Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller will be replaced by interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Planning and Management Rob Cramer toward the end of May.
While some members of the administration are thankful for Heller’s services and contributions to the campus community, many students remain disappointed with his lack of concern for student governance.
“We’re very happy that Laurent is taking a next step in his career, but deeply sorry to see him go,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Communications John Lucas. “His contributions over the past five years can’t be overstated in helping stabilize our finances and move numerous important initiatives forward.”
Heller will assume the role of Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration at Johns Hopkins University on June 21.
In February, the Associated Students of Madison voted 18-0 in a vote of no confidence in Heller. Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5) declares the right for distribution of shared governance among students, yet ASM found that Heller showed little interest in acknowledging student voices.
“In the fall, Heller refused to convene his shared governance committee when students expressed concern over the smart restart,” said former ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick, providing examples that provoked student leaders to issue the vote of no confidence. “And in the spring, he refused to meet with any student regarding UW-Madison's refusal to provide international students, DACA recipients and undocumented students with their rightful aid from the federal government.”
Heller’s alleged refusal to meet with students regarding compensation for international student telecommunications came after former ASM leaders Matthew Mitnick, Samuel Jorudd, Brian Li and Lennox Owino called for Heller and Chief Human Resources Officer Mark Walters to pay working student telecommuters.
Mitnick referred to Heller as “the least student friendly” out of all administrators who worked with ASM over the past year.
“The moment we tried to work with Heller to help students, we realized he had no interest in engaging with students in good faith,” said former Grant Allocations Committee Chair Samuel Jorudd. “Despite all of the resolutions we passed that fell under his purview, he only implemented one after a two month long fight. He refused to meet with us at all and never did.”
Ultimately, Mitnick believes that Heller will be remembered for his neglect to support students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He cared more about attaining money than considering student wellbeing, according to Mitnick.
“Heller consistently demonstrated a lackluster attitude toward student wellbeing,” Mitnick said. “He did nothing in response to one of his employees running over a student or his police department violently suppressing student voices during summer demonstrations. Heller is not in higher education to make positive change — he is in it for himself and his $300,000+ salary.”
Past and present ASM student leaders and staff share the hope that Cramer will demonstrate more interest in student expression.
“With Laurent Heller transferring, I do hope the next Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration will be a person who values shared governance within the school, and is willing to prioritize students voices in the decisions they make affecting us,” said Lennox Owino, former Nominations Board committee chair and current vice chair of ASM.
Students find their voices essential in higher education decision-making, and ASM leaders reflect on the fact that change could have been made sooner had Heller been willing to put in the time.
“I am not sad to see him go at all, and frankly I wish he had left sooner,” said Jorudd. “We could have provided students with much needed aid months ago if he had. Hopefully his replacement will be willing to meet and work with students.”