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Biddy Battles Ever Bigger Red Tape

It's been a while since we've heard from Cornell's former provost, Biddy Martin, now Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the Times is running an excellent article this morning on the changes that public higher education faces amidst state deficits across the country.

Cornellians like to joke about the Big Red Tape, but these types of headaches facing Biddy make Day Hall boondoggles look like paper cuts:

And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker proposed on Tuesday to separate the main Madison campus from the rest of the state university system, and make it a public authority. Last week, Madison’s chancellor, Carolyn A. Martin, told the Wisconsin Board of Regents that she was hamstrung by state control.

“The accumulated layers of bureaucracy and the control of our mission from a distance make our institutions byzantine mazes, sometimes with no obvious exit,” she said. “It’s hard to be more responsible or more responsive if we spend all our time trying to comprehend and then follow 25 steps to get approval for one purchase.”

“There is a real tension between serving the public needs, on one hand, and doing what they have to do to ensure that their institution can compete in the marketplace,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project.

Ms. Wellman is particularly critical of the trend toward splitting flagships like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which generally have the biggest research grants, the most alumni support, the best faculty and students and the most political clout, from the rest of the state’s higher education system.

“Madison seceding from the union sends the message, ‘We’re not like you, we’re better than you, we’re going to cut our own deal,’ ” she said. “They may be better and different, but they still have a responsibility to assert a leadership role rather than cut their own deal.”

What's striking is that as so many of these public universities seek to 'privatize' their control over matters of tuition and spending, Cornell's uniquely hybrid system of a private university with explicit public support is a model for other college to follow. Unfortunately, such a model isn't fallible, because as we know Cornell's state support is falling too this year... by over $15MM dollars.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 03, 2011 (#)

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