WI state budget changes role of student government in college

The student association president at UW-L says it's 'disappointing'

The role of student government on college campuses is about to change after a last-minute addition to the Wisconsin state budget.

When the state budget was still being debated, lawmakers proposed a change to a state statute involving student government.

The original proposal was to take away student government’s ability to decide how student fees, or segregated fees, were going to be spent.

Gov. Scott Walker nixed that portion of the proposal but there is another change, that did go through, that has an impact.

Every year about 10,500 UW-La Crosse students get the chance to weigh in on school projects.

“The field house. If students said they didn’t want a new field house, we would not be building a field house,” said Kaylee Otterbacher, student association president at UW-La Crosse.

She said the students play a major part in what happens on campus.

“All the referendums students vote on them,” said Otterbacher.

But a change to state law may jeopardize the role students play.

“I am really disappointed that the law that students have a seat at the table is going to be taken out of state statute,” said Otterbacher.

Under current Wisconsin State Statute, “Students in consultation with the chancellor and subject to the final confirmation of the board shall have the responsibility for the disposition of those student fees.”

Under new state statute, signed into law by Gov. Walker last week, the words “In consultation” will be changed to “In subordinate.”

“What this means is, if the regents want to do X, Y, Z, we are not going to have to ask the students, faculty and staff,” said Joe Gow, chancellor of UW-La Crosse. “We have the ability now to not be so consultative.”

“The legislature seems to want the campus to run more like a business, where the chancellor is the CEO,” said Otterbacher.

However, Gow said that won’t happen.

“I know I greatly value the opinions of students, faculty and staff and I think the best decisions we have made are those everyone had a voice in,” said Gow.

Otterbacher said Gow’s support of student government is a relief, but when it comes to the future, she is more concerned.

“The entire time we have been here we have had shared governance in state statute, but when the school gets a new chancellor eventually, that chancellor may not have experience of what shared governance once was when it was in state statute,” said Otterbacher.

Once classes are back in session, Gow said he will meet with the student government to make sure everyone is on the same page moving forward.

Wisconsin is different because state law requires University of Wisconsin colleges to govern by using shared government.