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Live Blog: Badger Partnership Forum

January 24, 2011

Chancellor Martin explains the Badger Partnership. Photo by Rory Linnane

Note: Anything not in quotes has been paraphrased.

6:00 PM

Sam Polstein introduced the forum. Chancellor Biddy Martin, Dean of Students Lori Berquam, and Assistant to the Chancellor Don Nelson will speak about the current proposal and answer questions. Afterward, the administrators will leave and students will be able to give feedback to ASM.

Martin: The question that the Badger Partnership asks is, how do we preserve the quality of this university, for its students and for the state of Wisconsin? The competition worldwide for the best faculty, students and staff has heated up considerably over the past few decades and it’s only going to get more heated going forward. In this environment, what can we do in the face of declining state support? The new Badger Partnership essentially argues that UW needs more flexibility to operate more effectively, and with that flexibility we can do more to help ourselves and the state of Wisconsin. It takes hundreds of years to build a great research university. It does not take that long, in the face of an economic crisis, to lose that standing. I do not want to see the quality of UW-Madison erode. The short version of the new Badger Partnership is, if we are dealing with declining support from the state, “help us help ourselves” by giving us more autonomy. We need to take responsibility for our own institution. The Badger Partnership would “put the responsibility on our campus and the shared governance system” to make decisions to help this campus. I’m eager to hear from those of you with concerns, what you would do in the face of declining support. “What do you suggest as an alternative to the principles embodied in the new Badger Partnership?”

6:15 PM

Nelson: Any kind of change that will come will be through the Governor’s Budget. The governor will present the budget at the end of February, and then each house in the legislature will look at the budget and have public hearings about the budget. In June, they will give it back to the governor and he will decide whether to veto anything. We are responding to this process as each point takes place. We act as advocates for this campus, answering questions and advocating for things important to this campus. Last time Lori, Darrell and I were before you, you asked us what we are talking to the governor about. We’ve given them information on the Virginia model, and the flexibilities that the Chancellor talked about. We’ve asked basic demographic questions, so they can understand our campus at a basic level. What do we proactively give to them? We can’t assume that they’ve read everything, so we give them those materials, and tell them about the discussions we’ve been having on campus. There are certain things that are most important on this campus, and we seek to provide those to the legislators.

Q & A:

Student: What would you say to the concern that this could contribute to the privatization of education and losing students?

  • Martin: We don’t support making UW-Madison a private university. Number one, financially it would be unaffordable. Number two, it would cut against the grain of what makes this university great.

Kyle VandenLangenberg, student: We’ve been dealing with falling state support for decades, but year after year we are rising or maintaining our position as a university. We seem to be doing alright. So how would you respond to this?

  • Martin: This is a question I get a lot from the media. “Any institution that stands still, deteriorates.” The truth is, that declining state support has had an impact. We are much too thin in some areas. There’s a real gap in faculty ages because a whole tier of faculty wasn’t hired. It’s hard to know when the tipping point will come. But what we know is that we have government determined to deal with a deficit without raising taxes, so we know we’ll be dealing with a more significant cut than we have been. People feel we’ve reached a point where the demoralization of the faculty will be tremendous, and the inability to hire faculty will significantly decrease our ability to provide students the courses they need and the attention they deserve. We do have a great university, “but we have weaknesses, we have deficits, we do more with less already.” And the competition is getting much greater. It’s not just national; it’s international. “The competition for the best minds around the world is fierce, and it’s only going to get fiercer.
  • VandenLangenberg: There’s common statistic that for every dollar UW gets we put 18 back in the economy. It seems that we will essentially be exporting the dollars that the state gets back. We end up shifting all of the finance dollars out of the state because student loans are not housed in the state of Wisconsin.
  • Martin: The way that student loans are funded has shifted from being in banks to being in state institutions. I think the statistic is that for every dollar UW gets we put 21 dollars back in the economy. We bring in so much money from outside of the state, for research, from out-of-state tuition, and from gifts. We are a thriving export business, bringing in money.

Emma Roller: Could the Badger Partnership cause other state agencies to lose money in discounts on bulk purchases for all state agencies, because the university is making purchases independently?

