This story is the best short introduction I’ve yet seen to the “New Badger Partnership” — University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin’s proposal to split Madison, the UW flagship, off from the rest of the University of Wisconsin system.

Martin’s plan, negotiated in secret with Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor Scott Walker, would lop $125 million off of UW Madison’s budget, but give it far more operational flexibility on issues ranging from how to spend state money to how much to charge for tuition. The plan, opponents say, is a recipe for privatization of one of the nation’s great public universities.

The plan needs to be approved by the Wisconsin state legislature, and the prospects of that seem have dimmed recently — battles over the state budget and collective bargaining have battered the governor’s standing in the state, and it’s not clear that his party has the stomach for another big fight. Opposition to the plan from the university’s system-wide board of regents is a further barrier to its adoption.

But even if the plan is dropped from the current budget, it’s sure to return in the future, and its prospects are being watched closely by higher education advocates and analysts all over the country. At a time when the principles that have governed public higher education in the United States for generations are increasingly under fire, the fate of the University of Wisconsin is sure to have implications from New York to California and beyond.

Students who oppose the New Badger Partnership will be holding a mock auction of Bascom Hall, the UW Madison administration building, this afternoon, with more actions planned for the rest of the week. I’ll be following the story here, so keep checking back.