Pick Your Poison

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This is a strange new horrible world we live in. I have no idea what happen to democracy, but it's clearly left the station.

So, let me try to apply a little "pragmatic idealism" to the current moment regarding the New Badger Partnership. Today the UW System put the WIP on the table-- the Wisconsin Idea Partnership. It looks a lot like the NBP except it's for the whole System and it comes with real performance accountability measures. That means the most horrific part of the NBP--the splintering of System into a million selfish little pieces-- goes away. That's good-- that split wasn't Biddy's idea, it was Walker's-- and so it's something we ought to be awfully suspicious about.

That doesn't mean the WIP is great, or even good. The question is whether it's better than the alternatives.

I think the NBP is untenable. Even if it currently includes Chapter 37, it may not when the day is finally done. You simply can't trust this guy. It sets Madison up to be hated even more than it already is by the rest of the state, and it will come with great costs to equity--if not diversity.

So here are what I see as the best alternatives to supporting the NBP right now:

(1) Fight both the NBP and the WIP in the name of protecting public higher education--meaning holding the state accountable for paying its share, and doing everything we can to keep corporate interests at bay. In the short term this means taking a godawful cut and working really hard across institutions to find efficiency gains, which could involve, for example, closing an entire campus. I'm not saying I want that to happen but it might be one of the only viable ways to go.

(2) Support the WIP and work hard to ensure that it includes the following elements: (1) One board. Not 13. 13 is insane, and if Walker appoints 11 people on each of 13 boards, lord help us. If it's a 21 person board, and the governor gets 11, make sure that of our 10 ALL of them have vested interests in the INSTRUCTIONAL FUNCTION of Wisconsin higher education-- not the research or corporate functions. (2) Maintain tuition setting authority with that board-- do not give each campus tuition flexibility. They can have flexibility in procurement, compensation and construction, but tuition setting needs to be done by a coordinating body that has the interests of ALL STUDENTS at heart. Individual institutions do not-- they protect their own.

I'm inclined to support the WIP as I've described it above. I remain deeply worried about the invasion of corporate interests and I am scared to death of a board with a majority appointed by Walker, and I understand that Chapter 37 could be revoked from WIP as well. But I hear unanimous support from all sides for the need for flexibilities, and at some point even us idealists have to be pragmatic. I want the System to work together on its common educational mission.

I'm still thinking this through, as I'm sure you all are too. I want to hear your thoughts. Please share.