A bleak political arithmetic.

Amidst the assessments of the budget proposal to split Madison from the UW System, there seems to be little consideration of the “political arithmetic” that has always and will always be a, if not, the primary factor. Although the institution of a Walker-appointed Board of Trustees is a potentially threatening development, it is fundamentally unknown. We do, however, know the composition of the legislature and their perspectives of our campus.

Here are the numbers: There are at most three senators with significant constituencies of UW employees. (Miller, Risser and Erpenbach). They are all Democrats and the most liberal members of that body. There are, at most, nine members of the Assembly who have significant numbers of constituents who are UW-Madison employees. They are also Democrats. Each of these groups of legislators is representative in bodies that are overwhelmingly Republican.

The problem, however, is less partisan than parochial. The UW- System and its 26 campuses and 72 Extension offices have the same, if not more, legislative clout among the other 30 senators and 90 members of the Assembly. Despite the rhetoric about UW-Madison being “the economic engine for the future of the state”, the reality is that legislators are much concerned about the next election cycle, than some unknown future. And far more concerned about their district than the conceptual, state. If they have to make a choice between the state’s interest and their district, the district will always win. Party affiliation will mean far less than proximity to a UW campus.

After the budget is introduced, Joint Finance will review and amend it. How many members of the Committee come from the UW-Madison area? None. From the System area? All. How many are ideologically or culturally comfortable with Madison. Very few, if any. And among those few, is Shilling from (UW) LaCrosse, more likely to “side” with Madison or the System? Or Taylor from (UW) Milwaukee? How will the current occupation of the Capitol by people who are perceived as Madison or from “out of state” affect the deliberations?

When the bill goes to the dominant GOP caucuses who is likely to champion the budget for Madison? I can’t think of anyone. Who is likely to threaten a tuition cap? Nass already has and my guess is that he speaks for many of this colleagues. (The “public authority” does not prevent the legislature from setting tuition. In any case, they effectively set tuition by deciding on the level of the state’s contribution.)

Aside from all of the rhetoric around “flexibility” and “independence” what is actually in the “public authority”? The summary language indicates that UW-Madison actually got very little new authority in purchasing/procurement. It’s effective only in sole source/ sole need which is pretty unusual.

The much touted need for building construction management is limited only when ALL of the funds come from private sources. These are not the sort of changes that will save Madison from the alarm of “devastation” regularly sounded by Martin.

Tuition-setting? The legislature will NEVER give up their authority to have a major, if not the decisive role, in this billion dollar plus source of program revenue and costs to their constituents. Witness, the events in Virginia last week, when the Governor said that the “public authority” UVa (upon which Martin says this model is based) had excessively raised its tuition and in retaliation, cut its state aids by half.

Obviously, my reading of the proposal is that it puts Madison in a very precarious and vulnerable position in the long term. Indeed, we would have to hope that the System shatters and that all of the campuses are forced into autonomy and made to lobby for their own very limited operations. We would still have the problem of the deep animosity of many legislators against the campus but at least we would no longer have to compete with the monolithic System.

One final thought: It is worth noting, that many of the same individuals on the Madison campus who voice the slogan, “In Unity, There is Strength” when it is about someone else’s union, ignore its truth in our circumstance.


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8 Responses to A bleak political arithmetic.

  1. ... says:

    Nass does not speak for his colleuges and what you note about UVA is true. But that is proof against large tuition spikes. The state can still prevent them. UW-Madison will likely never be a UVA. They’re vastly different even if the models have the same basis. UVA acceptance rate? 20ish%.

    Additionally, things like purchasing flexibility are actually quite significant. So, I think you make good points, but they’re not necessarily disposition of the NBP’s strength.

  2. ... says:


  3. Sara says:

    Your last point is one that I have been thinking about repeatedly over the last several weeks. Biddy and so many on her staff say that the UW System is broken, so we must get out. Whatever happened to trying to fix things that are broken? I’ve seen no concerted, thoughtful effort to convene the leaders to rethink how the System operates and how, together, we can move forward. Last Friday was great evidence of how thoughtful, articulate, and pragmatic the other chancellors are. I have no doubt a roomful of those folks, with Biddy being one, could come up with better answers than Madison has alone.

    No one is perfect– there are two kinds of people/institutions: those who have pondered a divorce and those who are divorced. The former are stronger for having learned how to problem solve effectively.

