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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sodden plaster splatters across broken computers on the fifth floor of Vilas Hall. Professors may not be compensated for the personal losses they suffered after the flood.

Flood insurance won’t cover professors' personal losses, university says

Plastic mugs, cds, business cards and post-it notes were floating in a foot of standing water inside Sue Robinson’s desk drawer when she was finally able to visit her flooded fifth floor Vilas Hall office earlier this week. 

Robinson, who teaches journalism, lost many books, course notes and other teaching resources after a pipe burst in Vilas Hall early Sunday morning. Also destroyed was her easy chair, her wooden desk and her rug. She had inherited some of these things from professors over the years, and some she had bought with her own money or through research grants.

Now, journalism professors like Robinson are learning that UW-Madison’s flood insurance will not cover their personal losses. 

“We are told to ask our homeowners insurance, and I will do that,” Robinson said. “But I know of people who do not have homeowners or for whom their deductible is very high.”

Robinson teaches literary aspects of journalism, and students in her class read a wide selection of creative nonfiction. All of the books she uses in that class — and the notes she had on them — were sitting on her desk when her ceiling collapsed under a torrent of rushing water. 

Now, she says two years worth of course preparation are “just gone.”

Robinson is hopeful that professors like her will at least receive some university compensation for the personal losses they endured in a campus facility, but she’s waiting for further clarification from school officials.

The State of Wisconsin Self-Funded Property Program, which is administered by the state Department of Administration, does not cover individual personal property unless reported, authorized and utilized for the mission of campus, university spokesperson Meredith McGlone said.

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“We know this is a very challenging time for faculty,” McGlone said. “Staff and students affected by the flooding, both in terms of personal items that may have been lost or damaged and of the disruption to their regular routines.”

While classes have been moved and professors may not be able to return to their offices for up to 60 days, Robinson is grateful the situation was not worse and that she appreciates the university’s rapid response to the disaster so far. 

Other professors believe the university should take more action, and that compensation is in order for those who have accrued serious loss.

“I think it’s a problem because a professor’s books are his or her professional tools,” said journalism professor Lewis Friedland. “The university’s attitude seems somewhat cavalier.”

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