Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Both Sides Now

After recent reports of apathy regarding the New Badger Partnership, I've spent more time reading and analyzing the comments that are springing up like crocuses these days. While it's a darn shame that people don't regularly sign their names to web comments, or at least provide some description of their position relative to the institutions involved (e.g. are you student, staff, faculty, etc), absent a real live on-campus discourse, the virtual world is what we've got to work with.

Here is my thematic analysis of commentary from the last month-- I'm focusing on that since it's possible that opinion has changed over time as the discussion has deepened.

(1) Critics are primarily concerned about the behavior of Chancellor Martin. It seems that concern extends to what her actions foretell for a future under a public authority model that gives her additional power, as well as what her actions have done to relations between UW Madison and the state. While some have claimed the concerns are more about process than policy, my reading of the commentary is that this is not the case, since many are tying the implications of the process to the implications of the policy itself. In other words-- what does her interpretation of "shared governance" thus far mean about how she would use or protect it under PA? Terms frequently used to describe Martin include "secretive," "naive," "vague"-- and according to at least one "a rather pleasant looking lady" and "a campus celebrity."

(2) While Martin is often linked to Scott Walker in comments, people seem to have independent feelings about their leadership capabilities, styles, and intellect. For example, one person writes: "In the past 100 days, Governor Walker has shown himself to be hostile to everything the UW used to represent ...But the Chancellor has been silent as employees' rights are rescinded; their take-home pay slashed; their institutions decimated; and themselves publicly slandered as everything from the root cause of a national recession to 'violent thugs' ... while alienating her colleagues at other system schools and deeply disappointing those of us who conserve a sense of solidarity with our fellow employees."

(2) There seems to be more agreement with the need for flexibilities in hiring, procurement, and construction than with regard to flexibility in tuition-setting.

(3) There is a lot of sentiment about the need to keep UW-Madison affordable and accessible to all Wisconsin residents-- not only those who are low-income. But people disagree on how to achieve these goals. This is clearly a conversation that needs more time and thought to develop.

(4) The rhetoric of "crisis" has taken hold. Many commentators mention a crisis but very few cite specifics of what makes this is a crisis. This discussion of how the "money has been stopping" is a good example.

(5) There is a fair bit of animosity towards UW System -- or at the least a sense that the Board of Regents is not as effective as it could be. I see fairly equal evidence of this in Madison papers and those from other cities and towns across the state.

(6) That said, the most common objection to the NBP is the separation of Madison from System. That move is often termed a "disaster,"

(7) Many of those who write in favor of the NBP paint its critics as "Lefties," "liberals" or "Socialists." Those who write against the NBP describes its advocates either as "neoliberals" or "conservatives," "Repugs," or even "devils."

(8) I count as many alumni writing against the NBP as writing in favor of it-- however, I remain concerned that the negative comments that dominated the WAA page were deleted from that website, tipping the scales in favor of supporters.

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