Chancellor Biddy Martin has shown an unwavering commitment to transparency and discussion that is currently unrivaled in the city of Madison. Where Gov. Scott Walker flippantly referred to the budget repair bill as “just another bill” in his letter to Wisconsin, Martin recognizes the incredible significance surrounding these proceedings.
The New Badger Partnership is a concerted effort to adapt to the realities facing a public institution with dwindling public funds, without a comparable increase in autonomy. The future relationship between the University of Wisconsin, the state and the rest of our outstanding collegiate system is just as complex as the details within the budget repair bill. Yet where Walker attempted to push through a vote in five days, has given more time to people pretending to be David Koch than reporters and cut off all debate because “we are broke,” Martin has been exemplary in her attempts to bring clarity to the “noise in the public domain.”
Martin has been all over the place in the last few weeks, whether you are following her on Twitter, checking your e-mail or reading the greatest newspaper ever created by man, Biddy is there, leading the conversation.
For the sake of this article, the outcomes of either the budget repair bill or the New Badger Partnership don’t concern me – what does is the difference between giving lip service to caring about public discussion, and actually having that discussion.
Walker has been quick to point to the budget shortfalls and even quicker to point to the 14 missing Democrats as people aiming to “prevent democracy from working [and] stifle debate.” Unfortunately, what has not been heard is an explanation for language in the bill that would allow for no-bid sales of power plants. Also lacking is a concrete explanation for the fiscal necessity of busting unions. Where explanation has been lacking, threats of layoffs, attacks on union leaders and the blocking of union websites around the Capitol have been all too common.
On the opposite end of the spectrum has been Martin. She has spent hours on Twitter responding directly to the concerns raised by students who are trying to understand the implications of this new direction. When a memo between Martin and Walker showed the chancellor supporting Madison spinning off from the entire system, she was quick to provide details to the student body about her position. In a recent e-mail, Martin provided her presentation to the Board of Regents. In the e-mail, she made it clear the question of whether or not Madison should separate from the entire system “is not the question that has guided our work.” Instead Martin made it clear that she and the university are doing the best they can to “create innovative possibilities” to “deal with the extreme challenges” that face all of us – students, faculty and staff.
During the next two weeks, Martin will be holding two forums on the details and developments involving the New Badger Partnership, with everyone invited to attend. This is the kind of leadership we could use more of: more involvement in public discussion, not as a means to pit one group against another, but as recognition of tough decisions being made collectively.
In the budget discussion, all I have seen is name-calling and threats – nowhere have I found Walker answering specific questions about specific fiscal realities. What I have heard is there is a budget to be balanced, and if we spend any time at all understanding the fine print, thousands of people will lose their jobs and life as we know it may cease to exist.
So thank you, Biddy. Thank you for caring enough about the people you serve to involve them in the conversation. Thank you for recognizing there was a drip of information that was confusing and worrying us and thank you for rushing to rectify the situation with facts from the proverbial horse’s mouth.
That’s all we want – just an opportunity to see what changes are going to be made and understand how they are going to protect and improve upon an institution that means so much. It’s downright reasonable of you, and that’s a lot in these unreasonable times.
John Waters ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.