What the NBP Really Costs

May 10, 2011 | Blog

UW-Madison is a rock star. Look at how we stack up in nearly every ranking imaginable! It is a public Ivy, and there is no objective indication that the model that built this institution has stopped working, causing a consistent downward slide. Indeed, its own press office notes that it “continues to be lauded” and the Badger Herald reports the same from key members of the Administration.

Now consider this: For the last 18+ months, University Administration has spent an enormous amount of time trying to change the way UW-Madison is governed and financed. They’ve pushed a plan that includes no specific, demonstrable cost savings. And their efforts have consumed enormous resources, including but not limited to a preponderance of the time and attention of all Bascom Hall leaders (at least 10-12 people, if not more), their staff, deans and other administrators, faculty from across campus, and graduate and undergraduate students. Plus all of those media resources (town hall meetings, flyering, computing time, etc). Not to mention the resources spent by our alumni on the Badger Advocates and the WAA’s robocalls promoting the NBP.

And for what? All that money spent to promote a plan without a single demonstrable $ savings attached to it? And now, rumors that instead of “money-saving” flexibilities we are going to get not one but two new governing boards?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again– a hard look at this plan indicates that it’s not about money, it’s about power.

My crystal ball says the first thing to go is shared governance. It is undoubtedly inefficient. And many of those in charge give us every reason to think they don’t truly believe in it.

The big question is this: Do you? What are you willing to do to protect it?

Or perhaps, instead, you’ll welcome a shift to professor accountability, such as that being implemented at public universities which lack shared governance.


  1. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    May 10, 2011

    There is a parallel here to what some "reformers" and policymakers are doing to push their pet strategies in k-12 education. They are attacking American public education and describing it as "broken" or "failing" to further their ends. Some governors of highly-performing U.S. states are using similar language to criticize their own state schools.

    With regard to the NBP, replace "reform" with "flexibilities" and the arguments and dynamics look just about the same. Privatization as an unstated (covert?) end goal is another commonality.

  2. Reply


    May 13, 2011

    They are not pushing savings as the main objective because that is neither realistic nor the major goal. The goal is to get control over financial resources from tuition and other programs that might be started but have not due to a lack of incentives under the current system. These might include additional on-line courses, more professional education seminars and such, short courses and many things I don't even know about. Secondly they want more control over setting faculty pay and benefits. The University of Michigan has saved millions by modifying the health and retirement plans without disturbing the faculty. The used those saving to help keep UM salaries more competitive with the privates. Right now such changes would not be possible under the UW System. Third would be more options on how tuition money can be used. Currently general tuition cannot be tapped for financial aid.
    Many schools do this as a matter of SOP.

  3. Reply

    Jason Pickart

    May 16, 2011

    "and there is no objective indication that the model that built this institution has stopped working"

    How about a dwindling tax base from which to draw upon? As long as Wisconsinites elect politicians that refuse to raise taxes UW-Madison will either have to cut programs and funding (thus reducing quality) or find ways to increase revenue.

    Greater flexibility would allow UW-Madison more control over its resources. It would also allow it to compete better with other universities, especially private ones like Carnegie Mellon and its spin-off iCarnegie, in competing for money and projects from other universities or businesses.

    The partnership between the New University of Astana and UW-Madison in helping to develop their L&S programs is a good example of this (http://www.news.wisc.edu/17767). It's no coincidence that the new university's other partnerships are all with private universities. More flexibility would allow UW-Madison to get a foothold in other similar ventures.

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