Regents, chancellors praise, air concerns about UW System restructuring process

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

UW-Colleges and Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen told the Board of Regents Thursday it will need more than a year to phase out the 50-year-old institution as part of the UW System’s restructuring plan.

“It’s not that often you dismantle or discontinue an accredited institution, and we want to make sure we do it right,” Sandeen said.

Sandeen’s comments come as UW-System awaits an anticipated June 28 approval from the Higher Learning Commission that would allow the system’s 13 two-year campuses to begin operating as branch campuses of the four-year institutions with which they will merge.

Sandeen said the 2018-19 school year will then become a “transition year” in shutting down UW Colleges and UW Extension. Sandeen said she hopes to complete shutdown around the end of 2019.

While UW-System officials anticipate HLC approval, the organization may request slight changes to the merger proposal. UW-System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis emphasized any such request would not affect financial aid for students.

At the meeting, chancellors at the four-year universities merging with two-year institutions largely praised the merger process. But some, such as UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields, raised concerns he could not remain accountable in the process given the state of uncertainty around the budget, HLC approval, student transfers and speed of the transition.

“It is hard to be accountable if you don’t have control. It’s hard to be accountable if you don’t have an idea what your money is going to look like,” Shields said. “Now is not the time for more uncertainty. The sooner we can make some commitments and move forward … the more confidence [two-year campuses] are going to have in us.”

UW-System President Ray Cross told chancellors the system will account for any deficits accrued under the merger for a period of two years.

Several regents expressed concerns over transition implementation.

Regent Gerald Whitburn expressed concerns about the upcoming HLC approval deadline, while Regent Janice Mueller, who voted against the restructuring proposal, called out contradictions in four-year chancellors’ accounts of the the process thus far.

Mueller criticized statements by chancellors calling for faster program approval despite complaints about bureaucracy, and cast doubt on chancellors’ calls for greater integration between four-year and two-year campuses despite hesitation from some localities.

“I heard some of you say we need to create a foundation of sustainability, but there are existing deficits and significant financial issues And I heard you say we need data, but the data we have, let’s face it, is overwhelming,” Mueller said.

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