The University of Wisconsin-Madison isn't the only state campus in need of greater flexibility to cope with $250 million in proposed spending cuts, UW System President Kevin Reilly said Wednesday.

Addressing the Baraboo Rotary Club on the campus of UW-Baraboo/Sauk County, Reilly said he thinks there is an alternative to splitting UW-Madison from the rest of the system - one that could benefit all of Wisconsin's state schools.

The executive in charge of the system's 13 four-year and 13 two-year campuses made his case for the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, an alternative to proposals by Gov. Scott Walker to split UW-Madison from the rest of the system.

As part of his 2011-2013 budget proposal, Walker has called for the Madison campus to be governed by its own 21-member board of trustees, 11 of whom would be appointed by the governor.

The campus would continue to receive state money as a block grant, with greater freedom to manage its budget, set policies for tuition and admissions and hire faculty.

One of the main arguments for the "New Badger Partnership" is to allow the Madison campus to compete for top faculty nationally and internationally and ensure it stays a world-class institution, advocates say.

Reilly agreed with the governor's concern that state universities need more flexibility, such as receiving state money as a block grant that can be applied to the best possible use for educational purposes.

However, he said that while each campus in the system could benefit from that kind of flexibility, it also would pay to maintain existing connections.

As an example of the system's current fiscal inflexibility, Reilly noted that $1 million is saved on energy costs by shutting off unnecessary lights and turning down air conditioning, those savings can't be applied toward other purposes.

"We can't take that million bucks and put it under buying new equipment in, maybe, a research lab," Reilly said. "We can't put that million bucks into hiring freshman English teachers. That million bucks goes back to the state.

"There's no incentive for us to do what's right by our utility budget."

Another area in which Reilly agreed with the proposal for more flexibility is in setting tuition rates. State schools need to raise tuition at a moderate rate to maintain the quality of the university system, he said.

"We need to be able to raise tuition. There are people in the state who can afford to pay it. I'm one," Reilly said. "We need to make sure those people who can't afford it get the help they need through financial aid."

The Wisconsin Idea Partnership supports proposals for flexibility without breaking up a university system that is respected across the nation and around the world, Reilly said. The split threatens to result in duplication of administrations, buildings and degree programs among competing campuses.

"I argue the natural inclination of a flagship (campus) if it is entirely in its own world is to chase the clouds of elite glory and to not be as close to the people of the state as the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been," he said.

"Has being part of the system hurt UW-Madison? There's no way you can say that, based on the evidence."

State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, was on hand for Reilly's speech.

Schultz, a UW-Madison graduate, said he supports keeping the system unified because a strong relationship with the flagship campus is important to every other UW campus.

"I'm 100 percent in favor of greater flexibility for Madison, as well as the system as a whole," he said. "We have to think of all the young people in this state and the system we have now, where they work cooperatively.

"All the campuses (being connected) yields benefits to all the students, not just kids who happen to get into Madison."

Reilly speculated the Wisconsin Idea Partnership has a "50/50" chance of winning legislative approval, due to the plan to split UW-Madison from the system. He encouraged area residents to contact their legislators and voice their support for his alternative.

"Part of the problem here is the people of the state of Wisconsin haven't really had the chance to look at the notion of whether we should keep the system together or split it up," he said. "There's been so much political noise in the air about other aspects of the budget."

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So UW Madison wants to be a better business, keep tuition pretty darn reasonable and give students more financial aid, but Reilly and the regents want to hold Madison back? Their plan is keep the system status quo? Not so forward thinking for a university that keeps getting cut year after year. We need UW Madison to become a public authority and prove to the state that this can work. UW Madison is ready for this; the other campuses are playing catch up and the Regents are scrambling to keep up with Biddy Martin's leadership. This is not a Walker thing. It's a Wisconsin thing. Governors come and go. Let's get one good thing out of this scary budget and let UW Madison lead.

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