It is undeniable that the Wisconsin State Legislature and Governor Scott Walker have put the University of Wisconsin System and it’s institutions between a rock and a hard place. But the UW System, and many of its respective institutional university Administrations, continue to float cuts across the board which only serve to harm the missions of their institutions.
Instead, they should look to reduce administrative redundancies, duplicated services, and unsustainable practices, including many in ‘Student Life’ and ‘Student Affairs’ offices and divisions which more-often-than-not serve to actually provide more of a disservice to students than an actual service.
We should be empowering students to serve in positions of leadership and management in these areas. Positive and constructive intra-shared governance group relationships would make up for any instability caused by student turnover in leadership due to graduation; with the students continually bringing in fresh perspective and ideas while exercising, and gaining experience in, leadership and management while the faculty/staff provide stability and support.
The problems created by the State Legislature and our Governor through poor funding/tuition freezes is not a blow that sustain-ably can be absorbed by the students, through Administration co-opting student segregated university fees (SUF) allocations, nor by Faculty and staff, through Administration-backed cuts and other forced changes (such as recent changes to the Classified Staff at UW-Madison).
If these groups continue to be forced to shoulder this weight we will be facing grave consequences, such as continued student enrollment retention rate issues and a ‘brain drain’ of our best and brightest Faculty and Staff leaving for other systems.
Quite simply, shared governance groups in the UW System such as students, faculty, academic and classified staff have the primary responsibility for their respective spheres of influence, including policy creation, and have the right to be active participants in the immediate governance of their university. These rights and responsibilities cannot be given away to University, or UW System, Administration by a complicit few or wrested away and seized by said Administration. For example, the Administration cannot transfer legitimacy or “recognition” from the extant student government to another group claiming to be representative of student interests, and any such of the above usurpations do not become lawful with time.
Paraphrasing and citing ‘Spoto v. UW System Board of Regents, WI Dane Co. No. 92CV5046 (1992)’:
The Administration, with its broad governing prerogatives, may not exercise unbridled power and discretion. The term “subject to”, in the statutes, may not be defined as an equivalent as “subordinate to.” Reading any statutory grant of authority as exclusive would tend to defeat the sharing concept. Only the Legislature can take these statutory rights away, and they are attempting to do so now.
Respective university administrations, the UW System, and the Legislature need to see the shared governance groups, and especially the students, as resources that should be empowered, as sources of solutions to collaboratively solve the problems of the System and it’s institutions, not as problems where the solution is to place the weight and cuts on them. It’s a stopgap and it’s not sustainable. Shared governance groups need to be fully and equally represented at the table where university and system-wide decisions are being made. The unilateral decisions of university administration are not legal administrative directives and should be viewed as extralegal in nature. Any construction otherwise is a slippery slope.And yet our Governor is trying to do just that, institutionalizing unilateral decision making by the UW-System Board of Regents and institutional Administration; erasing the Wisconsin Idea and our unique form of shared governance.
To quote Chad Alan Goldberg, University of Wisconsin – Madison Professor of Sociology, speaking on some current challenges to shared governance and the importance of participation in it: “Alexis de Tocqueville called individualism: the tendency that ‘disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.’ Why is individualism a problem? Because the alternative [to shared governance in this instance], as Tocqueville pointed out, is guardianship and tutelage [by institutional Administration]. Bad guardians use their power to make decisions with which citizens may not agree and which may even be detrimental to their interests. But even in the best case, when benevolent guardians have our best interests at heart, guardianship gradually degrades our capacities to think, feel, and act for ourselves in matters that affect us and for which we have a legal responsibility.”
The solution is collaboration, the solution is statutory shared governance; and it’s time for shared governance groups to stand up and remind their respective institutional administration, the UW System, the Legislature, and our Governor of that.