The proposal to split UW-Madison from the University of Wisconsin System may be dead, but UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin said she hopes another plan will rise in its place to give the university more freedom from oversight.
Martin said she’s “accepted the improbability” that Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget proposal will pass.
It would have given UW-Madison its own board of trustees and more autonomy on setting tuition, building facilities, paying employees and managing money.
Republican lawmakers on the state’s powerful budget committee confirmed this week that the governor’s plan will be stripped from the budget. It’s not clear what will replace it.
Martin lobbied for the proposal for months, in spite of opposition from other leaders in the UW System. But on Friday she acknowledged that it lacked political backing and said she’s turning her attention to alternate plans the Legislature is considering.
“I’m actually delighted by the potential in some of these compromise plans we’ve seen to get forms of decision-making and authority, as well as flexibility, for UW-Madison and the other campuses,” Martin said. “It would be unprecedented obviously to have that kind of progress.”
Lawmakers say they are working on a compromise that would give all UW System campuses more freedom from state rules and regulations. That has been a crucial concern for other UW System chancellors and the UW Board of Regents, who argued for UW-Madison to remain in the system.
“The Assembly and Senate are making progress toward finding additional flexibilities for all universities,” said Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chairman of the budget committee. “While there’s no deal yet, we are still planning on addressing the flexibilities within the budget.”
Lawmakers also say they want to create a committee to study the university’s operational structure outside of the budget process.
“I think we’ll have to set up a very powerful task force to look at this,” said Rep. Patricia Strachota, R-West Bend.
The UW System faces a $250 million cut in state aid over the next two years in Walker’s proposed budget, with half of that assigned to UW-Madison.
Martin said she is pleased that the governor’s plan has forced the Legislature to address state oversight of the university. She said she is hopeful the final plan will give individual campuses more authority to give merit pay to faculty, make tuition recommendations, and control and manage building projects.
“I’m focused on ensuring that these flexibilities, as we call them, that all the campuses get are actually still meaningful when the vote is taken,” Martin said. “Because a $250 million cut to the UW System without any ways of dealing with it is devastating to the state of Wisconsin.”
UW System leaders said they would work to reduce UW-Madison’s share of the cut so that the flagship campus is not disproportionately affected.
“While legislators are less interested in any kind of UW System split, the really good news is their sincere and growing interest in providing new administrative flexibilities for all UW campuses,” said UW System spokesman David Giroux.
Legislators on the Joint Finance Committee are expected to debate the UW System budget on Thursday.