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UW-Madison bridge

A lobbying group made up of UW-Madison alumni and donors is criticizing the University of Wisconsin System’s plan to pull $6.5 million of new funding from the flagship campus and distribute it among smaller institutions.

The System’s proposed operating budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, released earlier this week, calls for dividing a $25 million state funding increase based on a new model that gives UW-Madison less than a third of the money it would have received under the typical allocation formula.

The Board of Regents will vote Thursday on the campus funding plan and budget.

UW-Madison officials said Tuesday that they are concerned about how much money the proposal moves from their campus to the rest of the System, but are willing to share the funding as a one-time measure.

Badger Advocates, an organization founded in 2016 that lobbies for UW-Madison but is not affiliated with the institution, took a sharper tone in a statement Wednesday.

“This is bad for UW-Madison and bad for Wisconsin,” executive director Matt Kussow said of the System’s plan. “It is a short-sighted decision that punishes success and fosters an environment which pits member campuses against each other.”

The usual formula used to split money up among campuses would have given UW-Madison $9.4 million of a $25 million funding increase UW is expected to receive in the coming state budget, following the lapse of that money from the System in the 2015-17 budget.

Instead, System officials want to use a different model that gives UW-Madison $2.9 million; UW’s 12 other four-year campuses, as well as its two-year college system, would in turn receive additional funding.

“I fear this is just the beginning of efforts to erode (UW-Madison’s) position as the System’s flagship university,” said Kussow, whose organization’s board includes UW-Madison mega-donor John Morgridge and former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

UW-Milwaukee linguistics professor Nicholas Fleisher disagreed, writing on Twitter that it is “long overdue” for other System campuses to receive bigger shares of UW funding. Supporters of smaller UW institutions argue they have faced more drastic cuts as a result of reduced state funding over the years, while the Madison campus has been comparatively better off.

“A strong system helps Madison,” Fleisher said. “Other campuses are struggling.”

System officials have said the distribution plan is based on several measures, including institutions’ abilities to raise money from sources other than the state and per-student funding levels, though they have not specified how those factors are weighed.

“The goal is to help support all our institutions to help make them financially stronger,” System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.