I wrote that in January. Since then, the proposed changes to the University of Wisconsin have evolved to include much more sweeping measures, including a split from the UW System and the creation of an independent board to oversee UW.
Despite this shift, the strengthening of the Wisconsin Idea remains a key justification for the New Badger Partnership. I wrote in January that it is not the state Legislature that defines UW’s participation in the Wisconsin Idea, and this holds true for the UW System as well. It is instead defined by UW’s relationship with the people of Wisconsin. Researchers will continue to produce ideas that move this state forward, and students will continue to interact with the community. That is the strength UW needs to preserve at all costs.
Some of the more vocal opponents to the New Badger Partnership hold that by splitting from the System, UW is abandoning the rest of the state’s students. However, the Board of Regents has little impact on how System schools interact. The student transfer process will be maintained. Joint research with UW-Milwaukee and the UW-Extension partnership will continue. Many of these relationships are contractual, and UW-Madison continues to reiterate System schools will remain valuable partners.
What is really at stake is accessibility. Chancellor Biddy Martin has said over and over again that tuition increases are inevitable, and that is worrisome for its potential impact on the ability of many of the state’s brightest students to attend UW-Madison. The university has a long road ahead of itself to ensure that high tuition does not drive away deserving lower-income students, and slipping away from a stated commitment to improving financial aid would be the real act of abandonment. If UW-Madison stands by the Wisconsin Idea, their resources will go to ensuring accessibility is preserved.
Opponents also say UW-Madison is opening itself up to private interests by allowing Gov. Scott Walker to appoint the majority of its governing board. I admit I was initially very uneasy with the knowledge he would select 11 of the governing board’s 21 members. But if you look closely, the requirements that would constrain his selections do a commendable thing: ensure diversity in thought that preserves the interests of the university and state.
Among the required members would be a regent and a representative of state agricultural interests. Overall, nine of his appointees must be experts on some component of the university with demonstrated commitment to its success. Walker could appoint the Koch brothers to those last two seats and it would not matter – the requirements leave little room for corporate interests to garner a majority and turn the university into their personal tool.
Independence from the Legislature and the UW System does not mean independence from the state. Instead, it will give UW-Madison the agility to better assess where Wisconsin’s need is the greatest and react. It is painful to sever some of the ties that seem so integral to UW-Madison’s identity, but a return to the state as our strongest partner will only strengthen what we are about.
I would like to again point out the words of former state legislative librarian and progressive reformer Charles McCarthy in his 99-year-old book, “The Wisconsin Idea”:
“In these days of the ocean cable and the fast racers of the sea, waves of public opinion and thought and the struggles of other lands reach us so quickly, that whether for good or evil, great and sudden changes are emerging from this turmoil. We are encountering but the first [waves] of what appears to be a flood of mighty forces. … The best there is of our sturdy individualism must be preserved.”
Signe Brewster ([email protected]) Is a junior majoring in life sciences communication.