  • Martin: It’s possible for the university to still purchase bulk items with other state agencies.
  • Roller: Has the university started building a relationship with the department of administration on topics like this?
  • Nelson: Yes, we’ve been continuing to build relationships with state agencies. In the area of building, we have a lot of private dollars in building and it’s a very different mix of funding sources than how state building projects are usually done. Donors have less patience than we do when it comes to working with the state, and sometimes a more efficient method is needed to get things done.

Max Love: You stated in a past interview that you are comfortable with the level of state funding.

  • Martin: I would love to have more funding, but I don’t have a target.
  • Love: Is there a benefit to getting more state money over private money?
  • Martin: It would be fabulous if there were more state money.

6:40 PM

Beth Huang: I’ve continually heard that the partnership is not a privatization, but a way to give the university more powers. But I don’t hear much about what powers will be given to students, staff and faculty at this university. Can you give me your vision for how other players than administrators will have more flexibility?

  • Martin: First of all, I’ve never said we want more “powers.” We want more “tools.” Greater flexibility would allow us to rely more on our shared governance system. The shared governance system would have to do even more work and be even better. We would have more decisions to be made with shared governance groups. A lot of kind of decisions “that get made for us” right now, would be made here. I’m not against state support in any way. I’ve spent more time at the capitol advocating for state support than any other chancellor. But I’m also a realist.
  • Nelson: The protection of shared governance is a “bottom line” in any legislation. It gives us the student perspective that we just don’t have on a daily basis.
  • Huang: Right now I’m only aware of advisory committees that have to do with the partnership. When the budget comes out, will we just have advisory committees, or will students have votes on those shared governance committees?
  • Martin: We don’t know. Right now the advisory committee on the new partnership was just established last semester. “Everything that happens through shared governance is technically advisory.” Shared governance ensures that administrators don’t make decisions without serious consultations with shared governance groups. The only thing that would change is that there would be more opportunities for shared governance on this campus, and students would have just as much input in shared governance groups as they have now.
  • Huang: Would there be guaranteed votes on shared governance committees for tuition setting?
  • Martin: Tuition setting would not be done by a group on this campus. We would be overseen by a board, and that board would have the final authority to set tuition. They would set it based on recommendations from the campus. If we had a board specific to UW-Madison, I would want students to be on it. If I was given a voice on that matter, I would say that we want student representation.

Student: If there was a consensus across the university that we don’t want you to move forward with this, how would we be able to express rejection of this?

  • Martin: I think the proper way would be through shared governance. And if you do reject it, I would ask what you would suggest we do.
  • Nelson: I would say you should consider what principles of this plan you have issue with. Each principle will be voted on by shared governance groups.If there is widespread discontent, I think it would come through the shared governance process.

Steve Olikara: How do you estimate the gains from the new Badger Partnership? It seems like a lot of the changes in the Badger Partnership are one-time changes, so how do you see it working long-term?

  • Martin: I don’t see the new Badger Partnership as compensating for state cuts. It’s not about a trade-off. I’m trying to be realistic about what I think is going to occur in the way of budget cuts. The partnership is about preserving the long-term value of your degree. It won’t work unless the state can also commit to stable funding for the university. We also need some one-time tools. There are donors who, on the basis of their excitement over this partnership, would give a lot of money to this university. But this ensures us an ability to continue operating in the long-term, so we can keep the university committed to its public purposes while preserving its quality.
  • Olikara: Is there any way to estimate the gains of the partnership?
  • Martin: We know we can save millions of dollars on facilities projects. There are a whole set of ways in which we would have authority over our revenue and use it in ways that benefit our university. It’s not all quantifiable.

Student: A lot of students are concerned that this is an attack on shared governance. How are your decisions really made, and how much student input was actually taken into account? I think students feel like they were alienated from the process.

  • Martin: I don’t see my position as a leader as sort of sorting through an agglomeration of opinions on campus. That’s not a leader; that’s a mouth piece. I feel good about what I did, which is take what I’ve learned over many decades of work in higher education, and come up with an analysis of what I think could help us, and then try it out. I wanted to see whether it would have any support before I pushed it with anybody. I published an article about it last spring, and I sent out a letter about it to the entire campus. I’ve been completely above board.When I was talking to gubernatorial candidates, I wanted to explain to them the importance of this university, using the powerpoint that is online, that everybody has seen. You need a different leader if you want someone who is just a mouthpiece for things that were voted on in advance. We would never get anywhere if we had people deciding on every detail before we could discuss anything with leaders. When I don’t seem to you to be adequately consulting, you’ll tell me and I can be responsive. I think the way the process has unfolded has been legitimate.
  • Nelson: You don’t have to read the paper very much to know we’re not the only university going through this. Student impact has a greater impact now, then it would when there weren’t as many decisions being made.

