The Stout Student Association (SSA) has had a unanimous Vote of No Confidence toward University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross meaning they are no longer in support of the UW System’s president. On Oct. 11, 2017 President Ray Cross announced the plan to merge UW Colleges with four-year UW Institutions. This includes the merger of UW-Barron County with UW Eau Claire instead of with Stout. This announcement happened to the surprise of the UW shared governance who were not informed of this plan beforehand. The Stout Student Association (SSA) passed a resolution last semester regarding the merger which expressed their disappointment in the handling of the restructure which did not consult with shared governance partners, and additionally, requested that UW-Barron County be merged with UW-Stout to better align with the academic programs, location, and historical relationship.
An open records investigation of the University of Wisconsin System by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) revealed an email from Cross to Regent Gerald Whitburn. The email said, “Getting hammered by the ‘shared governance’ leaders because they weren’t involved in the process; however, had they been involved we wouldn’t be doing anything!!” The emails obtained by WPR revealed that President Cross had little patience for debate over the plan for the merger.
The SSA saw this as Cross being dismissive of shared governance. On the importance of the shared governance, Stout Student Association President Alex Vernon said, “Shared governance plays an essential role in UW System and our UW institutions by providing the voice of the stakeholders including students, faculty, and staff to help create successful solutions and decisions to the ever-changing world of higher education.” The SSA’s unanimous Vote of No Confidence was to send a strong message to President Cross to commit himself and the UW System to the shared governance mission & state statute. President Vernon said, “[The SSA is] demanding that he re-commits himself toward working with the shared governance partners.”
President Cross said, “I would argue that shared governance has, in some ways, equated decisions at all levels on all issues, and that’s not, in my mind, appropriate.” SSA feels that it “irrevocably ruinous” that President Cross thinks that shared governance’s role in decision making is inappropriate.
In an interview with WPR, Committee Member David Vanness, a UW-Madison professor, agreed with President Cross that it is difficult to draw the lines of responsibilities because of universities many moving parts. Vanness said, “I think to some large degree a lot of the problems with shared governance being misunderstood have arisen in this time of austerity, time of budget cuts and groups feeling like they have to protect turf. I understand that. That’s reasonable,” said Vanness. “That does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and abandon shared governance because so-called tough decisions have to be made.”
The SSA has made their stance on President Cross very clear. What remains now is how Cross will react to the lack of support from the Stout Student Association.