Enhanced democracy was promised at the dawn of the UW System in State Statute 36.09(5), recognizing students as equal leaders in campus governance. That opportunity at unprecedented real-world education has long since died. It’s still in the law and in Regents Policies, but students are locked out at every step and their right to self-organization has been meddled with where it hasn’t been utterly overruled.
History shows student leaders challenging power grabs and winning in court. Sadly, the status quo reasserts itself. This 2015 Isthmus article explains how close students came to victory. With so many state employees having served in student government, flagrant misconduct across the UW is our biggest, saddest open secret.
At UW-Milwaukee, Chancellor Lovell simply dissolved student government in 2014, just to silence dissent in construction and fee increases. The few students who resisted were persecuted and related lawsuits are still moving through circuit and federal courts. Coming out in support of these students would be the right thing for other leaders to do.
You can see more in the attached “UW-Parkside Hollow Intimidation” attachment, and in the coup at UW-Milwaukee that completely dissolved their student government. Those few who were willing to take a strong stand were ruthlessly targeted for suspension. Their legal battle continues in two courts, gaining ground and being stranded.
We hear so often from politicians determined to lower the cost of a college degree. The quickest, easiest way to see an instant drop in college costs is for the UW to obey the law.
Yet stonewalling, stalling and distracting have let administrators pretend there is no issue at all, and that student power is strong and intact. In fact, 90 percent of their power and money has been stolen. You’d expect that to be the one issue every student cares about.
It’s the subject of a 2006 audit ordered by the Board of Regents. That attached “seg fees” review found students were wrongly locked out of every important step. They responded by strengthening student power, but all those policies are plainly ignored.
Changes to 36.09(5) in 2016 were actually partially vetoed by presidential candidate Walker. Control of student life policies shifted to chancellors, but the governor’s veto preserved student control of segregated fees. Those add up to at least $175 million statewide. Considering related revenues and activities … most of the non-academic stuff … and we have a multi-billion dollar issue.
Chancellor Bernie Patterson’s first problem as chancellor in 2010 was to hammer down reform. That action was very effective in raising embarrassing questions and leading to minor student victories that year.
But chancellors still have illegal control of student life budgets, and no one knows better how wrong that is than Bernie. He has made several missteps and occasionally been held accountable. Please let that not be forgotten.
Jeff Decker, 2004-2005 Speaker, UWSP Student Senate
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