UW-System President Ray Cross: Courting Republican Lawmakers is More Important than Students, Faculty, and Staff

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Madison, WI – Faculty, students, and staff across the UW System are reacting to the recent news that the largest UW System reorganization in 40 years was an “open secret” at the Capitol.  According to a report from Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), “Before faculty, staff and students learned about the plan to eliminate the two-year UW Colleges and UW-Extension, UW System President Ray Cross had discussed it with a lawmaker who called for similar action in 2015.”  In a clear disregard for shared governance or the concerns of the UW community, President Cross spent weeks courting Republican lawmakers for his reorganization plan before consulting with the UW’s most vital stakeholders—students, staff, and faculty.

“We are disappointed that President Cross has caved to ideological pressure and status-quo politics at the Capitol,” said AFT-Wisconsin President, Kim Kohlhaas. “As the largest public employer in the state of Wisconsin, the UW System has a responsibility to the people of Wisconsin, not just to a handful of Republican lawmakers.  Refusing to engage in shared governance and dialogue with students, faculty, and staff has resulted in significant erosion in trust.”

While the WPR story demonstrates that President Cross showed great concern for the opinions of a select group of Republican lawmakers, he showed very little willingness to engage in shared governance or discussions with the UW’s other stakeholders.  Students, faculty, and staff were blindsided by the reorganization news when they first learned of the plan in a public announcement.

Jon Shelton, UW-Green Bay assistant professor and AFTW Higher Ed Council VP noted that the "merger of two-year campuses with four-year campuses is not necessarily a bad thing.   It is a shame, however, that President Cross chose not to consult faculty, staff, and students.  This restructuring presents a number of academic and logistical challenges.  Working together--instead of having a decision of this magnitude imposed from the top--could have helped to successfully navigate those challenges.  At the end of the day, that's the essence of shared governance, and why it's critical in the UW System."