Walker's UW power grab polarizes university system, may split GOP | WisCommunity

Walker's UW power grab polarizes university system, may split GOP

Gov. Scott Walker, in short order, has polarized Wisconsin's citizens.

But he's also managed to divide the University of Wisconsin system.

And before he's through, he could split the Republican caucuses in the legislature.

What it's all about is Walker's budget proposal to split the UW-Madison campus off from the rest of the UW system, giving it autonomy and special powers to deal with budget issues, giving it flexibility to set tuition, manage pay and approve capital projects. UW-Madison would absorb half of $250-million in budget cuts, or a 13% cut in its budget. The other campuses around the state would face 11% cuts -- without any of the positive changes the Madison campus would get.

Governance of the Madison campus would be shifted from the Board of Regents to a new board with a majority of its members appointed by Walker, giving him immediate control of the campus. That is no small part of the package, and fits nicely with Walker's attempts since Jan. 3 to seize and consolidate all power to run the state in his office.

Madison Chancellor Biddy (Not name-calling, that's what she calls herself) Martin supports the idea, having negotiated it with him behind the backs of the UW Board of Regents, which runs the system and for whom she supposedly works. The Regents were more than a little unhappy that Martin was looking out for Number One at the expense of the other campuses, without even telling them what was going on.

Regents' Plan

The Regents voted 16-1 to offer a plan of their own, called the Wisconsin Idea Partnership as an amendment to Walker's budget. (The one Regent who voted no said he thought it didn't go far enough.)

The Regents said their plan "provides UW-Madison with all the operational flexibilities proposed by Gov. Walker, but within a unified System framework. This option avoids the creation of a new public authority that would separate UW-Madison from all other UW institutions. By preserving existing law that governs UW institutions, this straightforward approach addresses many concerns about student, faculty, and staff shared governance, student access, tuition rates, academic freedom in teaching and research, and the appointment of a new and separate governing board."

Not surprisingly, the chancellors of the other 13 UW campuses in the state like the idea, and have signed a letter asking the legislature to support it.

Martin, the Madison chancellor, reacted to the Regents' action by accusing them of "smug snottiness" since her secret deal with Walker became public.

The term for what she's engaging in is called projection -- attributing your own feelings onto others. Or, as Pee Wee Herman would say, "I know you are, but what am I?"

GOP may be split

In any event, there's a big battle brewing in the legislature, and Walker is unlikely to find the kind of lockstep Republican support he's had to date. Many of the Republicans represent disticts with outstate UW campuses -- Oshkosh, Platteville, Eau Claire, LaCrosse, and so on. They are not likely to be receptive to plans to short-change the campuses they represent at the expense of Madison.

The Madison campus, of course, is represented by Democrats. While they may like the idea of giving that campus some special privileges, they won't be pleased with the idea to move governance away from the Regents and give it to a Walker-dominated board.

There are those who argue -- and even graph the theory -- that Walker would actually have more control, over time, of the Board of Regents. But that misses the point: Walker wants control right now, not in a few years when he has been able to replace enough Democrat-appointed Regents.

What would Walker board do?

Walker would get to appoint 11 of the 21 members of the new board right away, putting his loyalists (and donors) in charge. They would serve three-year terms, so are easily replaceable if they don't follow Walker's dictates.

(Regents serve seven-year staggered terms, which gives them more independence.)

What would Walker's new board mean for stem cell research?

How about domestic partner benefits, which the current Regents have championed?

What does it mean for in-state students as the new "corporate board" composed of Walker appointees, Foundation reps, etc. decides to increase the number of out-of-state students by 10% or 20% or more, as a way to increase revenue?

What does it mean for middle class students from Antigo or Fond du Lac or Beloit or Ripon who will be priced out of a campus they and their families have always seen as aplace where they could dream to go if they worked hard and did well in school?

Those are just some of the questions hanging in the air as the debate begins.

In this interview with Mike Gousha, Board of Regents President Chuck Pruitt discusses the issue and other concerns.

This issue may not bring tens of thousands of demonstrators to the State Capitol. But it's looking like a whale of a fight.

UPDATE: Regents President Pruitt and Vice-President Mike Spector weigh in with in the Journal Sentinel.


March 23, 2011 - 7:32pm