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Chancellor Martin: Flexibilities in the budget would be a win for all

May 27, 2011

As state lawmakers continue the budget process, UW–Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin says she is optimistic that legislators on both sides of the aisle have heard the call for greater flexibilities for UW–Madison, as well as for all other UW System institutions.

“I’m confident that some of the important items that could improve the way we operate — something that I’ve been advocating for months — will be part of the budget,” Martin says.

Through the discussion about the New Badger Partnership and Martin’s vision for the future of UW–Madison, the university and the entire UW System is likely to emerge with more than what has been possible in past budget cycles, which have solely resulted in cuts.

“This would be an unprecedented outcome,” Martin says. “It gives us a chance to be better stewards of our resources and delivers the first step toward a new business model.”

Martin’s original vision, laid out in a Madison Magazine column last summer, addressed the need for administrative flexibilities directed to UW–Madison in areas such as human resources, tuition, construction and facilities management, and purchasing.

“We’ve seen a discussion of the challenges to public higher education in this state and the value of the university of a sort that hasn’t occurred for 40 years,” Martin says. “What seems still to be on the table at the Legislature is a set of flexibilities that I don’t think anyone would have believed would be possible when I wrote [the Madison Magazine] article a year ago.”

The chancellor adds, “We expect to see flexibilities in the areas we’ve been talking about for months, along with, apparently, a study of the structure and governance of UW System.”

The flexibilities for which UW–Madison has advocated are needed today more than ever, especially considering budget cuts absorbed during the past several budget cycles.

“I’m focused on ensuring that the flexibilities that we get are still meaningful when the vote is taken, because a $250 million cut to UW System without any ways of dealing with it is devastating to the state of Wisconsin,” she says. “It is going to be imperative that the Legislature emerge from its decision-making next week with significant steps forward for all the campuses, and I’m still hopeful that they will.”

While lawmakers are still crafting a final product, Martin acknowledges that now may not be the time for the adoption of a public authority model for UW–Madison, as included in the budget proposal, but adds she continues to believe it is the right approach for the university.

“We understand that changing governing models doesn’t always come easily or quickly,” Martin says, but adds that the discussion could continue as a study begins.