Since students streamed back to University of Wisconsin early this fall, the campus, city and state have dealt with historic budget cuts, grappled with racial tensions and watched their governor’s presidential campaign plummet.
The Badger Herald’s news team recounts these stories and more from the past semester.
UW adapts after budget cuts, tenure changes
After the state biennial budget passed this summer, which cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin System budget and drastically changed tenure protections for professors, UW has been working to adapt.
Changes to the budget have impacted many aspects of campus, especially shared governance and faculty tenure. Following the removal of the state law that protected faculty tenure rights, many faculty and staff have voiced their concerns of losing their academic freedoms and jobs.
The UW System Board of Regent’s tenure task force brought representatives from the UW System together to discuss a policy that would protect faculty tenure.
Meanwhile, Associated Students of Madison and Student Services Financial Committee have been communicating with university officials about some of the changes to shared governance and segregated fees.
During these changes, multiple donations, including the Match Morgridge donation and the launch of the All Ways Forward campaign, have been working to promote continued faculty excellence and alumni support by endowing top-tier faculty and maintaining the university’s status as a top-ranked research institution.
Sexual assault survey reveals staggering statistics
University of Wisconsin announced Sept. 21 that more than one in four women are sexually assaulted at UW.
The data, which came from a campus-wide survey administered by Association of American Universities in spring 2014, indicated that 76 percent of the time that victims reported nonconsensual penetration alcohol was a factor.
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In 2014, 15 of the 165 sexual assault cases reported on campus were directly made to University of Wisconsin Police Department. In 2015, six reports have been made to UWPD out of the 136 reports.
A UW task force also met to discuss the survey results and recommend prevention programs to lower sexual assault on campus.
Lawmakers propose concealed carry on campus
A bill that would allow concealed weapons in campus buildings has triggered concern among administrators, faculty and students.
Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, co-authored the bill to expand upon the current law that only allows concealed carry outside of buildings.
Kremer said in a statement the current ban on conceal weapons leaves students in classrooms susceptible to violent crime.
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“The Campus Carry Act offers a common-sense solution to this problem by addressing both violent crime prevention and personal protection,” Kremer said.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UWPD disagreed. Immediately after the bill was proposed, both released statements speaking out against concealed carry, and UW System police chiefs wrote a letter directly to the legislators urging them not to move forward with the bill.
Blank said in a previous interview that she was “absolutely opposed” to the proposed bill that “defied common sense.”
Some student organizations like ASM have also raised their concerns about the proposed bill. Other student organizations, like Young Americans for Freedom, have been supportive of the bill.
City to start fresh on Judge Doyle Square
After biotech company Exact Sciences dropped out of the Judge Doyle Square deal amid concerns over company finances in early November, the City Council voted to send the project back to square one.
Exact Sciences chose to expand their University Research Park location instead of moving downtown after facing a 50 percent stock drop.
With the downtown location falling through, it frees up $12 million previously agreed to go to the company for job assistance and $10 million in cash flow borrowing that was anticipated for the project, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said. It also allows for increased flexibility for the city to respond to potential Judge Doyle Square proposals in 2016.
The project has a history lasting more than five years, with several different iterations of the project. Key focuses of the project include a hotel to accommodate the Monona Terrace and expanded parking.
Moving forward, developers will once again have the opportunity to bid on the Judge Doyle Square project.
City takes steps to alleviate homelessness
Local government and private organizations are both working to help provide more affordable housing to alleviate homelessness and disparities in the Madison area.
After the Dane County housing authority filled up their waitlist in August in less than 90 minutes, the need for affordable housing in response to the high rates of homelessness was once again emphasized. In order to respond to the issue of homelessness, the city and county have been encouraging and working alongside organizations that want to develop affordable housing in the area.
A potential development at 7933 Tree Lane, proposed by Chicago-based Heartland Housing Inc., includes the construction of a four-story, 45-unit housing project designed specifically to house homeless families in the Madison area. YWCA Madison will also be working alongside Heartland Housing to provide on-site supportive programs for the families in residence. The project is estimated to cost around $12 million, with about $1.5 million coming from the city and $1 million from the county.
In the downtown area, local nonprofit developer Madison Development Corporation proposed an affordable housing building on the 400 block of West Mifflin Street. The building will have around 46 apartments. The building will be a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and efficiency apartments aimed at the downtown workforce that makes below the median income.
