UW leaders show separation anxiety

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Thursday, May 5, 2011
— Diane Pillard likes the idea of merit pay. But even though she’s the dean and campus executive officer at UW-Rock County, she can’t reward employees who excel. At least not with money.

“I could not give somebody a raise if they walked on water,” Pillard said Wednesday.

Pillard was illustrating one of the “flexibilities” that she and other leaders of the University of Wisconsin System would like to have under a plan called the Wisconsin Idea Partnership.

The WIP is an alternative to UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin’s New Badger Partnership, which would give Martin many of the same powers that Pillard wants.

One big difference: Martin’s plan involves separating her campus from the rest of the UW System. That’s something that Pillard and others oppose.

An illustration of this story would show Martin and Gov. Scott Walker on one side of a tug-of-war.

On the other end of the rope would be all the chancellors of the other UW campuses and the entire UW Board of Regents.

Pillard and Regent John Drew presented the Wisconsin Idea Partnership at UW-Rock on Wednesday. Similar events are being held at campuses statewide.

The separation would result in an “unhealthy” competition between UW-Madison and the other state universities for state funding, Drew said.

Drew told the UW-Rock audience he blames Walker for the conflict because Walker bypassed the UW Board of Regents to work directly with Martin.

Two separate systems could lead to wasteful duplication, Drew and Pillard said.

Both plans, it appears, would give chancellors more power to run their campuses as they see fit, free from red tape.

“Our hands are tied on so many issues,” Pillard said.

For example, UW-Rock recently replaced a car, but rules forbade getting a quote from a local dealer, or even taking a donation from a dealer or from the UW-Rock Foundation to pay for it, Pillard said. Instead, the purchase had to be made through a state purchasing system that dictates a list of vehicles to choose from.

Filling job openings with the UW’s labyrinth hiring procedures leads to losing good candidates because it takes so long, Pillard said.

Pillard said shifting money among accounts is now largely forbidden, so a chancellor couldn’t phase out an unneeded program, for example, and use the money for something else. The Wisconsin Idea Partnership calls for block grants to each campus with few strings attached.

Darrell Bazzell, UW-Madison vice chancellor for administration, told the Gazette on Wednesday that the Wisconsin Idea Partnership is asking for the same flexibilities as Martin’s plan, but he doesn’t think it would work.

Bazzell said the block grant idea, for example, would not protect the UW System from funding raids by the Legislature, but giving UW-Madison a separate “public authority” status would.

Bazzell said the Wisconsin Idea Partnership retains the UW System’s status as a state agency, and there is no precedent for a state agency to control its own finances or to create its own human-resources system, as Martin wants to do under her New Badger Partnership.

Drew said the political debate over Martin’s plan is not strictly Democrats versus Republicans. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, opposes it, Drew said.

Pillard read an email she received from Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, in which he appears to support the block-grant idea.

Pillard and Drew urged the audience to convey their concerns on the issue to their legislators.

Drew said losing UW-Madison would hurt the rest of the system, which now enjoys the prestige associated with the Madison campus.

“It cheapens the rest of the system,” he said.

Last updated: 5:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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