believe she has the support of regents with respect to UW’s flexibility but said she does believe she has general support from the board.
UW System chancellors are carefully awaiting Walker’s budget announcement next week and believe a reaction similar to the budget repair bill may be necessary, spokesperson David Giroux said.
“When we see it…we’ll all be in a much better position over how to feel about it,” Giroux said. “We know that all of our campuses are burdened by some outdated laws and regulations that really make our campuses operate less efficiently than they could.”
Additionally, the University Committee will meet today to decide on an official reaction to the most recent developments on the budget and the Badger Partnership, Committee President Judith Burstyn said.