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Council rejects UWS resolution

Faculty, alumni and students, even prospective students — more than a dozen of them — lined up behind University of Wisconsin-Superior Chancellor Renee Wachter to address the Superior City Council on Tuesday night.

At issue, an administrative decision to suspend 25 programs and place 15 others on suspension warning, a process that didn’t follow the university’s policy on shared governance.

The Council weighed — and rejected — a resolution calling on university administration and UW-System to rescind the decision and show its support UWS students and faculty.

“No one likes to see a program suspended,” said Wachter, who dispelled rumors that the campus may close, that there were talks of merging UWS with another university or that UW System that doesn’t support the northernmost campus.

“We made the decision for a number of reasons,” Wachter said. She said the goal is to provide a strong program array that serves the region — it’s part of the strategic plan — and the university now has to meet performance metrics similar to those of colleges and technical schools, which include student success and efficiency.

“We must show improvement on both … at the time they were suspended, there were only 85 students enrolled in these programs, less than 3 percent of the student body,” Wachter said. “When they graduate, there would only be 42 students enrolled in those programs.”

But for most who addressed the Council, it was the process by which those programs were suspended that was troublesome.

“We can say that it is not the overwhelming majority of students on this campus that are opposed to the decision,” said Ben Damberg, vice president of the student government. “They are opposed to the process … they are OK with the decision, but they have extreme concerns about the process going forward.”

It’s a concern he said he shares personally, and he would have liked to see student government involved in the process in further discussions.

“What we are looking at around the UW System is the gutting of the system,” said UWS Professor Joel Sipress, a member of the faculty for more than 20 years. “When you look at the metrics the chancellor is referring to, it is to emphasize the production of diplomas above all else, including academic quality.”

Sipress said if the suspensions stand UWS — which started as a teacher’s college — will be out of the business of training high school teachers.

Jim Ronding, who grew up near the university, said it is Madison, not the UWS administration, that is “the enemy,” forcing a “smart” decision to keep the area from feeling the neglect coming from the Capitol.

“Is this really something you’re going to do — take a position on this?” Ronding asked the Council.

In the end, four city councilors — Craig Sutherland, Keith Kern, Dan Olson and Jack Sweeney voted against a motion to adopt the resolution. Councilor Brent Fennessey abstained, stating he didn’t believe it the role of the Council to second-guess a university decision.

If not for that abstention, Mayor Jim Paine said he would have broken what would have been a tie in favor of the resolution.

Councilors Tylor Elm, Ruth Ludwig, Esther Dalbec, Jenny Van Sickle and Warren Bender voted in favor of adopting the resolution.

A majority of the full 10-member body is required for a motion to pass; the mayor can only vote to break a tie.

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