MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson pushed back Tuesday against Republican lawmakers who claim campuses need their permission to implement COVID-19 policies, insisting university leaders don’t need legislative approval to manage the system.
System schools implemented a range of protocols over the last few weeks designed to keep campus open and classes in-person as the delta variant surges across the state, including mask and testing mandates.
The system hasn’t mandated vaccinations, but the moves have angered Republican lawmakers who see them as excessive restrictions on individual liberties. The Legislature’s GOP-controlled rules committee voted Aug. 3 to block the system from implementing any COVID-19 protocols without the committee’s permission. The committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Steve Nass, a longtime UW critic, has signaled lawmakers may sue if the system doesn’t work with the panel.
Thompson has moved ahead anyway. He issued a statement Tuesday saying the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to manage system policy.
“The effort to block the UW System’s authority is both wrong on the law and wrong as a matter of public policy,” Thompson said. “I have no plans to abdicate our responsibility.”
“At a time when students and staff want assurances that where they live, work, and study will be healthy and safe, we must be nimble. The end game of these new efforts to control our universities would put at risk staff, students and the businesses that count on our universities to be open, safe and vibrant.”