U. of Wisconsin Officials At Odds Over Madison's Role in System

February 17, 2011

Leaders of the University of Wisconsin System are urging Governor Scott Walker to reconsider a plan to spin off the system's flagship Madison campus into an independent university -- while the chancellor at Madison has quietly been encouraging the governor to set the campus loose, The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee reported. In a letter to Walker on Tuesday, Kevin Reilly, the system's president, and the leaders of its board write that "it has come to our attention that elements of your proposed 2011-13 biennial budget might remove UW-Madison from the UW System." Doing so would return the state to a two-tiered university system that it abandoned 40 years ago, the letter states, which would be bad for students and taxpayers. The UW system officials said that they are committed to giving the Madison campus more flexibility and autonomy, and noted that Madison's chancellor, Biddy Martin -- while pushing hard for more autonomy -- "is not advocating for UW-Madison to be removed from the system."

But late Wednesday, The Journal-Sentinel reported that it had uncovered evidence to the contrary. It cited a brief memo that Martin wrote in January to a member of the governor's cabinet acknowledging Walker's proposal and expressing support for it, if obliquely. "As I indicated when we met, we will need to continue working with the leadership of our key internal constituencies, among them our key alumni, to ensure support for a proposal," Martin wrote. And Wednesday night, the newspaper reported, Martin -- wrote a letter to the regents explaining why she had "ventured as far as I have" in pushing for Madison to split off from the system. "In my view, it is dangerous not only for UW-Madison, but for the entire System and the state to have the System administration and the regents oppose the possibility that its flagship campus, or any other campus, be given the tools it needs to preserve quality and contribute to economic recovery," she wrote.. There is nothing to be gained, in this economic and political environment, from opposing an innovative and helpful step that could move the entire system and state forward."

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