Gov. Jim Doyle announced Monday his veto of a bill that would change how the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents representatives would be selected, basing the process on seven geographical regions.
“[The regent’s bill] would undermine the unified strength and efficiency of the System by requiring governors to appoint half of the citizen regents based on district of residency,” Doyle said in the veto message. “It will hamper the board’s ability to eliminate underutilized programs, reallocate resources between campuses and address the evolving educational needs of our workforce.”
Four of the 18 regents are prescribed by statute: the President of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and two student members appointed by the governor.
The veto message also said the 14 citizen members left to be appointed to the board are selected by the governor and are accountable for the higher education of the entire state. These include two doctoral campuses, 11 four-year comprehensive campuses and the UW-Extension.
Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, co-author of the bill, said in a statement Monday he was deeply disappointed by the decision.
“The bill provides regional diversity to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and would help establish more equitable representation on higher education decision-making in our state. [The bill] sets broad parameters that will assist the Governor in making suitable appointments while ensuring each region of the state,” Smith said.
He added despite the veto, he would continue to work in the best interest of rural Wisconsin, ensuring those areas have their concerns met by the board.
Former board president David Walsh signed a letter to Doyle with seven other former presidents, citing their opposition to the bill.
“It’s very simple. This isn’t like the House of Representatives where you represent constituents,” Walsh said. “The basic message was that we were fearful it would be Balkanized. Individual members would feel they have responsibility to represent an area instead of the system as a whole.”
Walsh added they were basing their opposition off the Wisconsin Idea of having a unified statewide system.
Rep. John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac, a co-sponsor of the bill, also said he was disappointed the bill was vetoed.
Much like the House of Representatives representing constituents by regions, Townsend said regions that are lost under the present system would have been better represented if appointments for the board were made geographically.
“I think any position that we appoint should be the best qualified. If the bill had become law, it would choose the best qualified in that region. Like U.S. representatives, voters pick the best qualified within their regions,” Townsend said.
He added the only other action that could be taken for this bill would be an override veto with two-thirds majority vote by the Senate. If that occurred, it would then go to the Assembly.