The governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has proposed making the state’s flagship university autonomous. Such flexibility would allow the college to raise tuition without approval from the state. It also might have the effect of removing Wisconsin from responsibility for adequately funding the school.

Last week leaders from the other public colleges in the state released their own proposal to make all of the colleges essentially independent. According to a press release by the University of Wisconsin system:

The UW Board of Regents today officially endorsed a new proposal – the Wisconsin Idea Partnership – that would build on Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to offer new operational freedom to UW-Madison. The new proposal would preserve the core features and benefits for the flagship campus, while extending the new flexibilities to all UW campuses as part of a unified system.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly noted that Governor Walker has expressed interest in helping all UW campuses benefit from new administrative flexibilities.

“…We want a budget alternative that is equitable – offering all the management tools to all UW campuses during the 2011-13 biennium. We will put forward a package of statutory changes that gives all UW campuses the necessary flexibilities to manage all the limited resources available, as members of a unified System,” said Reilly.

Chancellor Biddy Martin, who heads the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has explained that her branch of the university should be independent because, according to an opinion piece she wrote for the LaCrosse Tribune, “the most pressing issue before us is the prospect of deep budget cuts, after years of cuts to our budgets, without the tools we need to deal with the decline of state support.”

Duly noted, Martin. But by “the tools we need” you’re really taking about jacking up tuition for Wisconsin students. If all the public colleges in the state have “the tools” to do this, this just means the University of Wisconsin will get a lot more expensive for future students

Martin says that this strategy will allow Wisconsin colleges to “withstand this difficult period and get through it with their particular missions and strengths intact.”

Well no, not really. One of the particular strengths of the University of Wisconsin system is that its colleges are (relatively) cheap.

Autonomy for all Wisconsin public colleges (or, to use the preferred euphemism, the “Wisconsin Idea Partnership”) might give the schools some more freedom, and some much-needed cash, but it would certainly take that strength away. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer