The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student governance body, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), passed legislation aimed to strengthen shared governance across the state of Wisconsin last week.
ASM passed the legislation through the Wisconsin State Statute with the goal of providing legal grounds for academic staff, faculty and students’ involvement in the decision-making process throughout the University of Wisconsin System, creating a new statewide body intended to pass legislation and organize systemwide campaigns and efforts.
UW-Madison’s own student body uses its power within the university to determine the allocation of student fees, address concerns within the university community and is the voice of the student body through communication with faculty and administration. The organization is taking its role in the community a step further by passing this legislation, with the hope that all state schools will pass the same shared governance resolution, creating a larger platform for students to amplify their voices statewide.
ASM is the fourth student government to support the initiative, which was previously approved by student governments at UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stevens Point.
“We’re going to come together and design a statewide organizing group,” said UW-Stevens Point President of Student Government Association Will Scheder. “The goal of this [legislation] is to create a body for feedback, organizing and to amplify the students’ voice across the state on issues that affect all of us, such as tuition fees [and] different bills passing through the assembly.”
The new student governance body would pass legislation, organize joint UW System efforts and serve as the statewide shared governance body. This would replace the current UW System Student Presidential Council, which suffers from a lack of funding and representation, according to ASM.
“Presidential Council only meets twice per school year; it has no organizing or lobbying capabilities and can't really represent students,” said ASM Legislative Affairs Committee Chair Muralidharan (MGR) Govindarajan via email. “These are the major problems with the Presidential Council and won't be something the new Shared Gov Org will have to deal with. It'll be led by students, representing students, and will have the funding necessary to lobby.”
At an ASM meeting in September, student leaders said that the changes in wording made to the state statute in 2015 by Gov. Scott Walker weakened their powers within the shared governance system, inhibiting their voice.
Now, with this passed legislation, the hope is that students will have primary responsibility for policies that concern student life and interests.
“As the director of shared governance for the old Wisconsin Student Association during the heyday of 36.09(5) in the mid-1980s, I am thrilled to see this statewide initiative to restore the collective voice of students in the governance of the UW-System,” Student Council Representative and legislation sponsor Stu Levitan said in a Oct. 28 press release from ASM.
Despite the success of the legislation’s passage at some System schools, leaders like Scheder remained concerned about the future of the legislation.
“I don’t think it’s enough,” said Scheder. “We don’t have authority to do anything; it’s basically just a discussion forum, which is good for some things, but for doing the work of student’s governments, it’s really not.”
“The goal of this body is to replace that with an effective student government body, basically like ASM, but on a statewide level that will direct movements across the state and not just on a single campus,” continued Scheder.
In a September interview with the The Daily Cardinal, ASM Chair Adrian Lampron commented on the body's relationship with the UW-Madison administration, emphasizing their frustrations.
“They made a lot of decisions behind closed doors and without input from shared governance bodies,” Lampron said. “I’m hopeful that with the changing circumstances, we'll be able to have a better relationship again.”
As other UW System schools consider passing the shared governance legislation, Govindarajan assumes that the student governance bodies will gain support from the System’s administration as well as state legislators sometime during the spring semester.
“[The] UW System [administration] are aware of the fact that campuses are joining together and demanding action,” Govindarajan said. “We’re hoping to have this off by fall of 2022.”