UW-Richland closure transition plan calls for online focus

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Richland County leaders are fuming over University of Wisconsin-Platteville officials’ plan to shift to online education at their Richland branch campus after in-person instruction there ends for good after the spring semester.

UW System President Jay Rothman in November ordered UW-Platteville to stop offering degree programs at the Richland campus after the semester ends, citing financial pressure and low enrollment. About 60 students currently attend classes there.

Rothman ordered Platteville Chancellor Tammy Evetovich to produce a transition plan by Jan. 15. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that the plan calls for shifting to online education at Richland and allowing Richland students who haven’t finished their degrees to take up to 40 credits at Platteville or at the university’s Baraboo-Sauk County campus. The plan also calls for offering those students a $1,500 housing stipend and free parking at the Platteville campus.

Many members of the Richland community believe the plan effectively closes the Richland campus, leaving the county to pay for mostly empty buildings.

UW regents and Richland County have an 75-year lease that calls for the county to cover utilities and maintenance at the Richland campus and for UW to maintain a branch campus there with adequate staffing, the Journal Sentinel reported. The agreement expires in 2042 but can be terminated at the end of every fiscal year if state lawmakers don’t provide adequate funding and changes how branch campuses operate. It’s unclear if both or just one of the conditions must be met to end the agreement early, the paper reported.

Shaun Murphy-Lopez, vice chairman of the Richland County Board, told the Journal Sentinel that the transition plan is “disappointing but not surprising.” He said the board met behind closed doors earlier this week to discuss its legal options, although no vote was taken.

UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said system officials don’t believe the lease has been terminated and the system still plans to have a presence at the Richland campus.