Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker recently proposed a $350 million cut to the University of Wisconsin system budget, and a fundamental shift in the university’s relationship to the state. Currently, the multi-campus system is a state agency. The new law would make the UW system a “public authority.” In a lengthy analysis, UW professors explain what this change will mean and why system administrators are not fighting it:
They [system leaders] recognize the cuts as a “DEAL” with the state in exchange for what they call the ‘flexibilities’ of the public authority model. This desire explains why no UW System Chancellor has, to our knowledge, demanded that cuts to higher education be outright rejected. System President Ray Cross characterizes this as a deal for one simple reason: UW system budget cuts are an exchange for public authority status. As President Cross mentioned in the email he sent to system-wide chancellors before news of the cuts became public, the part of the budget that would make the university a public authority was an opportunity to be seized — “something we might not get a shot at for another 20-30 years.”
The governors proposal also throws open the possibility of major changes in the tenure system and civil service rules since the creation of a public authority requires to repeal of a number of existing laws related to university governance. The Board of Regents would have the option of restoring these protections, but is not required to do so. In recent days, the Regents have voiced criticism of the governor’s plan and set up committees to write policies on shared governance and tenure, and system administrators have called for smaller cuts and greater autonomy.
The UW faculty group PROFS has a fact sheet outlining its opposition to the public authority scheme.