MADISON –The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Thursday endorsed a new proposal – the Wisconsin Idea Partnership – that would extend managerial flexibilities to all UW institutions while maintaining a unified system.

With the UW System facing a $250-million cut in state funding under the proposed 2011-13 state budget pdf , System President Kevin P. Reilly told Regents that the new proposal provides Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature with a budget amendment that offers “a way forward that is simple, reasonable, and equitable.”

The Wisconsin Idea Partnership builds on Gov. Walker’s proposal to provide new operational freedom to UW-Madison. It preserves the core features and benefits for the flagship campus, with the exception of having its own board, while extending the new flexibilities to all UW campuses. The Regents reviewed a broad overview of the plan today, but staff will prepare detailed statutory amendments for the Legislature to consider as part of the biennial budget process.

“The good news is that Gov. Walker recognizes that universities need to do business differently. We’ve been asking for new administrative and managerial flexibilities for year – decades, perhaps – and this Governor gets it,” Reilly said.

Reilly noted that the proposal does not require wholesale changes to large sections of existing state law, and preserves the vast majority of language in Chapter 36, including the shared governance rights of UW faculty, academic staff, and students.

“We want to be reasonable, so we will not ask for any more flexibilities than what the Governor has already shown he’s willing to do as part of his budget provisions concerning UW-Madison,” Reilly said.

Most important, Reilly said, the proposed budget alternative is equitable, offering the necessary management tools to all UW campuses.

Under the plan, each local UW campus would have new statutory authority in budgeting, tuition, human resources, capital planning, purchasing, and other functions.  Regents further recommended that the specific performance measures be included, building on the UW System’s annual accountability reports.

The Regents strongly endorsed the new Wisconsin Idea Partnership, with Regent John Drew as the lone dissenter.

In presenting the new Wisconsin Idea Partnership, Senior Vice President Michael Morgan reiterated that the proposal is not a “new idea.”

“The Partnership captures not only those things we asked for in our budget, but those flexibilities that were offered by the Governor to UW-Madison. And it captures those flexibilities in existing structure,” Morgan said. “Flexibilities, as we see it, don’t stop with the Badger Partnership in Madison; they should extend to the boundaries of the state.”

Reilly conceded that the proposed new flexibilities will not offset the major cuts facing campuses, “but it’s how much is saved over time, not just now. Being able to use the resources we have, that would be a huge positive change over the very long haul.”

UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin told the Board that public authority status is the only way that Madison can get all the flexibilities, all the budgetary authority, all the management of its own revenue.

“I’d be very happy if all this were part of a unified scheme. I also think it’s important to be realistic. What’s most realistic is on the table,” Martin said.

Regent Danae Davis responded that the Board would be remiss in its responsibilities, if it didn’t “fight to the death for flexibilities for all UW institutions.”

Calling the proposed splitting up of the UW System “a huge public issue,” Regent David Walsh said the matter deserves to be debated publicly. “It’s a sea change in higher education. It’s important to (the Governor) and his supporters and everyone in the state,” Walsh said.

Regent Aaron Wingad, a student at UW-Eau Claire, reported that student leaders across the state considered it a bad idea to separate UW-Madison from the rest of the System. “It’s a bad idea for my home campus, it’s a bad idea for the Wisconsin Idea, it’s a bad idea because I think it has been formulated behind closed doors,” Wingad said.

Wingad urged the Board to “stand firmly” against Madison spinning off from the System, and to “speak with the same voice” on the issue.

Regent President Chuck Pruitt urged Board members to get involved in advocating on behalf of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership. “We need to be on record supporting these vital flexibilities for all UW institutions, and we need to clearly state our intent to delegate these flexibilities to each institution,” he said. “At the same time, we express our firm opposition to fracturing what is arguably one of the best Systems of public higher education in the country, if not the world.”

Board looks at challenges of the new urban education

Addressing the challenges of low-performing urban schools requires that people stop thinking of “urban” as a dirty word, an urban education expert told the Board.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education, and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Education Policy Studies at UW-Madison, reminded Regents that Wisconsin’s achievement gap between its white K-12 students and students of color is the worst in the nation.

“Many of the kids who are struggling in our schools are not struggling because they don’t have the intellect. They’re not struggling because they don’t have cognitive skills. There are certain opportunities they don’t have,” Ladson-Billings said. “If they don’t have a qualified physics teacher, how are they supposed to be a good physics student?”

Closing that gap will require urban classrooms staffed with highly qualified teachers, urban students receiving an enriched curriculum, and investments upfront in pre-school and early childhood education, Ladson-Billings said. The big challenge, she added, is “getting people to understand we cannot do this for free.”

Several Regents expressed concern about how to attract more qualified people into teaching. Ladson-Billings suggested that alternate pathways – including post-baccalaureate certification – are an important option. “The challenge of urban schools requires some level of maturity,” she said.

Loftus noted that the current political situation makes these “dark days for teachers in Wisconsin,” amplifying the challenges for recruiting and retaining teachers.  Regent Tony Evers, also State Superintendent, reiterated the funding imperative. “If we want to convince young people to the profession, that commitment has to be financial also.”

The Board also heard from the first-hand experience of three panelists: James Shaw, Superintendent of the Racine Unified School District; Katy Heyning, Dean of UW-Whitewater’s College of Education & Professional Studies; and DeLois Brown, a teacher at Ralph H. Metcalfe Middle School in Milwaukee.

Brown told the Regents that teachers need to be exposed early on to the urban school environment. “If you’re going to teach in urban schools, you can’t be afraid of the children, and the children’s families, and the children’s community,” she said.

In addressing the state’s achievement gap, Shaw told Regents, “We run away from the problem … We can’t pretend that our children, our middle-class white children, are unaffected by the failure of African-American children to learn.”

In other business, the Board:


The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting April 7-8, at UW-Platteville