Cardinal View: Neglect of shared governance continues

UW-Madison leaders who were supposed to enact pay raises for some employees or move others to hourly positions following changes to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act halted the process Thursday after the changes were struck down in court. 

Image By: Katie Scheidt

The definition and rights of shared governance at UW-Madison have undergone so many changes since Gov. Scott Walker released the 2015-’17 budget in January 2015 that the relationship between shared governance and university administration still appears unclear today. Within the past month, the UW-Madison administration has announced major changes to campus life without consulting shared governance beforehand, disregarding crucial perspectives.

The four-fold shared governance system aims to draw representation from all campus groups from university staff, academic staff, faculty senate and students through the Associated Students of Madison. While the existence of shared governance is backed by Wisconsin state statute, its influence is restrained as an advisory group that can suggest changes to the chancellor and Board of Regents, but not finalize decisions.

 Before Walker signed the 2015-’17 budget, all shared governance groups could make decisions together. However, Walker let stand a different item within the budget which makes all shared governance groups subordinate to rulings made by the chancellor and the Board of Regents concerning student life. These rulings are general, and can range from the email system used by the university to the decision to create a new academic building. 

The whole purpose of shared governance is to provide a collaborative viewpoint from the very people administrative decisions affect. So when UW-Madison’s administration announced an Amazon Pickup Point would be housed in the historic Red Gym without consulting shared governance first, the groups involved rightfully voiced their concerns.

The Associated Students of Madison Chair Carmen Goséy said she, like members of every branch of shared governance, only learned about the Amazon deal after its approval by the Board of Regents Aug. 18. Although several weeks later the university announced it would find a new spot for the Amazon Pickup Point, the incident was an example of the neglect shared governance experiences.

“It felt like it was too late,” Goséy said. “Student council is the official student shared governance body on campus and nothing was brought to us. At least bring it to students’ attention. Because you [UW-Madison officials] are absolutely impacting students by that space decision.” 

The decision that took one day for the Board of Regents to approve would have impacted the university for five years, privatizing a space in a public university. It threatened the sanctity of the Multicultural Student Center, a vital inclusive space for underrepresented students on campus. 

By failing to include shared governance in the Amazon deal early on, the administration essentially ignored the entire purpose of the group. 

Students were not the only shared governance group left out of the Amazon deal planning process. Members of every facet of shared governance said they never knew about it until after its release. The faculty senate meets during the academic year, so by their first meeting earlier this fall the decision was already made, according to Secretary of the Faculty Senate Steve Smith. Academic staff and university staff echoed the same sense of lack of inclusion until after the decision was made.

Chair of the University Staff Central Committee Jake Rebholz said that while Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller is scheduled to attend a committee meeting in mid-October, the committee was left “standing on the sidelines” as the Amazon deal was made.

“I would like to see [shared governance] have an increased role. I can understand why administration is nervous to elevate shared governance from above an advisory role,” Rebholz said. “But on the other hand it makes me nervous that we can potentially make very clear decisions and express ourselves very strongly in one direction, and then the chancellor or her designee could do the opposite.” 

Chair of the Academic Staff Executive Committee Kevin Niemi said that while ASEC was informed of the Amazon deal after the announcement, Heller has since reached out. Niemi said Heller’s interest in ASEC’s viewpoint could be a factor in the decision to ultimately not place the Amazon space in the Red Gym. 

“We try to head off potential negative reactions and policies by discussing and advocating about our positions prior to the making of decisions,” Niemi said.

It’s important to establish that the relationship between shared governance and university administration isn’t outright horrible. The building blocks for a picturesque relationship are there, but lack key communication between the groups. Niemi’s idea of proactive inclusion seems to be a clear and fairly simple solution. The administration should ask for permission ahead of time, not cover their tracks only after they receive a negative response.

“They’re there,” Rebholz said. “And I’m grateful for that. The extent to which they value our input, I think changes on a case-by-case basis. This campus is certainly a statewide leader in shared governance and I do think administrators here take that seriously.”

If the administration continues its current track record while making campus-wide decisions, its relationship with shared governance will only worsen. The Amazon deal should serve as a warning for the administration: Secretly bypassing shared governance in major decisions will only result in feuds. Shared governance should not need to play watchdog, preparing for battle in case the administration announces a new massive decision. 

The Amazon deal is one of many instances where the administration failed to include shared governance in crucial decisions, unique in the sense that one ruling would have directly impacted all four groups of shared governance. While other decisions such as ending the in-state tuition freeze or eliminating the cap on out-of-state student admissions deserve consideration from shared governance, they do not directly touch each part of shared governance like the Amazon deal did. 

It’s important to consider that there are other instances in which the university has taken shared governance’s viewpoint into account in past discussions. The university included shared governance input in its new institutional statement on diversity, allowing the groups to vote on it this semester. Administration also allows shared governance groups to sit in on search committees when hiring new employees, according to UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone.

While it’s a positive each time shared governance is included in university decisions, past successes cannot be used to mitigate subsequent ignorances. If the administration has maintained proactive, inclusive communication with shared governance in the past, it can mirror that in the present. 

The school year is still young and different issues are bound to arise. With plans to raise out-of-state tuition and end the in-state tuition freeze in the 2018-’19 school year, there are plenty of hot topics on the table. Shared governance’s label as an advisory group does not give university administration the right to sweep its perspectives under the rug. 

“The overall goal of shared governance is that there is no decision the administration makes that doesn’t impact at least one or all of the groups,” Gosey said. “So letting them have a say is important for us all.”

Ignoring shared governance means ignoring thousands of voices. It hurts professors, researchers, custodians, accountants—it hurts us as students.

How do you think the university could better implement shared governance when making decisions? Please send all questions, comments and concerns to editorialboard@dailycardinal.com. 

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