Wisconsin Wave

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Catching up on a couple higher education-related items ...

** Although no one is doing back flips because of an impending cut of $250 million in state taxpayer support over the next two years, University of Wisconsin System officials are generally pleased with the budget bill now awaiting Gov. Scott Walker's signature.

System leaders are most excited about the measures in the bill granting campuses across the state some long-sought freedoms from state oversight when it comes to construction, personnel systems, procurement and accountability reporting.

"As we have said, these operational flexibilities are the most significant set of changes we've seen since the UW System was created 40 years ago," UW System President Kevin Reilly said in a statement. "We have long advocated for the opportunity to manage our operations more efficiently, and we sincerely appreciate the effort to craft reasonable changes that will enhance our ability to cope with near- and long-term challenges."

Those across the system also breathed a collective sigh of relieve when legislators pulled a controversial measure inserted into the bill by the Joint Finance Committee which would have forced UW-Extension to return $32.3 million in federal grants to help improve broadband service in four areas of Wisconsin. The pulled measures also would have made UW-Madison return $5.1 million for a similar project in the Madison area.

In addition, UW System institutions will be able to remain a member of WiscNet -- which provides Internet access to all system schools, and most of Wisconsin's K-12 schools, public libraries, technical colleges, and other public entities -- pending a state audit and two-year study. UW-Madison supports this backbone of state Internet service, and some fear the WiscNet cooperative would fail without UW involvement. The state's telecommunications companies had argued UW institutions should not be involved in providing services the public sector offers.

UW System officials also are hailing a statutory change in the budget bill which will treat all state workers' retirement contributions on a pre-tax basis. State workers, including those who work across the UW System, are taking pay cuts under the state budget because they're being asked to contribute more for health and retirement benefits. But for a state employee earning $36,000 per year, the ability to make pre-tax contributions toward retirement will save an estimated $475 per year, according to the System.

** Here are some links to additional coverage of UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin's decision to become the next president at Amherst College.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted this in-depth article about Martin's departure.

Among other things, the Chronicle piece quotes Cornell University's Ronald Ehrenberg -- who worked with Martin when she was provost at the Ivy League school -- indicating he's not surprised she'd leave Madison. "In the current environment, being the president of a public university is not that fun," said Ehrenberg, who is director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. "It may be (Amherst) just saw her as a target of opportunity."

Nonetheless, the Chronicle quotes Paul Lingenfelter, president of State Higher Education Executive Officers, as saying he doesn't think UW-Madison will have a difficult time attracting top talent to replace Martin. "My guess is there'll be no shortage of candidates for that job," he said. "They are challenging roles. People seek them sometimes because they like the challenge and they believe in the mission. Sometimes they get tired, and that happens in just about every job."

The Amherst College website contains a number of articles and videos related to Martin and the process of luring her to the highly regarded liberal arts college in Massachusetts. This video is of Martin being introduced as the 19th president of the institution on Thursday.

And Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology -- and one of the chancellor's most vocal critics -- shares her thoughts on Martin's decision to leave for Amherst in her blog, the Education Optimists.

** Marquette University collected a whopping $43.7 million in scholarship funds in honor of retiring President Father Robert Wild, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The dollars raised through the university's "Legacy of Leadership" campaign focused on endowed scholarships. Wild was honored Thursday night at a Bradley Center event attended by more than 800 people.

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