The UW System Student Representatives sent out a letter to UW System President Ray Cross in hopes to get more student involvement with the merger transition process.
According to the letter, the representatives said the UW Colleges are a part of ensuring access to university education for students of all backgrounds and means and this merger in motion could affect those students.
Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said the merger came to life from lack of revenue for the two-year schools due to tuition freezing.
“The two-year campuses are in their eighth year of frozen tuition, so they’re starving for revenue,” Leavitt said. “Given the current demographic decline that we have in this state, the thinking was that we need to do something bold and fast because we don’t want to have these campuses who are in decline in terms of enrollment, we don’t want them so low that they can’t survive.”
The Student Representatives are asking the president to put in place a model that would allow students to be more involved in decision making.
UWO student representative Brandon Colligan said this began with a promise the Board of Regents made about being involved with the merger Steering Committee.
“We were told that we were going to have a seat at the table,” Colligan said. “That was not put into any formal writing, but that was something that was guaranteed to us.
At the same time it’s our understanding that most of the actual business that’s being held isn’t actually being done on the Steering Committee.”
At the UW-Whitewater UW System Student Representatives meeting Nick Webber from UW-Eau Claire and Kennan Rattigan from UW-Fond du Lac were elected as the Student Representatives to sit on the merger Steering Committee.
The representatives are requesting that Rattigan and Webber sit on the Merger Steering Committee with voting rights to promote student involvement in this transition, make sure students concerns are heard and that students have the opportunity to formulate solutions for barriers in this transition.
“We actually voted on those two members at our last meeting,” Colligan said. “We held an election between all of our general assembly members and we passed those delegates. They’ll be sitting on those meetings. Like I said, not a very formal role.”
Colligan said the student representatives have been consistently creating new legislation amidst this merger transition to create a role for themselves in the process.
“We want this in writing, we want something to turn to and we have a formal document saying on record that you are going to abide by this and we are going to have an input on the Steering Committee, but also on the regional restructuring entity between UWO, UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley,” Colligan said.
Colligan said the Student Representatives are looking for a place on any committee that pertains to student affairs.
“We’re asking for all the relevant residence life groups, representation on all those committees,” Colligan said. “Probably by the beginning of next semester we will have legislation in place.”
Leavitt said the lack of student representation initially in the merger is due to the lack of communication from the UW System administration to UWO administration.
“We were consulted really close to the time of the announcement, but we were asked to keep that confidential until such time that it was announced,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said UWO is committed to bringing more student input to the merger transition.
“I think the thinking is that once you announce the direction here, the implementation process is when you involve all the voices,” Leavitt said. “That’s what we’re committed to here at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with our restructuring with Fond du Lac and with Fox Valley.”
Leavitt said he does believe that students are a big part of the University and is working on implementing more student input in various operations.
“Students have to be at the center of what we do, and I do believe in time that will be sort of straightened out at the System level,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said the restructuring plan will include different departments or groups that will oversee different campus operations for all three colleges.
“We have just set up a structure, there will be a chancellor with eight functional groups across and then there’s something called the implementation advisory board that will answer to the chancellor and will contain three student representatives,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said he is working with the Oshkosh Student Association leaders to formulate the formal structure for the new three college system.
“We’re working with OSA President Maria Berge and OSA Vice President Jared Schadrie, specifically as representatives of the student body,” Leavitt said. “They are involved with the restructuring chart that we developed, to be lots of student input in different committees that they choose.”
UWO junior Amanda Beistle said she still has questions about the merger she feels have not been properly addressed yet.
“I don’t really feel that informed about the merger,” Beistle said. “All I know is that any two-year UW universities are merging with their closest four-year. Will curriculum change? Will professors change?”
Beistle said she wants to know how the two-year universities will be affected since she has friends that attend them.
“I was curious if any administration needs such as paying bills, financial aid, would be handled here at Oshkosh or on the two-year campus,” Beistle said. “I don’t really know any specific details.”
Leavitt said he knows the importance of keeping students in the loop during this transition.
“It’s incumbent upon us to be as transparent and communicative as possible,” Leavitt said. “I’ve sent out several campus announcements about it; I’m hosting a town hall meeting for students on Thursday. Whatever is on the students’ minds, we’ll talk about. Communication is key to success for all of this.”
Colligan said the Student Representatives have received a reply from Cross in regards to their letter, but it did not do much for them.
“Cross replied and basically said, ‘This is an informal body, so there’s no real voting authority,’” Colligan said. “He kind of skirted around the edges in regards to our main point.”
Colligan said the response was safe on Cross’ part, but the Student Representatives want to continue to have a line of communication with him.
“I think he’s covered his own bases with his response,” Colligan said. “We just wanted to say hey this is what we’re doing, this is what we want to see and we’re keeping an open channel of communication.”
Leavitt said he has faith in the UW System, but acknowledges students’ concern over the entire merger announcement.
“It’s a bumpy start, I’ll give you that,” Leavitt said. “When you do big things like this, sometimes it can be difficult to get them going. I have confidence in this process, I know what we can control here at the local level and I think we’ll end up doing the right thing.”