The leaders of the state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee accused UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank of playing Washington politics with the current budget debate, noting her ties to U.S. President Barack Obama and her predecessor’s support for elements of Gov. Scott Walker’s plans that she opposes.
“Recently, (Blank) has said that the current proposal would have a negative impact on the UW-Madison campus — a stark contrast from former chancellor (Biddy) Martin’s message,” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said in a statement. “This difference begs the question: Is the current chancellor and former Obama appointee playing politics with our state’s universities?”
Blank served in Obama’s cabinet as acting secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department prior to being named chancellor in 2013.
Blank said in a statement that recent discussions with lawmakers “have been positive and we understand the pressures they are facing.” She added she supports the public authority model but remains concerned about the proposed cuts.
She has said layoffs could come to the Madison campus as soon as April.
Walker has proposed cutting $300 million in state aid to the University of Wisconsin System over the next two years and freeing the universities from the reins of state government with an autonomy plan that would allow more decisions about purchasing, building, salary and tuition to be made by the System itself without legislative approval.
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Blank has argued strongly that the cuts, accompanied by a two-year tuition freeze for Wisconsin undergraduates, are too severe and that any savings from the new autonomy would take years to realize, forcing her campus and others throughout the state to lay off employees and cut programs in the short term. Darling and Nygren took issue with her approach.
“The University of Wisconsin has stressed the need for autonomy for years,” they wrote. “Gov. Walker is offering autonomy and more flexibility in his budget proposal and instead of support, the governor and legislature are being met with divisive politics.”
They pointed out that a similar proposal in 2011 which would have split only UW-Madison from both state control and the System, accompanied by a more severe cut of $125 million to the campus, was met with applause by then-chancellor Martin.
“Today’s budget proposal is similar to that of the 2011-13 budget with one major difference — the autonomy and prospective $300 million cut would be spread between campuses in the entire UW System,” they wrote. “This may mean a lesser cut for the UW System’s flagship campus and more autonomy than what was proposed in 2011 — the proposal lauded by Chancellor Martin.”
Without specifying what they mean, they accused Blank of bringing “Washington politics” to the debate.
“In the future, we hope to have an open and honest dialogue with the System about the budget, as no constructive conversation will come from bringing Washington politics to Madison,” they wrote.