There has been talk for some time now of autonomy in pay, purchasing etc. for the 27 campuses under the University of Wisconsin System, but now, a memo from Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin to the office of Gov. Scott Walker obtained by the local newspaper Journal Sentinel seems to indicate that the flagship campus is looking at breaking away from the state system altogether, despite concerns and objections expressed by leaders of the UW system. Madison is today considered among the greatest teaching institutions in the country and is globally renowned as a research center.
A statement from Chancellor Martin communicates her rationale behind pressing for administrative independence:
For the last 18 months, I have been advocating for greater flexibility for UW-Madison...I'm passionate about preserving the strength of the state's great research institution in whatever way possible. Given the state's serious economic challenges and the budget cut we expect to face, the greatest risk to the quality of this institution will be reductions in funding without the flexibility to respond in new and different ways. I believe it's critical that all UW institutions have the opportunity to benefit from such flexibility.
Journal Sentinel also reports that the memo sent to the Governor outlines a structure for an independent UW-Madison that would be able to set its own tuition and write a budget without the intervention of the UW System. Martin has also indicated in her statement that Governor Walker might propose such a move when he delivers his biennial budget address in the coming week in Madison.
If passed, the proposal will overturn the 1971 merger of the University system that combined all University campuses under a single Board of Regents that makes centralized decisions and also hires the Chancellor in each campus. The leaders of the current Board advocates the unified system saying that it minimizes wasteful duplication, unnecessary competition and conflicts over fund allocation.
However, Martin and several other campus leaders feel that given the financial crunch faced by the State and impending budget cuts, autonomy would be a win-win situation for all - for one, it would put less pressure on the State to weigh the demands of the campus with competing demands from other areas and secondly, it will allow the campuses to run their operations with less state interference. It would enable the latter to adopt independent and competitive hiring practices and also launch new programs, some of which may prove to be big revenue earners, without having to pass through long-drawn bureaucratic procedures or legislative approval.