Campus Leadership

Helping the UW Gain More Flexibility

Since WAA’s founding in 1861, advocacy has been core to its mission and its dedication to engaging alumni in support of the University of Wisconsin. In 2011, this mission drove WAA’s efforts to engage alumni in support of a proposal to create a new business model for their alma mater.

Then-Chancellor Biddy Martin PhD’85 proposed the New Badger Partnership in fall 2010. The initiative sought management flexibilities in areas regulated by state government, including personnel management, capital projects and bonding, tuition revenue, and purchasing.

In January 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced budget language that would have addressed some of the challenges identified in the campus proposal by establishing UW-Madison as a public authority. The WAA board of directors endorsed the model, and WAA, in its advocacy role, sent out communications to educate alumni and generate legislative support.

“We know that our postcards, advertisements, emails, and website brought information about the proposal to many alumni,” explains Tim Higgins ’77, chair of the Alumni for Wisconsin volunteer advocacy network. “But we were also able to explore new approaches to engaging in conversation, including a tele-town hall, where almost 20,000 alumni participated in a live discussion with Chancellor Martin. The response and involvement of our alumni in this advocacy effort was truly impressive.”

But alumni did not universally support WAA’s position in favor of the New Badger Partnership.

“We have a diverse and highly engaged alumni population, and some alumni strongly disagreed with WAA’s role in this debate,” says Paula Bonner, WAA’s president and CEO. “But we take our role as advocates for the university very seriously. And we understand that taking positions at times can be controversial. We made every effort to be respectful and allow every graduate to have a voice.”

Ultimately, the 2011–13 state budget did not include the new structure for UW–Madison, but all UW System institutions were granted new flexibilities, particularly in the area of personnel management.

The legislative accomplishments, particularly gaining the ability for UW–Madison to develop and implement its own personnel policy, will have a significant impact. But the most meaningful outcome of the advocacy campaign may be the focus on the future of public higher education in Wisconsin. The conversation will continue, as a study of the funding and structure of the UW System will begin this fall.

“We will be fully engaged in contributing to this conversation,” Bonner says. “Alumni have been actively involved in the process all along, and we very much appreciate all of our graduates and their dedication and commitment to the university.”

Published in the Fall 2011 issue


  • Grant P August 29, 2011

    I am a current member of the UW-Madison faculty whose own two children are either already UW-Madison alumni or soon will be. I am also one of many who cherish this campus’ strong tradition of shared governance and of service to the state of Wisconsin and who were therefore deeply disturbed by Chancellor Martin’s methods and tactics in her unilateral pursuit of a splitting off of UW-Madison from the UW System.

    As has now been noted by quite a number of experts on University-State relations, most of whom were drowned out during the one-sided propaganda campaign for the NBP, splitting off the campus would have been a disaster for a great many stakeholders and would NOT have achieved many of the amazingly ill-defined objectives and benefits cited by its proponents. It was a bad idea, period, and its origins appear rooted more in the privatization fetish currently sweeping this state than in any appreciation for UW-Madison’s exceptional value as a PUBLIC university.

    To the point of the above article, many of us were especially appalled at the open meddling by the WAA and by the mysteriously funded “Badger Advocates” in the discussion over the future of our great university and their attempt to short-circuit a sober, concrete cost-benefit analysis of various options for dealing with budget cuts.

    As one who was once very appreciative of our alumni and their representative organization, I now view the WAA as an entity whose goals may not be aligned with those of the faculty, staff, and students who actually still live, work, and study at UW-Madison. I wonder now whether the board’s views are even aligned with those of the majority of WAA membership — or at least of those members who get their information about university affairs from more than just WAA communications like this one.

    I will be very curious to see whether this comment is allowed to appear (and remain) on the page where it was posted.

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