Talis Shelbourne is a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. This story was submitted and does not reflect the views of the UWM Post.
Two eggshell desks, symbolizing the physical and ideological chasm occurring between students and administration, stood opposed to one another in Union Room 191. This past Monday night UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone and Dean of Students Tim Gordon sat on one side and members from the Coalition Against the Ultra Right (CAUR) sat on the other.
The Coalition includes several UWM student organizations, such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), as well as concerned students, faculty and community members.
The last time CAUR and Mone met was in March, when the Coalition interrupted the Faculty Senate meeting for their demand deliver. IWW member, Melodia Moonblade, handed Mone the Coalition’s three demands which included:
- To establish bathroom/locker policies which respect gender non-conforming UWM students’ rights,
- To declare UWM a sanctuary campus to protect undocumented and international students by adopting a Sanctuary Campus Resolution and a policy that would prohibit campus police and administration from collaborating with Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), and
- To pledge that student and cultural centers subsidized by student segregated fees would not- and will not- be diminished by budget cuts.
CAUR members worked together to develop the list and bring the chancellor and dean to the table in what has become an increasingly antagonistic relationship between admin and student orgs.
In December of 2016, Chancellor Mark Mone allowed the UWM chapter of Turning Point USA to bring alt-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos – a pedophile apologist – on campus over objections from the Coalition. In fact, when CAUR members went to Chapman Hall in an attempt to warn the chancellor, they were met with campus police and escorted out.
Mone’s refusal to say “no” led to Yiannopolous fat-shaming audience members, harassing transgender students, and the doxing of SDS officer Breanna Eisner. Mone’s failure to communicate with CAUR and his decision not to punish Turning Point for the chaos resulting from Milo’s visit has eviscerated the organization’s relationship with administration.
CAUR members had hoped this open meeting, which lasted a little over an hour, would finally elicit affirmative responses from the Chancellor who has been nonspecific, noncommittal and outright unsupportive of CAUR’s demands in the past.
But the Chancellor had other ideas in mind.
The first demand related to UWM’s current LGBTQ+ policies, which require students to use bathrooms that correlate to their genitalia and also forces some students to prematurely reveal their transgender status by registering for the use of inclusive locker rooms.
Gordon said students who choose to use the bathroom which corresponds to their gender identity (and not necessarily genitalia) would, “not be subject to any consequences.”
However, Gordon did not explain why UWM, which Mone said was the most progressive public university in Wisconsin on transgender inclusivity, instituted this policy in the first place.
According to UWM’s campus map, Physics, Lubar, Bolton, Art, Theatre, Pearse, Engelmann, Merrill, Mitchell, and Garland Hall don’t have inclusive restrooms. Also, the map notes that although Enderis, Mellencamp, and Johnston Halls claim to have inclusive restrooms, the physical doors are labeled with gender-specific (“women” or “men”) signs.
Pushing aside her seafoam-streaked blonde hair, CAUR representative Leah (who didn’t want her last name revealed for fear of retaliation) demanded to know how the university could enforce a genitalia-determinant bathroom policy without risking trans insensitivity or sexual harassment.
Gordon responded by saying, “We will have to continue to assess those [policies].”
When confronted with how many campus buildings are lacking inclusive bathrooms, Mone committed to “looking at the number.”
And after Leah queried him on a timeline, Mone promised to review the policy over the next few months.
Only 15 minutes in and a frustrating pattern had already started to emerge.
Finagling the meeting had been difficult enough, with back-and-forth over whether a police presence was needed, the Chancellor’s initial request for a closed meeting, and the tension from past history.
As the meeting progressed, however, resignation settled in; Mone had little intention of providing the concrete responses CAUR had hoped he would.
In relation to the second demand, which was to ensure funding for fee-subsidized resource and multicultural centers, Mone told students that the proposal to make segregated fees optional had been withdrawn by Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee and downgraded only to non-allocated fees.
This means that those services provided by fees automatically included in student tuition will not be affected by cuts. However, resources provided by non-allocated fees (fees not included in tuition) are still at risk.
In regards to the multicultural centers, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Johannes Britz said they would be safe from mergers or decreased funding proposals in the upcoming academic school year.
“We are not going to close, we are not going to take it away,” Britz said, coming to the front of the room. “We are centralizing undecided academic advising.”
Mone said UWM has always insulated identity centers from cuts in the past.
“Those budgets have been protected throughout this,” he reiterated, clasping his hands under his chin. “There have been no cuts in these areas.”
Gordon nodded in agreement, but the statement was deceptive.
Lay-offs, lost benefits, and reduced resources are plaguing the identity centers of UWM; in one instance, for example, high turnover has resulted in Dean Tim Gordon acting as interim director of the Women’s Center. Also, the statement provided little assurance for what happens after the ’17-’18 school year, leaving many CAUR members to feel as though it’s only a matter of time before budget cuts reduce the multicultural centers’ functionality.
Mone gave several different reasons for why he couldn’t meet CAUR’s final demand of declaring the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee a sanctuary campus. Initially, he said he lacked the power.
“I don’t have that authority,” he said, deflecting responsibility onto the board of regents.
However, Breanna Eisner later commented that this deflection conveniently sidesteps the leadership role he has been granted as chancellor. Especially since Mone refuses to bring the resolution to the Board of Regents, despite a powerful faculty vote which demonstrated support for UWM being declared a sanctuary campus.
Next, he said he didn’t want the university to lose funding.
“For me to make a plaintive statement, that we will not cooperate with federal authorities, puts our campus at risk,” he said. “That’s a very real consequence that I would not want the campus to be exposed to.” To bolster his claim, Mone further noted that he was unaware of any other public university which had declared itself a sanctuary campus because those institutions were also fearful of federal backlash and loss of funding.
But this was, once again, misleading as Portland State University and Oregon State University have both declared themselves sanctuary campuses and even Wisconsin’s own MPS system has declared itself a sanctuary district.
Furthermore, CAUR members balked at the idea that research funding outweighed the protection of students, especially since the entire UW-system has lost more funding in the past few years than it ever gained under Governor Scott Walker’s care.
Mone stated that Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) guidelines prevent the release of non-directory information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. However, student “directory” information, which includes names and addresses, are only kept private if signers opt-out, placing the onus on students.
Regardless, Chancellor Mone made it apparent that he was unwilling to consider supporting UWM as a sanctuary campus.
However, he said he would be, “happy to continue to have conversations like these.” Furthermore, he agreed not to retaliate against organization members for their activism and denied having done so in the past.
After the meeting, CAUR members expressed appreciation at the opportunity to communicate their concerns to top-tier administration, yet remained skeptical that the chancellor or dean would enforce their demands.
Given his role as chancellor, Mone won’t be able to please private donors, public institutions, government, and students all at once. And it’s true that administrative leaders can be just as vulnerable to bureaucratic quicksand as student organizations.
But as students with little or no power over the legislature which affects our schools, we have to rely on these administrators to faithfully represent our interests to Madison’s lawmakers. And between private donors, public institutions, and government, we students are the group most vulnerable to the university decisions of those lawmakers.
The communication at Monday night’s meeting was a sign that administrators were at least finally willing to listen to its student body. But the continued lack of transparency and affirmative commitment left many feeling excluded from the decision-making process and raised serious questions about Mone’s efficacy as chancellor of the university and representative of its students.