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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Struggle over shared governance continues at UW, inside Capitol

Walker-era changes felt today amid Board of Regents DEI decision, low student government voter turnout
Riley Steinbrenner

A bill that aims to restore shared governance power at the Universities of Wisconsin was introduced to the Wisconsin State Assembly early January. If passed, the bill would reinstate language in Wisconsin State Statute 36.09 to what it was before Wisconsin Act 55 — legislation signed into effect in 2015 by then-Gov. Scott Walker.

The impact of Walker’s Act 55 was felt on campuses across the state of Wisconsin, impacting shared governance principles. Shared governance gives university students, faculty and staff the ability to add their input on university decisions, American Student Government Association Founder Butch Oxendine said.

ASGA is a consulting company that aims to help elected and appointed student governments at U.S. colleges and universities create effective leadership, according to the company’s website.


“All it is is you have a voice at the table,” Oxendine said. “Students have a voice like faculty do, like staff do. And it doesn’t guarantee that you have a voice that is necessarily put into action. It doesn’t mean that you get what you want.”

The DEI deal

In December, the UW Board of Regents passed a funding deal with the Republican-majority Wisconsin State Legislature to secure funding in exchange for “reimagining” diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, according to previous reporting from The Badger Herald.

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Following the Board of Regents decision, some members of the student body felt UW–Madison did not honor shared governance principles.

“If it’s not in violation of state law, which … I’m not going to make that claim — [it] is definitely in violation of shared governance principles and the spirit of the law,” District 8 Alder MGR Govindarajan said in December regarding the decision.

Shared governance affairs chair for the Associated Students of Madison, AJ Butler, echoed these sentiments, saying he was disappointed by the lack of student input in the decision. ASM is the student government at UW–Madison.

ASM posted on Instagram urging the Board of Regents to reject the deal prior to their first vote, where the deal was narrowly rejected 9-8, and before the reconsideration vote, where the bill ultimately passed 11-6.

Both posts said the deal “disparages the prospect of belonging” at UW for students from underrepresented communities.

Some of ASM’s frustration stems from the quick turnaround of the deals announcement and the two votes, Butler said. Even if UW–Madison never planned to consider student input, having the time and space to make a case against the deal would have been preferable, Butler said.

“Giving people that chance to change their minds, even if it’s in some sense, a fake chance,  I think is leaps and bounds better than what they’re doing now,” Butler said.

Though students were not formally consulted during deal negotiations, UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin told student media in December that ASM Chair Kevin Jacobson was given an advanced briefing on the deal.

Shared governance today

As it stands today for UW schools, shared governance in practice means students — namely those involved with student government — are allowed to advise the Chancellor, though they don’t have any official decision making authority, Govindarajan said.

The shift away from relying on faculty and students for university-wide decisions stemmed from a desire to create “operational efficiency,” according to a 2015 article from the American Association of University Professors. But, Act 55 in 2015 took away most of ASM’s Student Segregated Fee allocation powers, according to previous reporting from The Badger Herald.

One bucket of money previously under ASM control was the Student Segregated Fee — a varying fee paid by each UW–Madison student for student services outside of tuition costs, according to the Bursar’s Office.

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For the 2023-24 academic year, student segregated fees totaled $780.74 per student. Of this, only $20.86 was allocable, meaning it was approved by ASM’s Student Services Finance Committee — a group of 15 students, 10 of whom were elected by UW–Madison’s student body. The remaining $759.88 is non-allocable, covering costs for RecWell, University Health Services and the Wisconsin Unions. Though the students comprising SSFC can make budget recommendations for these funds, they hold no real power over the amounts charged to students.

State Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), one of nine Wisconsin State Senators to co-sponsor the new shared governance bill, said student involvement is essential to acting in the interest of students and the university.

“Investing a lot of power in one person or one small group of people is not necessarily going to yield the best outcomes, especially when you consider a huge public institution like the universities in Wisconsin,” Roys said. “Secondarily, I think the last decade has shown that the legislature really can’t be trusted to treat the University of Wisconsin fairly.”

Roys also pointed to UW–Madison’s low voter turnout rates for ASM elections as a potential result of the 2015 change.

Fall 2015, immediately after Act 55 was signed by Walker, 28% of UW–Madison students participated in the ASM election. The next semester, numbers fell to just 11%, and in 2023, only 3% — or 1,500 out of UW–Madison’s 47,830 — turned out to vote.

“Part of the problem with passing a law like this that really silences the voices of students, faculty and staff, is that you lose that,” Roys said. “You know, that continuity and, that tradition of shared governance and then those muscles atrophy.”

Butler said ASM plans to draft a resolution supporting AB 949 and its counterpart, SB 848, in the coming weeks.

Though the bill is unlikely to pass in Wisconsin’s Republican-led State Legislature, Roys said the future is bright for shared governance at UW schools as Democratic legislators continue to advocate for students, most recently pushing for fairer maps that could increase representation for Democrats in the Legislature.

“I do think that under fairer maps and with a legislature that is more reflective of the people that we have a good chance of restoring shared governance,” Roys said.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct Butler’s ASM position title.

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