Tense Exchange of Letters on Madison Autonomy Plan

February 23, 2011

The president of the University of Wisconsin System, along with the president and vice president of the Board of Regents, on Tuesday sent Biddy Martin, chancellor of the Madison campus, a public rebuke for promoting a plan that they say would separate Madison from the rest of the system. The regents also called an emergency meeting for Friday to discuss the issue. Martin has been pushing (in public, and generally with support from the system) for more autonomy for Madison from various state regulations. But she also has been discussing with Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, a plan that would create more formal independence from the system, the letter said. "[A] stand-alone public authority, wholly separate from the other UW System campuses, is a radical departure from earlier statements about administrative flexibility and efficiency," the letter to Martin said. The letter also questioned the appropriateness of these discussions between Martin and Walker. "In contrast with our commitment to transparency and shared governance, the Board of Regents and other university governance groups have been excluded from conversations about a major sea change in the structure of public higher education," the letter said. Martin was asked to release the letter, which she did, with her own note in which she said, "I do not agree that the public authority model under discussion would be a 'radical departure from earlier statements about flexibility.' At every point in this process, I have argued for what I believe is in the best interests of our great students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners at a time when the need for change in higher education, particularly at research institutions, is urgent, and when the state most needs its great research institutions."

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