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Sunday, February 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Snow Freezing Fog
The Daily
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Tough times ahead for the University of Wisconsin
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I don't know if I should be surprised that legislative Republicans are signaling unease at Gov. Walker's proposal to separate UW-Madison from the UW System. Although Republicans might favor the philosophical implications of a plan aimed at reducing state funding for higher education, the fact is that many legislators represent districts that include other UW System schools, most of whom see the New Badger Partnership as jeopardizing their future.

The State Journal article doesn't mention why so many Republicans are uneasy about the plan; only that they are. Again, my guess is that people at UW-La Crosse are telling Dan Kapanke, for instance, that the NBP will come at the expense of their campus' interests.

The NBP proposes, in somewhat vague language, granting UW-Madison more flexibility in the spending of its own money, and promises to make up for the cuts in state aid by boosting private fundraising. While other UW System schools also seek more spending flexibility, they probably are not as confident about their ability to rely on private donors to fund higher faculty salaries and scholarships.

If Biddy Martin doesn't get the increased flexibility she desires, will she get back part of the $125 million Walker proposed cutting from her budget? Probably not. That means UW-Madison and other System schools will emerge from the state budget like most other public services worse off in every way possible.

This is a shame. UW-Madison needs money to raise professor salaries and fund more scholarships for low-income students. Currently UW-Madison ranks far behind similar public universities in need-based financial aid, with only 21.3% of undergrads receiving need-based scholarships or grants. The corresponding percentage at the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan are 44.8% and 44.6%, respectively.

In Minnesota's case, the large number of need-based scholarships is in part due to the university's inability to attract wealthy out-of-state students the way UW-Madison does. Hence, its students are poorer on average. In Michigan's case, however, the scholarships are absolutely necessary because of the high tuition the almost-entirely privatized university charges. The Michigan model is what UW-Madison is seeking to replicate.

Here's what I'm wondering: Did Walker know this was going to be a tough sell to members of his own party? Was he truly committed to this plan or was it just a ploy to get the UW to shut up about cuts to its funding? Any complaints Martin now makes about Walker will be greeted with the a bitter "we told you so" from others in the UW community.

Follow The Sconz on Twitter or Facebook to get regular updates on city and state politics. Tune in to the radio show everyday between 10-11 a.m. on 1670 AM WTDY. Please send anonymous tips, interview requests or any other comments to jcraver@isthmus.com.

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