Details released for potential University of Wisconsin-Madison split

Details released for potential University of Wisconsin-Madison split

Bascom Hall file photo
Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UW-Madison would be governed by a 21-member board of trustees — 11 appointed by Gov. Scott Walker — under a proposal likely to be included in Walker's budget.

More details emerged Wednesday about what a split from the rest of the University of Wisconsin System would look like. UW-Madison posted to its website the summary of drafted budget language, based on a Legislative Reference Bureau report.

Until now, the split has only been discussed in memos and letters.

The summary described a new public body — independent from state government — similar to the model of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. Yet the state's flagship university would remain a public institution and would still receive state funds, according to the summary.

"Our public purpose is still the same," said Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor for administration. "Our mission is still the same. Our relationship with state government in terms of rules of regulations, that changes."

The proposed separation comes after UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin spent the last year lobbying for more freedom from what she calls burdensome state regulations on purchasing, building, personnel and tuition. She said Gov. Scott Walker approached her with the idea that UW-Madison could gain more flexibility by splitting from the UW System.

But leaders from the UW System say Martin struck a deal with Walker without airing the issue publicly or even telling members of the UW Board of Regents — her bosses.

In letters to Martin and the governor, System leaders expressed concern about the effect such a move would have on the other campuses in the UW System.

"Dismantling our public university structure is a consequential public policy decision that affects every UW campus, all 72 UW-Extension county offices, and every family who dreams of seeing their child earn a UW degree," wrote UW System President Kevin Reilly, Regents President Charles Pruitt and Vice President Michael Spector in a letter to Martin on Tuesday.

The Regents will hold a public meeting on the issue Friday at 10 a.m. at the Pyle Center.

The deans of UW-Madison's schools and colleges sent an e-mail to the Regents on Wednesday in support of Martin. Robin Douthitt, dean of the School of Human Ecology, said she is concerned the Regents may question Martin's leadership at the meeting.

"The deans are strongly in support of the strengths of Biddy's leadership," Douthitt said.

21-member board

Under the draft language, UW-Madison's board of trustees would be authorized to set and manage tuition rates.

The board would be made up of 21 members. Eleven would be appointed by the governor, one of whom would be a UW Board of Regents member. The other 10 members would be appointed by faculty, employees, students, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Wisconsin Alumni Association, and the UW Foundation.

The chancellor would serve as a non-voting member. Terms would be three years, except for the student member who would serve two years.

The current shared governance system would be maintained — meaning faculty, staff and students have a say in the governance of the university. Effective July 1, all employees would work for UW-Madison, not the UW Board of Regents or the UW System. Employees would continue to get existing state benefits.

Divided university community

The idea of UW-Madison spinning off has divided members of the university community.

UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson sent a memo to Gov. Walker and elected officials arguing that his university would be sent "back to the 19th century with the plan you've chosen."

"To lose the UW brand and prestige — that we helped establish and build — in today's highly competitive climate will cause irreparable harm," he wrote.

On the other side, former UW-Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala — currently the president of the University of Miami — argued in a letter to the State Journal that the change is crucial to UW-Madison's success.

She pointed to UW-Madison's $1 billion in research funding and ability to compete internationally for students.

She wrote: "It's always uncomfortable to argue that the System's flagship institution deserves better treatment. It's not an argument that says UW-Madison is better; rather, it's an argument that UW-Madison is different."

[Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the time of the UW Board of Regents meeting Friday.]


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