Student: How are programs like the People Program going to be affected by raising tuition?

  • Martin: Those programs will be protected no matter what happens. We will come up with the money to protect those programs.
  • Nelson: We will have to work harder to make those happen, but those are a bottom line.
  • Martin: We’re not where we need to be in having a diverse campus. We’re not going to fall backwards. The Badger Partnership will allow us to make more decisions and make progress.

Student: With corporate funding, comes corporate ties. What checks are there in place?

  • Martin: When we’re talking about private support, we are primarily talking about philanthropy. There are policies in place that protect our freedom. Going forward, if more institutions fund research, they will be subject to those guidelines.
  • Student: This proposal seems like it could give the state a reason to not give us as much money. And if philanthropy isn’t there, where do we go? We go to corporations. And they will only donate if their values align.
  • Martin: We don’t want to push the state away, and that’s why we don’t want to lose our public status. This is a way for us to form a true partnership with the state and not animosity. There are people without health insurance, and underfunded schools K-12. To go to the state in an unrealistic vain asking for new funding would create a hostile relationship, and that would push the state away. We can’t do without state funding and “this is a proposal that assumes stable state funding.”

7:20 PM

Nicholas Brigham-Schmuhl: What part of the Badger Partnership has protection for benefits for university employees, including all the graduate student assistants?

  • Martin: No form of flexibility will work for us unless we all are able to keep state benefits. “And that’s a fundamental premise.”
  • Brigham-Schmuhl: Will some of the powers given to the university include the ability to give employees benefits that not all state employees receive?
  • Martin: The answer is, yes I hope so. I would like to have a status that allows us to decide that we will keep domestic partner benefits. I would be committed to protecting those.

Eric Paulson: In the 1930s, the university’s relationship with WARF carried us through a difficult time. Right now, are we planning for the worst, and what does that look like?

  • Martin: We are preparing for the worst, asking deans how they would deal with the worst budget cuts. We’re looking at how we can preserve, and do things cross-colleges. We don’t know what kind of cut is likely to be announced. We just don’t know, and I don’t know who does.
  • Paulson: Let’s assume it is a ten percent cut. Do we have an idea of what we would do?
  • Martin: We are planning. “What does it look like? Imagine everything that we are doing divided by ten, and then subtract the ten out. It means loss of faculty, advising, classes.” I hope it wouldn’t mean fewer students. We don’t yet have enough information back from the deans, but will it be painful? Yes.
  • Berquam: In the division of student life, it would equate to the loss about four staff positions.

Student (Peter): Let’s put forward a plan to fix the state’s budget. Let’s get a group of scholars here to put forward a real budget. We’ve got the people here to do that. Let’s put together a budget plan that invests in education. We need to have a much bigger conversation with the state.

  • Martin: I don’t agree with you, but I respect what you’re saying. But it’s very partisan, and I have to have a non-partisan position.
  • Student: The Wisconsin idea is to use public institutions like the university to confront power. I think we’re compromising access to affordable and quality education. I hear the rhetoric of this university operating as a business. I believe this is a defacto privatization. What is your vision of the Wisconsin Idea and how will this advance that?
  • Martin: My vision of the Wisconsin Idea includes access to affordable and quality education. But it also includes earth-shattering research. I think of the Wisconsin Idea as support for the agricultural community in this state, as the discoveries in veterinary medicine that are bringing us closer to preventing flus. The Wisconsin Idea is huge. I have been all over the state, meeting with alumni and parents, leaders in various communities, and have really devoted myself to get as much feedback as I can. “It’s not like I sit in Bascom Hall and come with ideas and hope people like them.” “The Wisconsin Idea has never thrived as it has now.” It includes research, and it includes public and private support of research.

