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Council, Board challenge UWS suspensions

Protestors gather outside of Old Main on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus in this photo from November. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

A pair of resolutions are under consideration by local government officials, challenging plans to suspend 25 University of Wisconsin-Superior programs and place 15 others on suspension warning.

The announcement of the suspensions has prompted protests, teach-ins and reaching out to the community for support.

The latest round of programs cuts comes just three years after five programs were cut, eliminating four positions and saving the university $260,000 as it faced a $4.5 million shortfall.

The latest round of program suspensions are not budget related; they are an effort to improve student success.

Tonight, the Superior City Council considers a resolution to support students and faculty at UWS; Thursday, the Douglas County Board considers a similarly-worded resolution that has already been approved unanimously by the county's Administration Committee.

The Council referred a resolution — yet unwritten — to its meeting tonight two weeks ago, a motion put forth by Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who said she was shocked when she heard about program cuts.

"I think our future, higher education and economy are too important to be silent on this matter," Van Sickle said, urging councilors to support the motion.

"If you look at the scenario that we've heard about, there was somewhat of an arbitrary decision made from the top down," said Douglas County Supervisor David Conley. "UWS has a process — it's called shared governance. The important decisions affecting the programming and the standing of the university are talked over with the faculty and maybe even students. It seems that policy of governance was bypassed in this case."

Conley said many of the decisions being made affect local residents who attend the university here."

As a county supervisor, Conley said one of his concerns is that the university is one of the main economic engines in the county.

A 2008 study funded by the UWS Alumni Foundation showed the university's impact on the local economy — contributing $41.2 million annually and employing 785 full- and part-time jobs.

As part of the resolutions, local officials are looking for affirmation from the governor, Legislature and UW Board of Regents that they fully support students and UWS; local officials are looking to rescind the decision to suspend the 25 programs, which includes nine majors, 15 minors and one graduate program.

"I can't help but look at the history of Douglas County and how hard we have tried to draw other businesses, other industries, into our county ... We have something that is working for our county right now and I look at these suspensions as threats to the continuation of that university," Conley said.

Conley likened it to sawing all the branches off a tree — eventually, all you have is an unattractive trunk.

"I think that's the same for students as well," Conley said. "They are not going to be attracted to a university that offers them no choices."

UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter plans to address both bodies.

The Council considers its resolution at 6:30 p.m. today. The County Board will do so at 6 p.m. Thursday. Both are in Room 201 of the Government Center, 1316 N. 14th St.

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