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Forums offer ideas on retooling UW’s working relationship with the state

Better access to classes, more students graduating in four years, more tenure-track faculty in the classroom. Those are just a few of the ways UW–Madison would benefit in the coming years if the university were granted broader flexibility, Chancellor Biddy Martin told a campus audience at Grainger Hall Oct. 19.

More than 300 students, faculty and staff were part of the discussion about the proposed New Badger Partnership in a series of three recent campus forums.

The success of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates in building educational quality and affordability provides a strong case study in how increased flexibility can benefit the university and its students, Martin said.

She pointed to some of the gains made by the initiative when asked what UW–Madison would be like in 2015 if it could retool its working relationship with the state under the New Badger Partnership, a plan to better manage the revenue it generates by winning greater flexibility from the state and regents.

The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, approved in 2009, uses a supplemental tuition charge to invest in the quality of the undergraduate experience while vastly expanding the pool of need-based aid available for students and their families.

Martin said the New Badger Partnership would make the campus more competitive, ensure that buildings could be constructed more quickly and that faculty could be more easily rewarded for great performance.

At the third forum at the Waisman Center, Martin was urged to engage state residents, along with political leaders and candidates, in the dialogue about the partnership.

“A large part of what we need to do is educate people about what our value is and why we are different from the Department of Transportation or Natural Resources,” Sandy Phelps, senior academic librarian for Ebling Library, told Martin. “We have to show that we have a greater amount of ability to do a lot for the state if they give us the freedom to do that.”

Freshman Kara Bissen told the chancellor at Grainger Hall that she worries about higher tuition costs. If the university runs more like a business, “that worries me whether I’ll be able to continue going to school,” she said.

Martin said the university would like to have the flexibility to organize the university in a way that makes sense for its mission.

“The way to ensure affordability is through financial aid and reasonable tuition,” Martin said. “Reasonable tuition, in my view, is that we are at least at the median of our peer group. We have to have financial aid available for student from low- to middle-income groups.”

Students at the Waisman forum raised concerns about whether the arts and humanities would continue to thrive if more emphasis were put on outside research dollars.

Martin said UW–Madison would maintain a strong commitment to all disciplines, noting that the humanities had fared well under the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.

Graduate student Erik Paulson asked Martin at Grainger Hall what her backup plan was, should the New Badger Partnership get a chilly reception from policymakers.

Martin received a laugh from the crowd when she said: “Plan B is Plan A with a little disappointment,” and added that the university badly needs stable state funding.

For more information or to offer ideas and comments, visit New Badger Partnership.

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