The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a resolution Thursday night to pressure the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discontinue in-person classes.
The legislation, “RES-217,” was sponsored by District 5 Supervisor, Elena Haasl, who represents the student-majority district in the City of Madison. Haasl sponsored the resolution along with Supervisors Yogesh Chawla and Richard Kilmer.
“The majority of students I’ve interacted with have indicated a strong concern for the University’s ‘Smart Restart’ plan,” Hassl said. “They’re not excited that their health and wellbeing is being put on the back burner. From what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing, we are being played. We are coming back to campus for the sake of profit and not necessarily for safety.”
Dis. 18 Supervisor Michelle Ritt, who has a son attending UW-Madison, expressed her opposition early on in the meeting.
“With this resolution, I wanted to support it, but I don’t…I don’t think it’s as easy to empty out the dorms as [it sounds],” Ritt stated.
Laura Downer, a graduate student, registered to speak in opposition of the resolution at the meeting.
“As a student, I highly value my time in the physical classroom,” Downer said.
However, several students and a non-student downtown resident registered to speak in support of the resolution, noting the benefits of online learning including the lack of risk to student and community health. Matthew Mitnick, the Chair of the Associated Students of Madison, also registered his support and had choice words for the university’s “Smart Restart” plan.
“On the very first day I had classes, my professor chose to not wear a mask, and I don’t know how that’s a ‘Smart Restart,’” Mitnick stated. “It’s really concerning. In my position as chair, I’ve been able to be in several meetings with administration...and student concerns are not being met.”
However, while many supervisors echoed their agreement with the contents of the resolution, many stated that they did not believe it was the County Board’s place to weigh in on the issue.
“I really want to support this but I’m torn for many reasons,” Dis. 24 Supervisor Holly Hatcher said. She stated her concerns as a healthcare worker for community spread and the danger of moving students now that they’ve settled in, but ultimately concluded that the resolution would not hold much sway. “I don’t really think the County Board has the authority over the university.”
Dis. 29 Supervisor Andrew Schauer held this same belief, stating that he did not like to pass resolutions that only served to “urge” other bodies to act, instead preferring the County Board to “stay in their lane.”
Despite a divide among the board members, the resolution passed after almost two hours of discussion.
Dis. 2 Supervisors Heidi Wegleitner, Ann Degarmo, Dis. 33, and Elizabeth Doyle, Dis. 1, all thanked Haasl for sponsoring the resolution and called for its support.
“We need to prioritize and send a message to the university on this issue,” Wegleitner pronounced.
Resolution 217 passed with a vote of 24-9 with 4 abstentions.