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Friday, February 26, 2021

ASM votes 'no confidence' in Heller, further pushes for relief bill and crisis response

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) passed a vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration Laurent Heller, signed an open letter from Amnesty International, addressed UW-Madison complaints over the COVID-19 Student Relief Bill and updated a potential budget for CAHOOTS at their meeting on Tuesday. 

ASM passed the COVID-19 Student Relief Bill on Jan. 26 that would allocate $2 million to help students experiencing housing insecurity. Heller, on two separate occasions, blocked the COVID-19 Relief Fund as UW-Madison claims it violates system policy. ASM leaders claimed that Heller purposefully presented misleading legal arguments and refused to meet with any students regarding the issue. 

“I specifically want to talk about Vice Chancellor Lauren Heller. Administration continues to say to students and press that we are refusing to work with them on another solution,” said Lourdes Puig, a member of the BIPOC Coalition, in the meeting’s open forum. “Laurent Heller, who is directly blocking the fund, has refused to meet with students to discuss the issues.”

In a vote of 18-0 with two abstentions, ASM officially declared no confidence in Heller. A no confidence vote signifies ASM’s lack of support for an entity.

“A Vote of No Confidence means that the Associated Students of Madison has zero confidence in Vice Laurent Heller's ability to perform his role as Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration and carry out his shared governance duties as outlined Wisconsin State Statute 36.09,” said ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick. “We do not believe that he has students' best interests at heart. As such, he is making decisions that uphold his $300k+ salary over the lives of students.”

UW-Madison’s support for Heller remains.

“UW-Madison has full confidence in Vice Chancellors Heller and Reesor and Dean Olstad, who have a long history of working productively with campus governance groups,” said UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas on behalf of Heller. “The divisive tactics that some in ASM are using this year do not serve the best interests of students or the principles of shared governance.”

ASM also released a document which addresses legal concerns with the Student Relief Bill. The document explains the legal issues presented by the Office of Legal Affairs and provides an explanation based on community feedback. 

“I am primarily here to talk about my support for the Student Covid Relief Fund. We have always had an eviction and housing crisis in Madison,” said Heidi Wegleitner, who represents District 2 which encompasses an area of Madison just northeast of campus, in the Open Forum. “This pandemic has really put so [many] more people in jeopardy of losing their housing. The numbers really are staggering and a tremendous need for additional resources.”

UW-Madison officials still challenge the Student Relief fund. 

“A student referendum cannot be used to authorize seg fee spending that violates state statutes and UW System policy,” UW-Madison Director of News and Media relations said. “It’s unfortunate that some in ASM, rather than working with the university to provide aid to students in lawful ways, continue to pursue an impossible effort to misappropriate $2 million in student funds.”

Amnesty International — a human rights advocacy club on campus currently supported by 26 student organizations — also presented “a moral restart” plan that offers a different approach from UW-Madison’s “Smart Restart.” 

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The “moral restart” consists of improving the quality of student housing and isolation unit resources, implementing a pass-fail option, increasing transparency between accessibility and student resources and addressing racial inequality on campus. 

A petition outlining those priorities, sent in early January to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Dean William Karpus, the Board of Regents, the Office of Compliance and to Administrative officials at UW-Madison, was formally signed by ASM and Amnesty International. 

The student government passed their budget proposal for their Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) Crisis Response Team, which relies on crisis and medical professionals to respond to mental health related calls, instead of law enforcement officers.

ASM also passed Emergency Housing legislation that recognizes “housing as a fundamental right” and states that “eviction and homelessness does not just affect students but the broader community within Madison, Dane County and the state of Wisconsin.” 

Furthermore, the legislation “demands that Governor Evers use his emergency powers to authorize the use of public buildings - including University of Wisconsin buildings - to provide housing to homeless individuals.” 

SHIP Restructuring to Aid Students, another proposed and passed legislation, will conduct a comprehensive examination of the health coverage for UW students and international students under student visas, where SHIP is the UW-Madison Student Health Insurance Plan.

The legislation states that, “ASM demands SHIP restructures its payment periods to be either on a monthly or semesterly plan that corresponds to the time when the semester begins and ends.” This would differ from SHIP’s current payment period which offers an annual, a fall or a combined spring and summer premium for international students.

The final legislation passed focused on workers’ rights during the pandemic. The Student Council asked that, “all campus units provide employment and payment continuity for all workers - hourly, part-time and salaried - during the pandemic and extend the $15 dollar wage floor to student workers.”

 “I want to voice my support, especially for the worker’s rights during the pandemic tonight. Really everything on the agenda, it is all interconnected in the ways the university is treating its students and its workers,” said Clare Michaud, an academic staff member and former UW-Madison undergraduate student, in the Open Forum. “The university is especially to blame for how it has manifested within the campus community and the greater Madison community.”

The next ASM student council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 23. 

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