New University of Wisconsin system president Jay Rothman will recommend freezing undergraduate college tuition in the state for another year. And he said an inquiry into student free speech, which led to the resignation of an acting chancellor at UW-Whitewater, will be sent out in the fall semester.
Rothman said his top three priorities will focus on the affordability of a college education as it relates to prospective students, the needs of state businesses, and the diversity of the student body and staff in the UW system.
Rothman said system leaders will consider tuition at peer institutions as well as the economic status of incoming students. This summer, Rothman said he will develop a budget proposal for the UW system for consideration by the UW Board of Trustees and Governor Tony Evers.
“And this budget will contain my recommendation to freeze tuition for next year for in-state undergraduate tuition,” Rothman said. “So I’m excited about that because I think it’s going in the direction of affordability.”
Rothman’s budget recommendation will be considered by the UW board of trustees at its next meeting, which is June 9-10.
Tuition fees at four-year universities in the UW system have been frozen since 2013. If Rothman’s recommendation goes into effect for the next academic year, it would mark a full decade in which four-year universities in the state have not been allowed to increase in-state tuition fees for undergraduates. State lawmakers returned the power to raise tuition fees to the Board of Regents last year, but lawmakers warned former acting UW system president Tommy Thompson against increases in tuition fees. tuition.
Rothman faces GOP criticism of higher education
As Rothman begins to make his mark on the UW system, he will face intense criticism from Republican public higher education lawmakers.
A sticking point lately is whether college campuses support and value conservative viewpoints. Republican lawmakers, and conservatives in general, have suggested not.
The problem came to a head in April, when former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater acting chancellor Jim Henderson resigned in protest after former UW system acting president Michael Falbo directed chancellors to send a free speech survey to students during the spring semester last.
The survey was developed by the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovations at UW-Stout and the UW System’s Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service in Wausau. A copy of the survey obtained by WPR in April asks students about their views on diversity; whether giving voice to unpopular or offensive viewpoints encourages healthy academic dialogue; and if they felt pressured by a teacher to agree with a specific political or ideological opinion in class.
The inquiry was initially halted in March, frustrating Republican lawmakers like Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, who is the chairman of the state Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee. The survey was supposed to be sent to students in April, but was halted again after Henderson resigned from the Whitewater campus.
Rothman said his intention is to conduct the student survey this fall.
“But it really opens up a bigger question in my mind, and that’s the whole question of freedom of expression and civil dialogue, and that universities need to be a focal point for that process,” he said. declared.
The UW system has an initiative underway to “try to provide additional support for our universities on how they can think differently about this issue,” Rothman said.
Some UW faculty members suggested that the survey results would be used against the UW system by Republican lawmakers.
In December, Republican state lawmakers, including Murphy, introduced legislation that would punish universities and technical colleges found guilty of violating free speech and free speech on campus. The bill, which failed to pass in the previous legislative session, would allow individual members of the UW board of trustees or technical college councils to be sued for up to $100,000 if a judge, district attorney, or state attorney general decides that the rights have been violated.
The issue of critical race theory – an academic legal framework to help identify the effects of structural racism on politics that has more recently been misused to describe K-12 and undergraduate education about race, history and equity – has also become a political minefield for the UW system. Last year, Wisconsin lawmakers introduced legislation that would limit how race and racism are taught in K-12 schools and UW system campuses.
When the UW board of trustees announced a unanimous vote in May to hire Jennifer Mnookin — former dean of the University of California, Los Angeles law school — as the next UW-Madison chancellor, the Republican lawmakers and candidates for governor and state attorney general have attacked the board and Mnookin. A statement from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Mnookin “wholeheartedly supports the critical race theory taught on campus.” Vos and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch called Mnookin a “blatant partisan pick” and a “woke radical.”
When the Board of Regents announced that Rothman would be the next leader of Wisconsin colleges, Vos congratulated Rothman in a Tweeter. Rothman said he believed the legislature valued the UW system.
“I think whether you’re on the Democratic side or the Republican side, you appreciate that investing in the citizens of the State of Wisconsin and the residents of the State of Wisconsin is absolutely critical to the long-term viability of our State,” Rothman says.
He praised Mnookin as a gifted scholar and leader, and suggested lawmakers would also see her that way after meeting her.
Rothman’s tenure as president of the UW system will be his first foray into higher education. Before being chosen as system president in January, he had been president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based law firm Foley & Lardner since 2011. He said his experience leading the firm positions him well to work with multiple stakeholder groups within the UW system.
Editor’s Note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.