10. Judge Doyle Square faces another round of planning after approval
Several years of planning for Madison’s downtown redevelopment plan saw an approval by the Common Council late September, only to hear just a month later that the project’s economic generator had fallen through.
The Judge Doyle Square project includes a 216-room hotel, retail space and public and private parking, which developers would build on the two blocks holding the Madison Municipal Building and the Government East parking ramp. The plan also anticipated housing the headquarters of Exact Sciences—a company expected to bring at least 400 jobs to Madison by 2019.
Shortly after the council approved the Judge Doyle Square project, however, Exact Sciences experienced a drop in stock value. Facing financial difficulties, the company was forced to move their would-be headquarters to University Research Park.
With Exact Sciences out of the picture, Mayor Paul Soglin said the city would begin reviewing other development plans for Judge Doyle Square the city received in May.
9. UW-Madison faces end to decades-long loan program
More than 5,000 UW-Madison students faced the elimination of one of the oldest federal loan programs in the country Sept. 30 due to a lack of U.S. congressional approval.
The Federal Perkins Loan granted money to institutions where low-income undergraduate and graduate students could borrow money directly from their school.
Several Wisconsin politicians including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., along with UW System and university administrators, lobbied to extend the loan program for an additional year.
According to an Aug. 31 interview with former UW-Madison Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid Susan Fischer 99 percent of students paid their loan payments in full during the previous academic year.
“Because they’re paying us back, they feel an obligation. They’re paying UW-Madison back,” Fischer said. “You feel closer to Madison than you do the Department of Education or some payment center. We think there’s a stronger emotional connection.”
8. Madison delays implementation of police body cameras
Despite police departments across the country beginning to have officers wear body cameras while on duty, Madison’s Common Council decided to wait on the issue.
Numerous concerns arose, including cost and privacy, after a special ad hoc committee was tasked with studying the issue.
A report released earlier this year found that the total cost of the cameras and storage space totaled $955,000 across the city’s five police departments.
“The most important finding from going over everything was that there is no strong feeling or detailed argument in favor of police officers wearing body cameras,” said Jacquelyn Boggess, co-director of the Center for Family Policy and Practice, a nonprofit that conducted interviews with community members and police officers to get their views.
Even though the pilot program is currently on hold, MPD Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain said the city will likely use body cameras in the future.
7. Missouri student activism inspires campus involvement
In November, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned because of protests by students on campus and the threat of a strike by the football team.
Inadequate responses from university administrations regarding racial inequalities on campus sparked the Concerned Student 1950 movement and eventually led to a response from other universities across the nation.
To show their support for the students at the Mizzou, students and community members at UW-Madison marched down State Street days after the Mizzou officials’ resignations.
The crowd of more than 1,000 people chanted “black lives matter” and “racism is at Mizzou, it’s on our campus too” as they made their way from the top of Bascom Hill to the steps of the Capitol.
The peaceful demonstration was commended by UW-Madison administration, such as Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students Lori Berquam.
6. Board of Regents waives UW-Madison nonresident enrollment cap
The UW System Board of Regents voted Oct. 9 to approve a four-year drop of the enrollment cap for nonresident students at UW-Madison, beginning Fall 2016.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank proposed the idea in February, initially calling for the cap to be increased to 30 percent from its previous 27.5 percent.
Blank said in an Oct. 2 online post that this measure aims to draw high school graduates into Wisconsin, making up for a decline of in-state high school graduates.
The proposal included a guarantee of 3,500 seats for Wisconsin freshmen, which Blank called a “commitment to this state” in her post. The number was later increased to 3,600.
The Associated Students of Madison expressed concern over the proposal in an open letter to Blank and UW System President Ray Cross.
“If the university enrolls more students, we are highly concerned that the quality of education will not remain the same,” ASM members said in the letter.
5. Lawmakers propose allowing concealed weapons on school property
Several Republican lawmakers came out in favor of a bill that would allow licensed individuals to carry concealed guns and knives on UW System campuses and inside university buildings.
Supporters, like bill author state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, say the measure would keep students and faculty safe in the event of a shooting at a college, but many say allowing the weapons would only invite such an attack.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the bill would endanger students on her campus.
“The unfortunate reality is that campus gun-free zones merely serve to concentrate populations of vulnerable targets on campus and surrounding areas,” the bill authors said in a memo seeking co-sponsorship. “Students attending our taxpayer-funded colleges and universities should not be denied their Second Amendment right to carry a weapon for self-defense.”
