Ward Extended as UW-Madison Chancellor through 2013

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Biddy Martin’s temporary replacement may not turn out to be so temporary after all.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced this week that they would extend Interim Chancellor David Ward’s post an additional year through 2013. Ward was originally pegged for the short-term position after former Chancellor Biddy Martin declared her split from the UW System. She took over as president of Amherst University in Massachusetts earlier this year. Ward, who previously held the permanent Chancellor title at the university from 1993 to 2000, has garnered support from both the university and the UW System in his time back at the helm of Wisconsin’s largest university.

Ward will continue to carry the interim tag despite this extension. However, this adjusted timeline means that the university will not seek a new permanent appointee for nearly a full year. A national search for Martin’s successor won’t officially begin until the fall of 2012.

This extension will ripple across the UW System. Notably, Ward’s temporary status may hinder the university from taking large-scale steps in upcoming years – a restriction that has been aided by the rejection of an earlier proposal to break the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus – the state’s largest entity – from overarching statewide control.

Ward’s leadership has been apparent in several issues during his short reign. He has been vocal about defending the university’s stance in biomedical research, as well as the school’s position on affirmative action and the need to create a diverse student body. His availability to the public through the early stages of his second term as Chancellor has helped garner support across the state’s higher education hierarchy.

UW System leaders and staff members of the Madison campus alike have noted Ward’s “consistent leadership.” However, he’ll face pressure based on the circumstances of Martin’s departure before him. Martin advocated the New Badger Partnership [NBP], a program spearheaded by Governor Scott Walker that would have effectively removed the Madison campus from the state’s Board of Regents.

This move would have given the university unprecedented flexibility when it came to matters like tuition costs, capital projects, and staffing procedures.

However, this system was shot down in favor of the Wisconsin Idea Partnership [WIP], which instead keeps all UW campuses under the Board of Regents but with greater institutional flexibility. This also means less autonomy for the Madison campus than it would have obtained under the NBP’s plan. As a result, issues like human resource decisions remain under the Board’s umbrella of control, limiting the amount of power a campus has over hiring professors. [EDIT: The Governor vetoed a provision in the budget bill pertaining to this issue, meaning that the Madison campus was not obligated to clear hiring decisions with the Board of Regents starting this year. I apologize for the mistake – CD]

Ward will have to prove that he can take advantage of the WIP’s benefits without rubbing up against some of the restrictions that still limit the school’s autonomy. The interim leader will enjoy more political freedom than he experienced during his first reign in Madison, but will still lack the control to make significant changes when it comes to issues like building on-campus and tuition. While this situation may benefit and placate an institution and leader in a state of flux, it could be the recipe for struggle once a full-time appointee is named to lead the Madison campus.

Ward should continue to perform well in his duties at Wisconsin. The expansion of campus-level autonomy suits his interim role well, and the esteemed Brit has already proven that he can be a leader in Madison. However, his extension may prevent Wisconsinites from exploring the full role that the WIP will play at the state’s most recognizable university.

As much, we may not know the true effect of the WIP while Ward serves as Interim Chancellor for another year. His moves as a temporary leader are unlikely to meet the scope of the large-scale decisions slated for the university under a permanent hire. As a result, it is unlikely that any major changes – changes that would help define the university’s status under the Board – are going to develop. That challenge will be passed down to Ward’s successor to deal with in 2014 and beyond, thanks to this new extension.