Student: Many of my advisers have left for other universities. What recourse do we have in departments like mine (Languages and Culture of East Asia) to take responsibility for ourselves and make sure we don’t disappear?

  • Martin: That department is not going to disappear. Anything that helps the university have more flexible sources of revenue is what I’m looking for. The $20 million that we just raised for the humanities should help your department. We have to stay coordinated and balanced across the departments.

7:45 PM

Jolie Lizotte: How do you see the Badger Partnership affecting the quality of other universities in the UW system?

  • Martin: If Madison is granted some forms of flexibility, I think it will only help other schools in the system. As far as student transfers, one of my high priorities is to get more student transfers from other schools, especially the two-year schools. I see our relationships with the other campuses getting stronger.
  • Nelson: The legislature will ensure this. There will be a high level of accountability for how we relate to other universities. Transferability is an important element of that.
  • Lizotte: How do you plan to deal with the reality of sticker shock?
  • Martin: We have the office of admissions and financial aid already working on that. It’s not enough to provide financial aid, which we will do. We have to let people know that it’s available. In the past universities have not been clear enough that there’s a difference between the sticker price and the actual price.
  • Nelson: I have a daughter who goes to Minnesota, and many schools sent financial aid packages way before us. If we’re not out there communicating in front of them and their parents in a way that they can compare the two, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

Annaliese Eicher: Is any of the partnership based on WPRI?

  • Martin: I don’t know very much about them, and I’m not worried about them in this context. They’re not our sponsor, or our partner. People have different interests in things, and their ideas don’t align along strict ideological lines. If WPRI has ideas that overlap in some ways with what we’re putting forward, I think it’s simply an effect of what we’re putting forward.

Student: Has there been any feedback about the Badger Partnership from the state level yet?

  • Martin: “We haven’t gotten any negative feedback.”
  • Student: Do you think the move toward privatization might be supported by the current governor given the right-wing ideology in power now?
  • Martin: If the governor supports this plan for those kinds of reasons, I can’t speak to that. If the governor says he doesn’t support this, I’m going to support it, and go on fighting for it. We’ve been fighting for these flexibilities for years. This is not new. Because this has a name, people think we’re starting something. But the reality of what has been happening in higher education is decades long.

Student from the Teachers Association: WARF said they were worried about funding us because they don’t want the university to continually rely on WARF funding. If we move away from state funding, what is the road back? You say we must have a guarantee of stable state funding in order to move the partnership forward. How do we get a guarantee for that?

  • Martin: WARF does support graduate funding, through patents, licensing and investments. If we were in an ideal world, I don’t think this is the path we would take. The partnership is a response to reality. How do we get the state to the point that it reverses it’s commitment and gives us more funding? The states are bankrupt. What do we do in the face of that reality? We need to show the value of the university. If it doesn’t accomplish anything else, the university has been marketed really well in the last 6-8 months, because I have shown political leaders how much money the university generates. That is a very important step. A lot of people have been surprised. I’ve been persuading people that “this is a jewel that they don’t want to lose.” If nothing else comes out of it, I know there are people in this state who understand the importance of having a world-class university who didn’t before.
  • Follow-up: Will you fight equally hard for state investment as you will for university freedom under the partnership? If you fought just as publicly and effectively for restoring state funding, it could go a long way.
  • Martin: “I’ve been on that campaign since I got here.” Ask the legislators. The emphasis right now is on flexibility, because I think we have a better chance to get it. A lot of alumni have said they will not support me if our argument to the state is, “we need more money.” We are in a deficit, and people in the state are suffering. Demanding more funding in this environment will put the university at odds not only with the governor, but with our alumni.

8: 10 PM Q & A over. Five minute recess. Feedback session up next.

There are about 25 people left. About half are student council representatives or reporters.

Peter Rickman: I think we should have some kind of forum where anyone who wants to can post ideas about the Badger Partnership. Maybe a blog.

Max Love: This is a tiny group. This is not how this is supposed to work. To the degree that she says students are involved, they’re not involved. Students should have responsibility and power in talking about this partnership. She can say as much as she wants that she went around the state talking to people but that’s bullshit. “I have to clean out my ears after hearing all of that bullshit.” There are documents that exist about the partnership, about state statutes that they’re targeting. I filed an open records request for them, and they haven’t given me any. We have not gotten a student opinion on this issue. “We are down to the line.”