The bill would also strike a UW System rule that “generally prohibits persons from carrying, possessing or using any dangerous weapon on university lands or in university buildings or facilities,” according to a nonpartisan analysis of the bill.
4. Abortion bills spark debate at state, national levels
Abortion issues marked a major theme at the state Capitol, with legislators growing more interested in defunding Planned Parenthood and passing a ban on research using fetal tissue.
Citing videos allegedly showing top Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal parts, state politicians voted to redirect federal grant money appropriated from the agency to private services and local agencies.
In addition, state Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, introduced a bill that would ban research using fetal tissue parts statewide. Jacque argued the measure ensures ethical research but opponents of the bill, including UW-Madison officials, argue it would have a chilling effect on important research.
The state bills came as part of a larger national debate as to the role of abortion providers nationwide. The videos sparked similar efforts at the federal level to defund abortion providers. However, a fatal shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs has caused opponents to criticize the rhetoric as militant and an attack on women.
3. UW System, UW-Madison respond to tenure, shared governance changes
Effects of the 2015-’17 Wisconsin state budget approved in July by Gov. Scott Walker became clearer this fall as the UW System and UW-Madison formed their own policies for tenured professors.
UW System professors no longer have tenure defined by state statute in the 2015-’17 budget, which previously protected faculty members from losing their positions without fair cause.
Throughout the summer, the Board of Regents formed a special task force devoted to creating a new tenure policy, which members plan to approve by the end of 2015. UW-Madison is also in the process of creating a tenure policy, specifically aimed for its own professors.
Shared governance also faced new changes at the start of the academic year, as Walker passed a budget item that made all shared governance groups subordinate to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the Board of Regents for rulings related to student life.
According to a July 15 interview with Associated Students of Madison Chair Madison Laning, student life decisions could range from what email program the university uses to the construction of a new academic building on campus.
Laning said she hopes Blank will continue to grant shared governance groups the autonomy to run as they did previously.
2. Sexual assault repeatedly brought to students’ collective consciousness
The beginning of a new school year saw frequent reports of sexual assaults sent to students by the UW-Madison Police Department, a phenomenon that Public Information Officer Marc Lovicott said is typical for the fall semester.
One particularly gruesome attack occurred on the Capital City Trail, where a woman was beaten nearly to death. The assault inspired a “Take Back the Bike Path” march, in which almost 3,000 community members showed solidarity with the survivor through pouring rain.
Police are still investigating the incident, now considered an attempted homicide, but most of the other attacks were never investigated because they were not reported to police.
University officials released the results of the Association of American Universities survey taken last spring that revealed higher instances of sexual assault at UW-Madison than the national average.
The results led to many campus discussions about preventing sexual assault and how the university can better equip students to report and deal with the lasting impressions of such crimes.
Some of the proposed changes include a new student Title IX Advisory Committee, which will help inform university policy surrounding sexual violence, and more online prevention programs like “Tonight.”
1. Walker flames out early in GOP primary
Hoping to be Wisconsin’s first legitimate contender for the presidency since Bob La Follette carried the Progressive Party banner in 1924, Gov. Scott Walker surprised many with an early withdrawal from the Republican primary.
Walker’s name shot the state Capitol’s halls to the lips of conservative kingmakers as he stood firm in the face of frenzied protests and a vicious recall election following his 2011 Budget Repair Bill.
He continued to fuel his national ascent with sweeping tax breaks, right-to-work legislation, deep cuts to the UW System and an attempt to strike La Follette’s Wisconsin Idea from state statutes. Walker’s victories in the former “laboratory of democracy” enamoured conservatives like Rush Limbaugh who hailed him as “the blueprint for the Republican Party.” Walker announced his presidential bid in July as a presumptive frontrunner.
Once thrust into the national spotlight, the Harley-riding governor stumbled through summer, comparing protesting public union employees to ISIS, suggesting a border wall with Canada and “punting” on evolution before being unceremoniously crowded out by flamboyant right wingers like Donald Trump.
Walker quit the race at Madison’s Edgewater Hotel, claiming he had been “called to clear the field” by God before promptly directing attention toward his sagging approval at home by signing laws barring the use of John Doe probes into illegal political activity and overhauling Wisconsin’s century-old civil service system.