A reply to the Students for the NBP

Today’s Daily Cardinal has published  an article about the Students for the New Badger Partnership.   A press release from the latter group was previously commented on here at S&W.  Referring to S&W’s article,  the Cardinal said,

An anonymous post on siftingandwinnowing.org, a website that publishes opinion articles by professors, alleged that the group may be involved with non-students without student interest as a priority.

First, we would like to correct the record:  Sifting and Winnowing is not just by and for professors — a number of academic staff have posted here as well as some informed outside observers of campus affairs.  Invitations have been extended to students to contribute articles to this site.  No reasonably substantive  and relevant article submitted to S&W will be turned away, regardless of who writes it.

This invitation was extended to Jon Alfuth of Students for the NBP as well — see the second reply to the original article.

As to the speculation that non-students might have influenced and/or financed the formation of Students for the NBP,  that hypothesis has been vigorously disputed not only in Alfuth’s published reply to the S&W article but also on the Students for NBP website and in the Cardinal article.  Alfuth also correctly notes that it’s impossible to prove a negative.

Fine.  So let’s talk instead about the substance of the case made by Students for the NBP.  There are two parts to the argument:

  1. the desired outcomes — e.g., financial flexibility, manageable tuition increases, sustained excellence of UW-Madison as a teaching and reearch university, a continued role for UW-Madison in the larger UW system and as an economic engine for Wisconsin; and
  2. the Public Authority proposal as a means to achieve the above outcomes.

Students for the NBP devote most of their website (and the accompanying video) to passionately reiterating the desired outcomes.  All of us, faculty, staff, and students, can heartily agree on the desirability of these outcomes.

The real controversy lies not in the goals but rather in whether the Public Authority is an appropriate framework for achieving those goals.  And on this point, Students for the NBP offer relatively little in the way of substance apart from their apparently heartfelt conviction that the Public Authority is the way to go.

At this point it is worth reminding readers that there are really two distinct paths in play.  One is Biddy Martin’s original New Badger Partnership, as elucidated in numerous communications from her office last Fall.  This proposal did not include the Public Authority and did not entail the spinning off of UW-Madison from the rest of the UW System.    The Public Authority proposal, when it was finally revealed in Governor Walker’s budget, was a bombshell that completely demolished everyone’s understanding of what the NBP was about.   Most of the severe criticism in the past couple of months has focused on the Public Authority and on the way in which it was rolled out, not on the original NBP.

Students for the NBP say they are supporting the New Badger Partnership, but what they are really coming out in support of is the Public Authority.   In so doing, they fail to specifically address the important distinctions between the two models, touting “flexibility” as if it were synonymous with “Public Authority.”

The most effective way to make a case for something is to confront head-on, and disarm, the specific objections of those who are against it.   And numerous specific objections and concerns have been raised about the Public Authority model by contributors to S&W and by other commentators.

If the Students for the NBP wish to be taken seriously, it is not enough to simply assert that the Public Authority is what UW-Madison needs to weather the current crisis.  Rather,  they will need to muster credible arguments that the critics of the Public Authority — which include former UW administrators and policy experts — are wrong about the risks and unintended consequences.

Once again, we cordially extend the invitation to publish their case here in Sifting and Winnowing.


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One Response to A reply to the Students for the NBP

  1. Jon says:

    Thank you again for the offer to publish on Sifting and Winnowing. We will seriously consider the offer and get back to you.

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