Student: A lot of people that I work with outside this room are really concerned about maintaining excellence in programs like the People Program. I think Biddy Martin dodged a lot of my question about that. These are programs that the university cannot exist without, and I’m worried about them.

Polstein (ASM Legislative Affairs Chair): We’re going to come up with a list of principles that we are not willing to compromise, and those programs will certainly be on the list.

Huang: Martin said Shared Governance is purely advisory, and I don’t believe that at all. One of our positions should be that students sit on that committee and be able to vote.

Seering: The Virginia model has a board of trustees. If we have something like that, one of our principles is that there will be students on that board.

Student: How would students be chosen?

Seering: In Virginia, they’re appointed by the governor. But there are many ways that could happen.

VandenLangenberg: If we’re forming some stance that we will take to Student Council, is this like a resolution?

Polstein: We are thinking it will be a set of principles that are a bottom of line of things that we don’t want the governor to touch. It’s something we can do now, and say that student council voted on it and are in favor of these principles.

Student: What weight does that carry?

Polstein: It’s at least something to say that if you change this, you went against what students thought.

VandenLangenberg: Something I would like to see on that list is that the university should not follow the corporatization of universities just to subsidize a budget shortfall. Our institution has operated for years under a public funding model. Though our funding is decreasing, our ranking continues to rise. I agree with Max, even if he might be a conspiracy theorist. I think a lot of these things are a backhanded attempt by the administration to gain more authority. I think one of the principles should point out what Obama said in his state of the union speech— that today a bachelor’s degree is like the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Emma, with the College Democrats: I see two big problems with this. One, that nobody knows what it is, and two, that there hasn’t been student feedback on it. Would you suggest making a new student org to actively educate and advocate on this issue, or is that something that ASM is doing?

Polstein: I’m trying to do it a little bit, but creating a student org wouldn’t undercut anything I’m doing. That would be great. Also, anyone is welcome to come to legislative affairs meetings to help us.

Williams: Also, we’re in the same boat you are. No one really knows what it is, so it’s hard to educate.

Claiborne (sp?) from the Teachers Association: If we do still care about the Wisconsin Idea, any guiding principles should align themselves with that. The idea is about substantial state funding as a better form of funding for a free-thinking public institution. The only way to sustain this university is stable state funding. Maybe that is the one thing we can push for. If she does as much to insist that the UW needs state funding… I want her to go to the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce to explain that the state of Wisconsin needs to invest in the university. I don’t accept that it is bad form for her to ask for a higher commitment to higher education. When you’re facing a recession, education is a great way of climbing out of that hole. It’s her job to ask for that. And it’s not her job just when the coffers are full.

9 PM

Peter Rickman: Whatever is put forward by the student government should say, unless these expectations are met, we unequivocally oppose this. Here we are sitting a month out, and a group of people are forced into cobbling something up. You will not convince me otherwise that these discussions were happening in business suites, not in classrooms. It’s going to be people like us who rise up and protect this institution. We need to organize collectively and stand up for public education. That’s your invitation to come get involved in this. We need to be in opposition to this until our conditions are met.

Student: I heard a lot of “I don’t know”s today, especially from the chancellor. To inform more people about what’s going on, I think we should do class raps. We are limited in time, and I think that’s a good way to reach more students.

Jolie Lizotte: I think we should also reach out to students at other schools to make sure that their interests are protected.

Student, new freshman SC rep: I think it’s important to realize that the budget won’t actually get sent back to the governor until June, so in a lot of ways we have more than a month. It does sound a lot like privatization, but what is the alternative? To go to a republican controlled government and ask for more money?

Seering: If not this, then what do we do? I think that’s a realistic question

Student: Why doesn’t she come to us with another plan? She only comes to us with a privatization plan and expects us to take it. As her job she should have looked into alternatives.

Rickman: I agree that all things being equal we will not get more money for our university. But we need to change the way things are and build a case to stand up for public education, that we will not accept cuts to public education at this time. I don’t think we need to consign ourselves to negotiating. Let’s assert our commands, and then talk about negotiations.

9:15 PM We have to leave the SAC.

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