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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Overcast
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UW collaborations under scrutiny

In vetoing a last-minute budget provision to boot the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off the UW-Madison campus, Gov. Scott Walker didn't pan the effort as much as its narrow scope.

"I am vetoing this section because it targets a single organization," he wrote in his 29-page veto message (PDF). "The use of taxpayer-supported facilities by private or quasi-public organizations, as well as use of staff time in support of these organizations, is an issue of concern."

The proposal would have barred the center from occupying an office on the UW-Madison campus and prohibited university employees from collaborating with it.

In his veto message, Walker directed the Board of Regents to "develop a system-wide policy related to the use of University of Wisconsin facilities and staff time by outside organizations."

David Giroux, spokesman for the UW System, says the Regents are studying the language to identify a course of action: "We do need to do some work to understand what that means and how it would apply to the policies we already have."

But, he adds, "We need to make sure we have appropriate guidelines in place."

Any rules would need to accommodate the "valuable collaborations that go on between our faculty and other organizations," he says. "Whatever policy we adopt, we'll need to safeguard that collaboration because that is so important to the Wisconsin Idea."

Getting a handle on those collaborations, though, is not easy.

After about a day of research, UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas concluded that the relationship with the journalism center was likely unique.

"I actually do not believe there are other situations that are like WCIJ, i.e. an independent nonprofit corporation which has its non-affiliated corporate office and staff operating out of UW facilities," Lucas wrote in an email.

But the university does have a multitude of agreements with other entities, many of which operate out of the campus either permanently or seasonally.

The Center on Wisconsin Strategies, for instance, a progressive economic think tank directed by UW faculty, is housed on campus.The university also has formal operating agreements with such government entities as the U.S. Dairy Research Center, Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. And outside researchers -- including those from private companies -- use available space on campus to further collaborations with faculty, says Lucas.

Academic journals frequently operate out of the office of the faculty member who serves as the publication's editor.

Identifying all of the arrangements, says Lucas, would be "quite a research project."

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