Twenty Democratic legislators are asking University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross to delay implementation of a reorganization of the system’s campuses.
“We are writing to express our deep concern with your proposal to merge UW Colleges with four-year UW institutions. Especially concerning to us is the complete lack of collaboration and deliberation in such a far-reaching proposal,” reads the letter circulated Monday by Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.
“We are concerned that this merger will not maintain adequate access to higher education and that it could open the door to campus closures in the future,” they wrote.
Cross announced the plan through a news release on Oct. 11, citing plummeting enrollment at the colleges and projections of little or no growth in college-aged people in the state in the next few decades. It would merge the system’s 13 two-year campuses with 7 of its 13 four-year campuses. UW Extension programs would be shifted to UW-Madison and UW System central administration.
Cross called on the UW System Board of Regents to approve the proposal when they meet Nov. 9 in Madison. Regents, almost all of whom were appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, are expected to swiftly approve it.
The plan was developed by Cross and a circle of advisers whom he has not publicly revealed. The process bypassed shared governance organizations of faculty, staff and students that have traditionally been part of such decisions.
Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of UW Colleges and Extension, whose unit would be eliminated under the new structure, said she was notified of the plan only days before the public announcement.
UW Faculty and students have expressed their surprise at the reorganization and its development outside the public eye, some saying they were “blindsided” by the announcement.
UW-Madison higher education policy analyst Nicholas Hillman said the demographic trends alone don’t seem to indicate a need for the mergers.
Cross in interviews has said the reorganization will increase student transfers to UW’s four-year schools and allow more of the administrative consolidation that began in 2015 with the “regionalization” of UW Colleges 13 campuses.
Legislators raised questions in their letter about elimination of programs and departments, and cuts to staff and faculty.
They also asked about cost savings analysis, which UW officials told the Capital Times was not done before the proposal was made public.
Legislators urged Cross to form a group including chancellors, faculty, staff, students, and community members to examine the enrollment issue and propose remedies.
Signers to the letter included Reps. Jimmy Anderson, Jill Billings, Jonathan Brostoff, Gary Hebl, Debra Kolste, Sondy Pope, Katrina Shankland, Lisa Subeck, JoCasta Zamarippa, Terese Berceau, David Bowen, Dave Considine, Diane Hesselbein, Nick Milroy, Melissa Sargent, Mark Spreitzer, Don Vruwink, and Josh Zepnick.