94.7% of UW-Madison academic leaders absent from letter backing public authority

The headline of the April 22 entry on the chancellor’s web site for the New Badger Partnership reads

“UW-Madison academic leaders back public authority”

The article refers to a letter signed by seven department chairs and three directors of schools or institutes, which it summarizes as follows:

In a letter to the co-chairs of the state Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, 10 department chairs and directors urged passage of public authority status for UW-Madison.

It is not known whether the ten academic leaders were speaking as individuals or whether they first polled the departments they represented.  It is also not known  whether this letter was spontaneously offered up by the ten individuals in question or whether it was presented to them (and presumably many, many others) with an invitation to go on record in support of the chancellor in her pursuit of the Public Authority.

What is known is that 170 departments and 20 schools and colleges are listed on the University of Wisconsin-Madison website.  That means that approximately 180 UW-Madison academic leaders did not sign on to the letter in question.

So perhaps a more precise headline for the article in question might have read “5.3% of UW-Madison academic leaders back public authority.”

Regardless of whether one supports or opposes public authority, one might question the tactical wisdom of drawing attention to this letter as evidence of widespread support by UW-Madison academic leaders.

This entry was posted in Shared governance, State-University Relations, The University Budget, The University System, The UW-Madison Campus. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 94.7% of UW-Madison academic leaders absent from letter backing public authority

  1. Greg Downey says:

    Hi there. I’m one of the chairs/directors who signed this letter supporting the NBP, as referred to in this post. Although the author of this post writes that “It is not known whether the ten academic leaders were speaking as individuals or whether they first polled the departments they represented,” our letter clearly states that “We write on our own behalf and not as formal representatives of our departments.” (I wouldn’t presume to speak for my colleagues on any political question.) I don’t believe that an invitation to sign our letter was presented to “many, many others” as the author of this post presumes. I know that I was contacted through a single department chair who I have worked with in the past, and after I agreed to sign on, I suggested one other department chair as well (who also chose to sign the letter). I would agree with the author of this post that one shouldn’t make more of this letter than it is (such as using it to somehow suggest that all UW-Madison “leaders” support the NPB.) But I would ask the author of this post to take the same care, and to avoid suggesting that just because others didn’t sign on to this particular letter, that absence somehow represents widespread opposition to the NBP. That’s also an unsupported generalization. I’ve tried to pay careful attention to the arguments about the NBP, I came to my own conclusion about it, and I took an opportunity to publicly explain my position, in collaboration with several of my colleagues. There’s nothing dishonest about that.

  2. Sara says:


    I didn’t write this post but I did write another, see here

    I appreciate your comment, but continue to be concerned about how your message is being used, and even more so how it is felt. When I write my blog, I am careful to not use any of my titles– as chair of a university committee on admissions and aid, as a project director at WCER, etc– lest my colleagues believe I speak on behalf of those constituencies. In other words, I worry a lot about such power dynamics, and I try to prevent the misinterpretation of my actions. Perhaps we disagree on degree of responsibility?

    I’m certain that others were asked to sign the letter– I know it for certain. So the absence of more signatures is actually meaningful.

  3. PG says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to the disclaimer in the first paragraph of the letter concerning who the signers were representing, which I overlooked. And I’d like to make clear that the purpose of my post was not to criticize either the position or the reasoning of the signers of the letter itself (which is partly why I didn’t read it as carefully as I should have), nor was it even to argue that the other 95% of UW-Madison academic leaders OPPOSE the public authority (indeed, I strongly doubt that this is the case).

    Rather, my submission was solely a reaction to the sweeping claim on the chancellor’s NBP website that “UW-Madison academic leaders back public authority” based on the position of a mere ten out of 190 such leaders. Moreover, I knew that Biddy Martin previously issued a campus-wide appeal via email specifically soliciting such statements of support, which made the “yield” in response to this appeal seem especially paltry.

    If the headline had instead been “Ten UW-Madison academic leaders back public authority,” it would have felt honest, and I would not have felt the need to write what I did.

    Biddy Martin has been using a variety of resources, electronic and otherwise, to (a) try to cajole more statements of support for the public authority out of the campus community and (b) play up the support she has gotten while playing down the opposition. Please understand the above article as an attempt to serve as a bit of a counterweight to (b).

    I wish very much that a balanced and thorough discussion of the public authority proposal had been initiated within the framework of shared governance. Instead, what we have witnessed is a one-sided PR campaign by the chancellor’s office to “sell” a major change in the relationship between UW-Madison and the rest of the System and the State of Wisconsin that was dropped on us like a bombshell. No matter the intrinsic merits of the public authority idea itself, there are many campus citizens, myself included, who are troubled by the bait-and-switch aspect of the NBP. No public authority was mentioned in the early discussions of the NBP, and when this idea did finally emerge, it did so in the budget of a governor who, as someone else put it, has a “privatization fetish” and who clearly has little regard for public education.

    I hope readers will understand that there is no contradiction in critiquing Chancellor Martin’s PR campaign itself while respecting the opinions of those, like you and your fellow nine signatories, who come to different conclusions about the desirability of public authority.

  4. Admin says:

    PG wrote: “No public authority was mentioned in the early discussions of the NBP..”, to which should be added (and emphasized), no split from the UW System.

  5. Pingback: A Huge Surge of Faculty Support for NBP

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