Sunday, May 1, 2011

"I haven't done my homework, and that's why I support the Biddy Martin/Scott Walker New Badger Partnership"


I'm angry.

I'm angry with Biddy Martin for using her bully pulpit to short-circuit a serious, informed, and balanced discussion of the choices -- and hazards -- we face as an institution.

I'm angry with many of my fellow faculty for uncritically accepting a one-sided sales pitch that promotes a very specific, pre-determined outcome while failing to acknowledge the numerous profound risks and unknowns and failing to allow for consideration of possible alternative strategies.

Damnable myth: "The choice is between public authority and the status quo. If you oppose splitting UW-Madison from the UW System, then you oppose gaining the flexibility to deal with shrinking state support."

Fact: Supporters of the NBP keep trumpeting "flexibility" as the reason why we need to support the public authority, and they refuse to acknowledge that many of the most important flexibilities can be achieved without separating UW-Madison from the UW System. It is way past time for alternative pathways to flexibility to be given equal time in the discussion.

Indeed, Biddy Martin's original NBP proposal, as discussed extensively in the Fall of 2010, was all about flexibility but contained no mention whatsoever of the contentious issues of public authority or the separation of UW-Madison from the System. Moreover, there was little serious opposition to the NBP until these radical new ideas emerged in Governor Scott Walker's budget bill.

How short are people's memories?

With that point out of the way, I throw down the following challenges to those who aggressively promote the public authority as the silver bullet that will save UW-Madison from the worst effects of coming cuts in State support:

READ the recent post Of deals, devils and details: Budget reality check. Decide whether you can really live with a future in which the only realistic possibility for faculty/staff pay raises is via tuition increases. And if you disagree with the article's main conclusion, then do us all a favor by pointing out the fallacy. With facts, not wishful thinking.

READ the recent post This is what the public authority looks like and it isn’t pretty. Again, find the flaw in the math, if you can.

READ former UW-Madison administrator Harry Peterson's extensive remarks about public authority and flexibility. In particular, consider his simple six-step decision tree for supporting the public authority. Can you really answer "yes" to ALL SIX of the following statements?

1. You are not concerned that the competition for funding from the other UW institutions will result in smaller block grants for the UW-Madison.

2. You are not concerned about the burden this will place on private fund raising.

3. You are not concerned that statutory authority given to the new board, to increase tuition to any level will, over time, put the UW-Madison out of reach of many middle class and working class families in Wisconsin.

4. You are not concerned about the loss of our current Board of Regents, replaced by a brand new board with 3 year terms, the shortest terms in the United States, appointed directly by this and future governors without senate confirmation, unlike our present board.

5. You are not concerned that the decisions about funding allocations for the UW-Madison and the other universities will move from Van Hise Hall, with the Chancellors, Kevin Reilly and the Board of Regents, to the Capitol and the legislature.

6. You are not concerned about the possibility that the loss of the UW-Madison to the UW System will have a destabilizing effect on public higher education and result in a loss for our State and its citizens, especially its young people.

If you don't understand the background behind any of the above statements, then go back and READ Dr. Peterson's full remarks. Yes, they're long. Sorry. And no, here in Wisconsin we don't base irrevocable decisions about the future of our flagship public University on content-less sound bites about "flexibility." It makes me angry that so many visible figures in this fight are willing to do just that.

As a rank-and-file UW-Madison faculty member, I have been watching the "debate" for months and trying to understand the facts as well as I can. I admit it's a struggle. And given my outsider status, at least relative to those who frequent Bascom Hall, I readily accept that my own grasp of the facts is far from infallible.

But what I'm NOT willing to accept or excuse is that those promoting the NBP in its current form, including Chancellor Biddy Martin, stubbornly refuse to directly and factually respond to the very specific concerns that have been raised over months by quite a few very knowledgeable individuals.

These are individuals who, as far as I can tell, have far more extensive experience with University of Wisconsin affairs and University-State relations, and are far more dedicated to public education and to the Wisconsin Idea, than the vast majority of those trumpeting the loudest for splitting UW-Madison from the System.

Yes, I mean you, Wisconsin Alumni Association. I mean you, Badger Advocates. I mean you, Students for the NBP.
So here's my final challenge to these NBP advocates: If you're really not willing to take the trouble to familiarize yourself with, and factually respond to, the very real concerns of informed NBP opponents, then for God's sake please preface all future public comments on the subject with the following disclaimer:

"I really haven't done my homework, and that's why I enthusiastically endorse the Biddy Martin/Scott Walker New Badger Partnership."

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