In an online chat Thursday, UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin defended the proposed New Badger Partnership to an online audience of over 700.
Martin, along with other administrators from the UW-Madison, answered live questions on the proposal, which would split off the UW System's flagship school and privately subsidize parts of its services.
Martin summed up the changes, saying: "A public university will always need significant public funding. UW-Madison is already a hybrid of public and private funding sources. The balance will change because of declining state support, but our discussions have included assumptions of stable state funding, other significant forms of interaction with the state, and a board composed in a way that will ensure accountability to the public."
While many of the questions thrown were softballs ("How can we support you in this endeavor, Chancellor Martin?"), other live chat participants were more critical.
One commenter, "Will," addressed the fact that many on campus were taken by surprise when Martin announced her support for Walker's plan to split UW-Madison from the system.
"Many folks at UW-Madison support the split, yet feel uncomfortable with [the] process (not being in the loop)," wrote Will. "Why do you think there is this perception?"
Martin replied candidly, saying the administration had been in constant contact with the governor's office, but had avoided making public judgment on the program's viability.
"There are times in any process that require discretion while ideas are still in formation," said Martin. "With respect to UW-System, communication on all sides was no doubt less than ideal, and I regret the distress that has caused.… There will now be more public discussion and deliberation."
Much of Thursday's discussion and debate reflected recent concerns over Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair bill," including concerns over the fact that Walker would be in a position to appoint 11 of the 21 Board of Trustees members.
Respondents avoided answering whether this could pose problems, insisting instead on the necessity of maintaining this member ratio in order to keep their status as a public institution.
"Our commitment is firm," Dean of Students Lori Berquam reiterated. "We remain a public institution."
Meanwhile, questions of tuition caps or increases remained unanswered, with respondents stating and restating that the Board of Trustees would determine such issues later.
The board would also be charged with determining the future of collective bargaining, which Office of Human Resources' Bob Lavigna said would remain the same until June 30, 2012.
With Walker's budget presentation looming, Martin and others in the discussion emphasized the necessity that the proposal pass now.
"Defeat of the proposal would endanger the world-class status of the university because we face deep budget cuts, the possibility of more constraint, and no new tools to deal with the increasingly competitive landscape of higher education," wrote Martin.
Martin will speak to the UW Board of Regents about her plan Friday in the Pyle Center at 10 a.m. The meeting is open to the public, and a live video stream will be available.