Role of Regent Governance Questioned by State Legislature

Kyle Florence

During a conference held last month by The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, a number of Wisconsin legislators suggested the role of Regent Governance within the UW System might soon change.

“I think we need to take a look at governance and I believe the system needs to be driven by the campuses with the campuses driving what services the system provides,” said Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, as posted on the UW-System’s News webpage.

Shared governance is the current mechanism for managing universities in the state of Wisconsin and is essentially the distribution of power between four governing bodies: the chancellor, the faculty senate, the academic staff and the students.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester agreed with Harsdorf, arguing that campuses need to be streamlined to the point where chancellors can truly be the chief executive officers, as also posted on the News webpage.

Some who attended the conference, which was held on the UW-Madison campus, acknowledged the need for more collaboration between the UW System and legislators, but opposed any interference with regular campus procedures.

“What I want to prevent is a whole new set of cooks going into your kitchen; people who are not academics tying to run your campuses,” said Representative Janet Bewley, as posted on the UW-System’s News webpage.

According to the SGA President Ryan Specht, these comments and others like them have sparked unrest among both faculty and student bodies across the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“Faculty senate has already organized their response; they’re especially concerned,” Specht said. “We’re concerned mostly on the case of collateral damage. If you open up the debate about shared governance, we’re inevitably going to be brought

along with it, and that’s deeply concerning.”

Even though legislators have announced no formal plans or alterations, Specht believes that this issue is of the utmost importance.

“They’re not just chatting about it randomly in a meeting; they’re setting up a task force to assess shared governance,” Specht said in reference to Vos’s staff, which have already begun holding preliminary discussions about changes to governance throughout the UW System.

Despite Chancellor Patterson’s verbal promise to respect the tradition of shared governance on campus regardless of the outcome, Specht fears that even the minutest change in policy could have repercussions. Most notably, the potential redirection of student segregated fees.

“Every student pays $1200 per year for segregated fees, which adds up to about $12 million to $13 million that is student money. It’s paid for by students, it stays for students, and is used for student services; it’s forthis campus,” Specht said. “The only reason that we can protect that is because we have shared governance; we have state law that requires that we are the sole handlers of that money. If that law is revoked or altered in any way that gives more power to the chancellor, or to the state even, then there is a serious concern that if students aren’t in control of student segregated fees, than where will that go.”

Specht maintained that SGA would be keeping an especially close watch on this discussion as it continues to develop in the coming months.

“We’ve got a general idea of what we’ll do, but it’s one of those things where we can’t do too much until we know a little bit more,” Specht said. “We don’t want to wage war against Speaker Vos’s side comments, but we are always monitoring it, and once we starting gauging a ‘when’ we can really begin to target our energies for lobbying and things like that.” 

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