Associated Students of Madison met Monday to hold a special session about a COVID-19 Student Relief Fund referendum to allow students to vote on the legislation.
Following mounting measures to block the fund by the University of Wisconsin, a referendum was introduced by ASM to vote on a COVID-19 relief fund that would provide financial assistance to students who are facing unexpected losses during the COVID-19 pandemic related to housing and utility needs.
“We have found another way to try to make sure the university accepts its legality last meeting, and now we’re basically using some escalation tactics to get to demonstrate more public support for this so that we can get more pressure,” Rep. Adrian Lampron said.
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With the support of students, Lampron said UW officials will feel pressure from students to use funds to best serve their needs.
The language of the referendum was a concern of multiple representatives. Rep. Travis Gresham and others said if a referendum is brought to the table, they want to see it passed with enough student support.
Amendments were passed to ensure the language matches what will best suit the needs of students and call to action UW officials. ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick said the referendum will serve its function to get the university’s attention.
“The current [referendum] is more to urge and push the administration towards a specific area and policy you want them to address,” Mitnick said.
ASM representatives, including Gresham, Rep. Chris Unterberger and Rep. Jacob Pankratz, expressed concern about the legality of the language in the referendum and whether outside legal aid could be called upon.
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UW BIPOC Coalition co-founder Tarah Stangler said students need to keep putting pressure on Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller. Rep. Sam Jorudd said ASM is hopeful voices of thousands of students will be heard and action will be taken that addresses students’ needs.
Additionally, in response to actions taken by Heller, ASM representatives will chose whether or not to vote no confidence in Heller at their Tuesday meeting.
UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone said in an email statement to The Badger Herald that the university supports Heller and continues to oppose the current state of the COVID-19 relief fund legislation.
McGlone also said the language in the referendum does not accurately reflect the legal issues in the relief fund legislation.
“UW-Madison has full confidence in Vice Chancellors Heller and Reesor and Dean Olstad, who have a long history of working productively with campus governance groups,” McGlone said. “The divisive tactics that some in ASM are using this year do not serve the best interests of students or the principles of shared governance.”
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But ASM representatives and sponsors of the referendum believe UW officials are not willing to compromise with students in order to agree to a way to address needs.
Mitnick said in a written statement to The Badger Herald that student leaders have been barred from meeting with Vice Chancellors Reesor and Heller. Chancellor Rebecca Blank also refused to meet with students regarding the fund, and the administration stated they will not attend Student Council meetings from now on, Mitnick said.
“We as students want to come to the table and work together through shared governance,” Mitnick said. “We are even willing to compromise, but cannot do so unless administrators lose their egos and come ready to work with us. For the administration, blocking this fund is not about policy compliance, it is about maintaining their power.”