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Though there is progress in terms of creating affordable housing, the city has still been unable to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand in the downtown area for all types of housing.
Black community, police work to make strides
After a Madison police officer killed an unarmed black teen in March, the city and community have grappled with the relationship between police and the black population.
In the past months the community has worked to make strides in understanding the root causes of the disparities within the criminal justice system and produce recommendations to address them. Some of these recommendations have been adopted, including creating an Office for Equity and Inclusion.
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The city conducted a study this fall to evaluate the community’s disposition toward police body cameras and discovered that citizens do not believe footage will alleviate the underlying distrust between the black community and police.
The Young Gifted and Black Coalition continues to demand a change in how police are overseen.
Lawmakers look to limit transgender bathrooms in public schools
Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum and Sen. Steven Nass, R-Whitewater, introduced a bill in October that tightened restrictions on gender-specific bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools.
The bill would ensure all public schools in Wisconsin have the same policies regarding who can go in which bathrooms, requiring people to use bathrooms based on their biological sex from birth.
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The bill ignited passionate responses from both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, as well as various activist groups throughout the state.
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Nass, said the bill aims to accommodate concerns of transgender students along with those who might be uncomfortable using the same bathroom as a transgender person. Kremer said in a statement that privacy and dignity are paramount, a motivation for creating the bill.
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LGBTQ groups in Wisconsin said the bill does not protect transgender students, but instead would out some of them and lead to isolation or bullying.
Brian Juchems, senior director of GSAFE, an organization dedicated to creating just schools for LGBTQ youth, said while schools need guidance on this particular issue, the bill is not addressing it appropriately. Instead, it singles out transgender students, he said.
At a public hearing for the bill Nov. 19, critics and the bill’s supporters converged at the state Capitol building, where emotional testimony ensued. LGBTQ activists condemned the bill for the risks it would have on transgender students’ self-esteem, leading to further bullying or suicide. But supporters remained fervent on the bill’s dedication to privacy.
At the national level, too, members of Congress are discussing possible legislation on transgender rights. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, introduced The Equality Act in July, a federal initiative that includes protections in areas such as the workplace and housing for transgender individuals, as well as the LGBTQ community.
Republicans introduce bills to limit abortion
Republicans in the state Legislature have been trying to limit abortion use in the state with various bills.
A state Senate panel and the full Assembly have passed bills to defund Planned Parenthood and ban fetal tissue research, but not without a response from pro-choice advocates.
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The state Assembly voted to defund Planned Parenthood in September, and a Senate panel followed suit in October. At the federal level, Congress has made proposals to defund Planned Parenthood, which President Barack Obama has promised to veto.
The state bill to defund Planned Parenthood would take away the $3.5 million the organization receives from Title X funding and redistribute that funding to the Wisconsin Well Woman Program, an organization that specializes in cancer screenings. The bill’s critics say the Well Woman Program would not be suitable to receive federal dollars that are meant for reproductive health care.
Opponents to the push to ban fetal tissue research in Wisconsin said banning such research may prevent people across the state from benefitting from life-saving research.
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In November, a federal appeals court declared unconstitutional a state law that required abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The court said the law had “nonexistent” health benefits for women undergoing abortions. But pro-life advocates said in case of an emergency, the law would have provided utmost protection for those women.
Walker campaign plummets
Gov. Scott Walker declared he was running for president in July, but dropped his campaign after two months.
Early on, Walker was leading in the polls, but after a CNN/ORC poll showed he ranked at less than 1 percent among national GOP voters, Walker decided to suspend his campaign.
Walker’s donors expressed concern at his lackluster debate performances, which likely led to a dried up fundraising source, Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin political science professor, said. Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, said Walker made the mistake of spending his campaign funds too early and investing too much in super PACs, which only goes toward television and radio advertising.
Walker spent much of his funds in both domestic and international travel, in what his spokesperson Laurel Patrick said was an effort to expand Wisconsin’s business opportunities.
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Walker announced he would not run again during his term as governor and is currently not endorsing any other GOP candidates. He attended events with candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio before the GOP debate in Milwaukee.
Walker continues to comment on national issues, including his firm stance on not allowing Syrian refugees to enter the state. Walker said in a news conference Wednesday he is now receiving monthly reports from the White House specifying nationality, age range and gender of each refugee.
In response to national mass shootings, Walker is emphasizing a “See Something, Say Something” campaign to increase awareness of potential crime during the holiday season.