An email exchange obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio revealed Thursday that University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross did not include shared governance committees of students and faculty in his decision to restructure the UW System.
In October, Cross announced the UW System would undergo a restructuring in light of “changing demographics, budgetary constraints and the need for closer alignment between research and practice.” This restructuring would involve the merging of two-year campuses with four-year UW schools and eliminate UW Extension and UW Colleges.
Shortly after the decision became public, many UW students and faculty said they felt powerless in the decisions made about the UW System, especially in the decision to restructure the two-year campuses. This feeling has been compounded in recent days in light of an email exchange obtained by WPR which showed Cross to exclude shared governance committees of faculty and students from the decision-making process in the restructuring decision.
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In an Oct. 10 email exchange between UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Cross, Blank described the restructuring plan — which, at that time, had not yet been announced — as an “open secret” at the state Capitol.
“Just come from the capital… this seems to be an open secret there,” Blank wrote. “4 of the 5 people I spoke with asked me about it. I deflected, except with Dave Murphy, who had clearly spoken with you.”
In the email, Blank refers to Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, who serves as the chair of the state Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. Murphy was an early supporter of restructuring the UW System and worked with Cross to develop the plan announced in October.
The next day, Cross engaged in an email exchange with UW Regent Gerald Whitburn, in which he referenced Murphy’s early support and the criticism he had received from shared governance committees of students, faculty and staff from across the UW campuses.
“Yes, I knew Dave E. was supportive and would be vocal,” Cross wrote. “…Getting hammered by the ‘shared governance’ leaders because they weren’t involved in the process; however, had they been involved we wouldn’t be doing anything!”
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Nick Webber, the student representative on the statewide UW Colleges and Extension Restructuring Steering Committee, said he was “deeply concerned” over Cross’ statements Friday.
Webber said shared governance committees are important for throughout the UW System and for each UW campus because they ensure transparency, accountability and quality from university leaders.
“It is crucial that shared governance remains at the core of university progress, for this deliberative process serves as an institutional safeguard to political whims and other outside forces that jeopardize the experience of our students,” Webber said.
Webber said while Cross has come to appreciate the contributions of shared governance committees in many UW System decisions, he must address the comments he made immediately and end the “divisive” comments he made toward UW students and faculty.
The restructuring plans are set to go into effect July 1 this year, leaving UW campuses with five months to implement changes.