UW-Madison academic staff pass resolution opposing UW presidential search committee

By Yvonne Kim, The Cap Times

Staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison passed a resolution Monday objecting to the composition of the UW System president search and screen committee.

At an Academic Staff Assembly meeting, members voted in favor of a resolution that “strenuously objects” to the current composition of the committee and calls on the UW Board of Regents to have a more balanced representation including more faculty, staff and students.

The committee, which was announced by Board President Andrew Petersen on Nov. 1, includes nine members — four regents, one student regent, one former regent, two chancellors and one provost. It is half the size of the past two presidential search committees in 2004 and 2013, which had 18 members each and included a broader range of representation.

The committee was officially charged with beginning the search Dec. 6. 

“Faculty, staff, and students are key stakeholders in the University of Wisconsin system and can provide valuable perspectives on the role of the President that are distinct from those of the Board of Regents and System administrators,” the resolution says.

The assembly sent the resolution to Petersen, outgoing UW System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, a member of the search committee.

Cross, who was present at the ASA meeting Monday, spoke in support of diversifying the committee.

 “It’s one thing to hear the voices in a committee. You’ll hear this comment that ‘we’re out there listening,’” Cross said. “They are ... And they will do their very best to do the right thing. But that’s not the issue. Those voices aren’t at the table. They’re informing the table, and I think that there’s a distinction.”

Following backlash from faculty and staff, students and legislators, Petersen said in an email statement in November that “we are confident in the credentials of the individuals serving on the committee."

"It is vitally important that all interested parties have an opportunity to express their thoughts and to engage," Petersen said at a board meeting Dec. 6. "To that end, we’ve already started hosting listening sessions to engage and gather input from faculty, staff and other university stakeholders and all Wisconsin citizens who have an interest in this search."

The board will also hold listening sessions throughout the month with budget officers, diversity officers and student governance leaders, Petersen added.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, who had expressed opposition to the board about threats to shared governance, again condemned the decision as “disgraceful” on Dec. 3.

“The façade of ‘listening sessions’ that the regent president is dangling in front of shared governance stakeholders is an insult,” Shankland said. “If 96% of the UW workforce is not allowed to have a representation in the room as they search for the UW System President, what confidence will this inspire? Absolutely none. It appears they are deliberately setting the UW System up for failure.”