I don't know where the current situation is headed, but I sure hope that we get there based on open and informed discussion.
Many of us have been called to publicly defend our Chancellor and the merits of the New Badger Partnership, its Public Authority model and the UW-Madison’s potential split from the UW System to the UW Board of Regents in advance of today’s Special Meeting. I have seen more than a few letters of support for the Chancellor and the current proposal in circulation. However, I cannot support the Chancellor or her vision at this time for the following reasons:
The Chancellor, only Wednesday, shared the details on the massive structural changes contained in the Summary of the Final Draft from the Legislative Reference Bureau with the UW-Madison community. Now that we know the elements of the proposed changes, at long last, we can embark on a deliberative process of assessment and analysis of the proposal based on its merits and weaknesses before we make a decision to offer our support. The budget process itself will take another 4-5 months and, in that time, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time needed to enumerate our feelings on the proposed changes and then, in unified voice, share our conclusions with the rest of the state.
There is a palpable sense of urgency from some to support both the Chancellor and the proposals in light of the Special Meeting called by the Board of Regents for Friday, February 25th, to discuss the highly controversial proposal to sever the UW-Madison from the UW System. The insufficient notice for today’s Special Meeting lies in large part with the mystification of the true extent of the proposed split to relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to, the UW Board of Regents, the UW System, or our own campus until very recently, and with the pressing demand for a transparent review of the plan’s evolution. Given that the details of the proposed split were only made public when a seven-page memo dated January 7, 2011, from Chancellor Martin to DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch, were leaked to the media just one week ago, on February 18, 2011, seems to suggest that the intricacies of the New Badger Partnership, its Public Authority model and the proposed schism of the UW-Madison from UW System were regarded by the Chancellor’s office as a private little secret rather than a shining example of transparency.
There is little wonder, then, to the call to rally around Chancellor Martin as a visionary leader and passionate advocate now that the Board of Regents and the UW System have learned of the proposals formulated by Chancellor Martin and Governor Walker for the future of the UW-Madison. Moreover, the attempts by the UW community to thoroughly and thoughtfully examine and interrogate the New Badger Partnership, let alone the proposed public authority or split between UW-Madison and UW System, were thwarted time and again, despite the opportunities sponsored forums provided, because information required for consent and agreement was strategically withheld.
Even if there are those of us who feel they have had the time (since Wednesday) to fully absorb the magnitude of the proposed changes and to consider all of the ramifications of the potential structural changes to take a position on the merits of the proposal, I am not one of them. The New Badger Partnership, its attendant Public Authority model, and the potential severance of UW-Madison from UW System raise serious questions and concerns. This is not the first time the UW community has been presented with specious arguments in favor of fast-tracked changes or policy decisions—the Chancellor offered similarly grave testimonials in support of the Graduate School restructuring proposal only last year. At that time, we requested caution and more information concerning alternatives to the problems laid out before us. The situation now is no different. We need to take time to reflect on the proposed changes before we take positions and to seriously investigate other solutions. The Board of Regents meeting should not force us to rush to conclusions nor rush to support the actions of the Chancellor.
I think that we can all agree that Chancellor Martin was familiar with the details of the proposals before us, and yet chose to keep that vital information away from the public and to prevent the wider UW community from engaging in honest and informed debate on the potential changes. Instead, we are left with almost no time to thoughtfully respond to the most important elements of the New Badger Partnership, the potential dismemberment of our system, and the particulars of the public authority model. Chancellor Martin has willfully ignored the most basic and prized tenets of the shared governance model we have built over generations here at our university, and that is not the kind of leadership we need at such a dark and dangerous time for the future of higher education in Wisconsin.
We cannot celebrate and rally around a Chancellor who chosen to operate behind closed doors and has chosen to ignore all of our cherished shared governance structures and principles, no matter what the political climate. She has withheld crucial information and therefore stymied democratic debate on our campus and across our system throughout this process. We have been frustrated at every public forum, advisory group, and governance committee in our earnest attempts to engage in the shared governance process over this fundamental issue. Those individuals privy to the intricacies of the plan were sworn to secrecy. The merits of the proposal may very well pass the test of clear-eyed discussion and debate, but Chancellor Martin’s machinations cannot.
It is unacceptable for Chancellor Martin to argue that today’s political realities forced her to withhold relevant information and compelled her to disregard the shared governance we cherish for our own good. The Chancellor of our university must be a trusted and trustworthy leader, one who is willing to work with all stakeholders as an honest broker. To my mind, Chancellor Martin has proven herself to be none of these things.
Colleagues, if you do, in fact, support Chancellor Martin and her actions, and if you support the massive structural changes designed and envisioned by she and Governor Walker, without meaningful input from and dialogue with the UW community, then I understand why you feel you must publicly defend the proposal as well as her leadership. However, if you are concerned about the merits and wisdom of the proposed split, the governance structure and benefits of the public authority model, and the process Chancellor Martin used to achieve these proposed changes, I urge you to reconsider throwing the full weight of your support behind any of these issues until further debate and discussion have occurred. Do not heed the call to act now, only to think of the repercussions later.