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Friday, February 23, 2024

Chancellor Blank praises, condemns several Wisconsin bills that affect UW-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank detailed her hopes and fears for bills that have been passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature in a university statement on Wednesday. They await being signed into law by Governor Tony Evers, or being vetoed. 

Among the five bills addressed in Blank’s statement, three of them received her endorsement as she urged Gov. Evers to sign them into law.

The first was Senate Bill 557, which pertains to how and what the university’s Board of Regents is allowed to invest. 

Current law gives the Board of Regents control over revenues from gifts, donations and grants. The bill gives the Board the privilege to manage any revenue in the same manner as they have been for grants, gifts and donations. 

It ultimately provides the university with “vital flexibility” that will bring a “greater return on our investments and therefore help advance our teaching and research methods,” said Blank.

Also earning the Chancellor’s praise was Assembly Bill 775, which is focused on allocating funds to construct a new engineering building on the UW-Madison campus. Blank praised this bill as a way to continue educating “a labor force that is essential to Wisconsin’s future.”

The bill dictates that one million dollars from the state building trust fund will be used to conduct planning and designing of the new engineering building. 

Senate Bill 605 specifically deals with how resident tuition is applied to service members and their families. It gives presumption of residency to service members who relocate to Wisconsin and extends it past the relocation period if demonstration of residency is made. 

This is particularly important to the Pharmacy school and other professional schools because it gives flexibility to the UW-Madison to be able to structure instructional calendars the same as peers across the country, according to Chancellor Blank. This, as she noted, makes it easier to attract top students.

Blank did not express support for every bill passed last week, however. She specifically addressed disappointment at the passage of Senate Bill 409 and Assembly Bill 884, and asked that Gov. Evers veto them if and once they come across his desk.

Senate Bill 409 restricts how faculty can instruct on the topics of race and sex, and also restricts how employees of Wisconsin colleges can be trained regarding those same topics. Under this bill, instructors are prohibited from teaching about “race and sex stereotyping,” with specific restrictions on topics ranging from the idea that one race or sex is superior to another, the existence of inherent or unconscious racism or sexism, to the idea that meritocracy systems are “racist or sexist or set up by individuals of a particular race to oppress individuals of another race.”

Assembly Bill 884 states that any UW-System institution that includes ethnic studies or diversity credits as a general education requirement must also accept successful completion of a course on the U.S. Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) to fulfill that requirement. 

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Chancellor Blank expressed disappointment with these bills because they inhibit “an environment where both academic freedom and freedom of speech are core values.” She also explains that the university’s aim is to produce “well-rounded critical thinkers,” and that requires being able to teach students how to think, not what to think.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:22 a.m. on Monday, February 28, 2022, to correctly reflect that Assembly Bill 775 has passed the Wisconsin State Senate.

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