Student government representatives from 15 University of Wisconsin schools sent a letter to UW System President Kevin Reilly Feb. 20 announcing their intentions of merging their organization with United Council.
Known as the Student Representatives, they represent all student governments in the UW System and consist of the presidents and vice presidents, or the equivalents of such, from all system universities.
“The original idea was the understanding of a need for a true inclusive state wide association … to have all student institutions involved with being a part of that student association,” Tom Templeton, Associated Students of Madison vice chair and Student Representatives member said.
United Council as it stands now
United Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit student organization which represents students from 15 UW System universities and works with the Board of Regents, UW administrations and other coalition members to lobby for issues on behalf of the students they represent.
The organization, located in Madison on 14 W. Mifflin St., employs six full-time staff members, two of whom are registered lobbyists. It also has a Board of Directors which consists of students elected by member campuses at the United Council’s conventions.
UW System universities become members of United Council by passing a referendum and charging a $2 refundable fee to every student.
Although United Council used to represent all 26 UW System schools and students, now only 15 universities are members, with the most recent school dropping its membership being UW-Milwaukee in September 2009.
According to United Council Government Relations Director Michael Moscicke, a merger with the Student Representatives would mean all 26 UW System campuses would be members, bringing an increase in representative coordination and an influx of funding.
“It would basically ensure the entirety of UW System students were represented by a single group and there weren’t conflicting messages coming from all over the state…,” Moscicke said. “All presidents and vice presidents could come together to formulate and articulate messages all over campus. This would make students much more powerful.”
Also with the merger, the refundable fee would increase from $2 per semester to $3 per semester, and membership for UW System universities would be mandatory.
Moscicke said with the influx of funds, United Council would be able to dramatically increase its direct services to students and would be able to allow students to attend conferences for free by offering them travel grants and reimbursements.
Templeton voiced similar opinions, saying they wanted to achieve a statewide association through United Council’s already established institution, funding stream, policy, lobbying and student movement.
Right now, United Council does not necessarily represent all students, and to achieve this all-encompassing institution would be to get all 26 schools to agree to be members
What the merger would look like
While both Moscicke and Templeton said the planning is still in the preliminary stages, the end goal for the merger is clear.
“The idea would be … to treat the Student Reps like a Board of Trustees…,” Templeton said. “Student leaders don’t have time to lead an additional student government, but (they) want oversight into United Council and their goals. They are taking $2 from students, and we want to make sure they’re doing the right thing and the assets are being used appropriately.”
He added the Student Representatives would help oversee budgets and big item policy ideas, while the United Council would continue to run its day-to-day operations.
Moscicke echoed Templeton’s vision of the merger, saying the United Council’s basic structure would remain the same with a Board of Directors and a six-person staff.
“The big change would be the group of vice presidents and presidents from every campus around the UW System would be able to veto everything the board does, giving them oversight and making sure they’re staying on point,” Moscicke said.
The letter to President Reilly
One major concern with the movement toward merging Student Representatives and United Council is the quick turnover rate of student government leadership.
Templeton said the letter written and sent to Reilly Feb. 20 was a way of ensuring their intentions for this merger were officially documented for their successors so they could hopefully take their vision to carry out and implement it should the current leadership be unable.
“United Council does not get involved with local campus elections, but I think it’s critical that people in power right now are really making their best effort to educate anyone taking office next semester,” Moscicke said.
The letter was signed by 28 Student Representatives from UW Colleges, United Council and 15 UW System universities. The only two schools not to sign the letter were UW-River Falls and UW-Whitewater, which later agreed to sign on.
The letter outlines the goals and reasons for the merger of the Student Representatives and United Council, while also setting a tentative timeline for full incorporation by May in order to get it accomplished before new leadership takes power.
It also asks the Board of Regents to increase the mandatory refundable fee to $3 while maintaining students may request and receive that money back.
For the two to permanently merge, the Board of Regents was also asked to eliminate its referendum requirement to institute the fee, which “has often placed student governments and UW System Administration in an adversarial position with United Council,” said the letter.
“[The letter] was historical as it was a collaborate effort that hasn’t been seen in many years, decades probably,” Templeton said.