State of Uncertainty

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The UW’s future is clouded as the legislature considers the budget.

protest

In February, UW–Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association called for a “teach out” and marched up State Street to protest against a bill that would remove their collective-bargaining rights. Photo: Jeff Miller

The future of UW–Madison’s governance is the subject of debate in the capitol and around the state as Wisconsin’s legislature and Governor Scott Walker attempt to deal with an expected $3 billion structural deficit.

In February, Walker proposed a budget bill that includes a $250 million cut in funding for UW System, with half falling on UW–Madison. To ease the burden on the university, the bill offers to grant UW–Madison public-authority status — effectively splitting the Madison campus from the rest of the UW System and putting it under a separate governing body, a board of twenty-one trustees.

UW–Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin PhD’85 has expressed support for the proposal, arguing that it would give the university increased flexibility, particularly in personnel and purchasing matters, and in setting tuition. That flexibility would enable UW–Madison to absorb losses in state funding, she says, and improve its ability to compete with other research institutions around the world.

However, the UW System leadership and members of the board of regents have opposed public-authority status for UW–Madison, expressing concern for how the split would affect the other UW System campuses.

The discussion of university governance falls at a contentious time, due to heated politics in Madison this year. In February, protesters — including members of UW–Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association, the union representing graduate-student employees — descended on the Wisconsin legislature. Demonstrations continued for weeks while the assembly and senate considered and ultimately passed a law stripping state workers of many collective-bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin legislature was still debating the budget bill and UW–Madison’s possible public-authority status at press time.

Published in the Summer 2011 issue

Tags: budget, State Relations, UW System

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