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

Tags: Alumni, budget, Legislation, UW System

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