  4. Fellow Sifter says:

    Thank you, Tobias, for your thoughtful post. The response of the faculty–both sheeplike and histrionic of late–in so hastily supporting the New Badger Partnership (positively Orwellian given that it more closely resembles a messy divorce) with no details was disheartening. Martin, like Walker, acted without precedent, without broad consultation and in secret. That Martin now claims she did not know the extent of the cuts shows either her disingenuousness or her naivete, but hardly “visionary leadership.” Faculty, where’s the sifting, where’s the winnowing?

  5. Frank says:

    I have no idea where you got the idea that the Governor of Virginia cut UVa funds due to too high tuition increases. It was NOT at UVA at all for one. VCU was threatened with the loss of state funding equal to half the tuition increase–not half their entire appropriation as you implied. IOn fact the Governor has endorsed a plan from UVA to increase state aid and keep state aid as a percentage of the state budget level going forward. The treatment of higher eduction in Virginia is light years ahead of Wisconsin when it comes to creativity and commitment. Also despite having just one campus in a small city (Wise does not count) the overall treatment by the Legislature has not been unfair or punitive as you suggested would happen in Wiscsonin if UW Madison went alone. Now maybe Wisconsin is a more petty and short-sighted state than Virginia but we don’t know that. Many of the independent state flagships have been able to build friends statewide and have not suffered what you suggest. Michigan, OSU, Washington, Georgia, Uva, Florida, and on and on. In most states the people all love their flagship university as it brings the state respect and maybe winning teams.
    So tell me is Wisconsin really that backwards or are you just blowing smoke?


    And from the COHE

    Many state governors are proposing deep cuts in higher education this year. But Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, of Virginia, is bucking the trend by pledging to restore some of the cutbacks that public colleges have endured during the economic downturn, and proposing a measure that would provide institutions with a fair share of state money in the future.

    The plan, which has broad support in the state’s General Assembly, is meant to fulfill his goal to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees by 100,000 during the next 15 years, and in particular the number who earn degrees in science and technology.

    \These reforms will help us attract new employers to Virginia and better prepare our citizens to fill the jobs that already exist in the state today,\ Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said at a news conference in January, announcing the proposal. The cost of the legislation, which has not been determined, is an investment in the state’s economic future, the governor said, arguing that higher education returns more tax revenue to the state than it costs.

    While some of the bill’s finer points are still being negotiated, it is expected to include the creation of an advisory committee that will recommend to legislators an annual per-student cost of education at the state’s public four-year and two-year colleges.

  6. Admin says:

    From previous comment: “Now maybe Wisconsin is a more petty and short-sighted state than Virginia but we don’t know that. ”

    I’m pretty sure most readers here would agree that the State of Wisconsin is not petty and short-sighted; quite the contrary. That generous view almost certainly does not extend to the current governor.

  7. Pingback: The New Badger Partnership & the Impact of the 2011 WI Budget on Higher Education: A Chronological List of Articles, Reports & Relevant Fora « BadgerFutures

  8. Becky Badger says:

    Thanks, Frank, for the info re. UVA. It makes the point that it will be very difficult for us to compare models without thorough insider knowledge.

    What I haven’t seen discussed yet is the reason(s) for the 1971 system merger; even in the most recent NBP FAQs, only dates are given, no context, and given the nature of civil discourse, details and contexts matter. Since my arrival on campus many years ago and as a participant on the Wisconsin Idea seminar bus trip, the perspective I always got was that the merger was an attempt to heal very real concerns–hostilities, even– that much of the state had about Madison, its university and what had happened politically and otherwise during the late 60s. It was a means to share a \brand,\ knit outselves back into the state, and nurture others to show we cared.

    But I don’t know this for sure and wonder who was around who can speak to that?. I don’t see how we can ever be a Michigan given the very different histories and contexts beginning with our land grant status, not shared by Michigan, etc. As a product of Michigan myself, the university cultures are palpably different; there is no Michigan Idea, and the role Detroit plays in the state, as an industrial locus, has no comparable here.

    So, I hope as we move through these conversations we can get all the information we need and remember the importance of context, complication and need for details and deliberation first and action second. Doing anything by 1 July strikes me as ill advised in this fraught political and economic climate. If change matters, it should matter enough to do it correctly and carefully from the start.

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