The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved the UW Extension mission change and a resolution reiterating the UW System’s commitment to defending academic freedom and free speech.

UW Extension mission change

At their meeting, UW Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen explained the proposal to extend UW Extension’s mission and turn it into a degree-granting entity.

Sandeen said statistics show 750,000 to 850,000 Wisconsinites had some college background, but no degree, and 10 percent of them are actively pursuing one. The UW Flexible Option, which grants business and management degrees to these people based on their experiences rather than credit hours, will eliminate the cost of attending expensive for-profit programs.

Community members voice concerns on UW Extension mission changeUniversity of Wisconsin Board of Regents gathered Thursday to listen to public opinion on UW Extension’s mission change, which includes Read…

The regents, including Drew Petersen, all approved the mission change.

“I think the students in our system will benefit from high quality education that is offered from UW Colleges and Extension,” Petersen said. “I think it’s cost-affordable. I think the time is right.”

Before the Education Committee passed the mission change, it encountered harsh criticism from multiple UW chancellors and agricultural groups in the state.

Noel Radomski, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education director, has strong opinions against the proposal. He said in a letter despite UW System officials’ tendency to ignore opposing voices on the issue, it should be common sense to reject the mission change plan.

“It includes four far-reaching changes, which would fundamentally alter UW Extension, waste scarce resources, adversely affect future relationships and collaborations with the UW System’s 26 institutions and catalyze opposition from external stakeholders,” Radomski wrote.

Academic freedom

The committee also voted on a resolution fully supporting academic freedom on UW campuses, amid recent controversies over UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s letter to the campus community.

A letter from Blank released in mid-November stated, “nobody is entitled to express their opinions in ways that diminish others” or “devalues the presence of anyone that is part of our Badger community.” Critics said that might inhibit free exchange of ideas on campus, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Education Committee unanimously approved the proposed resolution. Donald Downs, political science professor at UW-Madison and free speech advocate, spoke about the importance of free speech.

“We talk about importance of civility, but you can’t enforce it through a code because it’s hard to define, and before you know it, people are afraid to say any idea that might be so unpopular that offends people,” Downs said after the meeting.

The full Board of Regents will meet Friday to make the final decision on the two resolutions.