BRYAN FAUST/Herald photo

After hearing testimony from University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly and Board of Regents President David Walsh, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee unanimously voted at the Capitol Tuesday to proceed with a state-run audit of UW employment practices and policies.

"I would characterize this audit as large, as broad based [and as] comprehensive," state auditor Janice Mueller said. "We [will] broadly review the management and oversight of the personnel function."

Reilly requested the audit Aug. 23 as a complement to the UW System's internal investigation into employment policies and practices, which was released last month.

"I wanted the people of Wisconsin to have every confidence that their public university system respects, and properly invests, in the employees who serve UW students, campuses and communities all over the state," Reilly said in a prepared statement.

Reilly went on to say an independent audit conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau would "reassure the public" and strengthen actions the system has already taken to rectify flaws in its employment policies.

The UW System has been heavily scrutinized in past months for both its failure to remove three convicted felons from its payroll in a timely manner and for granting a backup position to former UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Paul Barrows after he inappropriately used accrued sick days and medical leave while searching for a job at other universities.

In response to these concerns, Reilly said the Board of Regents has passed resolutions authorizing the suspension of backup appointments, imposing tougher standards on the investigation of employees convicted of felonies and instigating a much stricter sick-leave policy.

While Reilly focused on what the regents have already done to remedy the Legislature's concerns, Walsh outlined a plan in which the regents and legislators can work together to correct due-process laws which prevent the board from terminating convicted felons from the payroll when appropriate.

"Recent incidence of felony charges against UW System employees demonstrate that our disciplinary process needs to be reexamined," Walsh said. "Stated simply, in egregious cases, the process is broken. It does not work in egregious cases. It needs to be fixed."

Sen. Carol Roessler, R-Oshkosh, co-chair of the committee, agreed with Walsh regarding the importance of removing felons.

"I think that you have identified, President Walsh, that these [issues] are quite easy to see. There isn't a lot of gray here; there's a lot of black and a lot of white," Roessler said.

Walsh officially announced the formation of a new committee, led by Regent Michael Specter, to identify what restricts the Board of Regents from making "more expeditious decisions in egregious situations." He said those decisions may include recommending statutory changes.

"In other words, we need help from you for making decisions in personnel matters to eliminate the restriction on the use of criminal convictions as a basis for discrimination," Walsh said.

In addition to Specter, the new committee consists of fellow Regents Peggy Rosenzweig and Brent Smith, as well as UW System General Counsel Pat Brady, UW-Platteville Chancellor David Markee, and law school professor and former Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Walter Dickey.

"I have asked the committee to prepare recommendations to the board to be considered at our December meeting," Walsh said.

Roessler expressed the need for quick action by the Legislature to implement the changes recommended by the new committee.

"Your response here is quick, is swift, is impactful [sic], and I can assure you there will be no delay on the part of this Legislature in dealing with the kinds of legislative recommendations that you will bring forward to us," Roessler said.

Reilly echoed Walsh's sentiments and expressed optimism for a thorough and constructive audit by the state Legislative Audit Bureau to help improve the university system.

"My hope is that we have not only shown our commitment to rebuilding a long-term, productive, trustworthy relationship with the public and the Legislature," Reilly said, "but that we have also established a solid foundation for the Legislative Audit Bureau."