Former SA members M. Samir Siddique (left) and Taylor Scott speak out against the UW-Milwaukee Board of Regents’ decision to nullify last spring’s student election results and establish a temporary body of appointed representatives, while at last Sunday’s Board of Trustees meeting. Photos by John J. Ward
Two former UW-Milwaukee students recently filed a lawsuit against UWM’s Board of Regents for its decision to invalidate the 2013-2014 Student Association Elections last school year.
The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 14 to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, claims that UWM administration did not have the right to nullify the May elections, despite findings from a third party investigation indicating there were serious problems with how the election was conducted.
According to former UWM students and SA members, Taylor Scott and M. Samir Siddique, this decision by UWM administration violates Wisconsin state law SS 36.09(5), which says “students shall have the primary responsibility for the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services, and interests….The students of each institution or campus shall have the right to organize themselves in a manner they determine and to select their representatives to participate in institutional governance.”
The statute is based on the 1976 court case SA of UWM v. Baum, in which then Chancellor Baum appointed a temporary committee of students to decide how a portion of SA funding would be budgeted. The court ruled in favor of the SA, stating that the law unambiguously gives students the right to select its legisltiave representatives.
The two former students argue that the UWM administers diminished rights of students by nullifying the election, and as an effect taken it on themselves to “handpick” student representatives for what was previously an elected branch.
From left to right: Justin Kraemer (director of outreach/recruitment), Nile Porter (secretary), Nik Rettinger III (chairperson), and Lavelle Young (office manager). Ryan Sorenson (vice chairperson) is in the background. Photo by John J. Ward
After the May 2013 elections were deemed invalid, a Board of Trustees was temporarily created to fill in for the SA on legislation. The board has worked under the surveillance of the Student Court and UWM administration since it began session last June.
The board has since worked to regroup and reform the Student Association. But Scott fears that a newly written constitution by the board, which was passed by the Board of Trustees and Student Court this Sunday, could pose a lasting threat to shared governance, a form of student government unique to the UW System.
“A challenge to one shared governance group is a challenge to all shared governance groups, and everyone has a lot to lose,” Scott said in an email regarding his motive for the lawsuit. “I really just hope to start a productive dialogue regarding shared governance and ensure we preserve it into the future.”
Opponents disagree with Scott’s claim that recent UWM SA reforms have been harmful. The Board of Trustees has drawn in many new student members since it took over the SA. Board of Trustees chair Nik Rettinger III said the orgnization has become more efficient and successful than it was before.
“Students are given a lot of power by law 36.09(5), but the Chancellor still has the final say,” Rettinger said, arguing that Scott and Siddique are misinterpreting the law.
According to Rettinger all students involved in May’s election were asked to be a part of this year’s Board of Trustees, which he argues makes their accusation against the administration for handpicking representatives false.
“It’s a shame that the two, no longer students at UWM are taking away power and progress from the current students,” Rettinger said. “I think the things we have done since are good. I think the rebuilding we have done and the new constitution will bring a needed positive change in the Student Association.”