City Council Votes Against Opposing UWS Program Suspension

by Felicity Bosk

UWS Chancellor Renée Wachter speaking before the Superior City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting. Photo by Felicity Bosk.
UWS Chancellor Renée Wachter speaking before the Superior City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting. Photo by Felicity Bosk.

The Superior City Council voted against a measure that would have condemned the University of Wisconsin-Superior administration for their recent decision to suspend 25 academic programs.

The measure failed after a vote of five for, four against, and one abstention. The resolution required six votes to pass. The vote came after comments by councilors and a public forum of which about 20 people came to speak. 

UWS Chancellor Renée Wachter was the first to the podium. “No one likes to see a program suspended,” she said. She reassured the council that the University is not going to close or merge with another university. She also said this was not a move by the state to undermine UWS.

“The system has been most generous and wants this campus to succeed,” she said. She continued to explain that only 85 students were enrolled in the suspended programs at the time their suspension was announced. 

“We made the decision for a number of reasons,” said Chancellor Wachter. “First, it’s part of our continued focus on developing a strong program array that is going to serve the region…The second is that we have performance metrics by which we are now accountable, much like WITC and the technical schools. These metrics include student success and efficiency. What does it cost us to produce a degree? We must show improvement on both of these.” 

Student Government Association Vice President Ben Damberg spoke on behalf of SGA, saying that the overwhelming majority of students at UWS are not opposed to the decision but opposed to the process the administration went about when deciding to suspend the programs. Many students and faculty at UWS learned about the program suspensions from local news outlets who received a press release hours before the administration sent a campus-wide email. 

American Federation of Teachers representative Kim Kohlhaas spoke before the council in support of the resolution. After the meeting she said she was disappointed to see the council say that it was not their place to take a stance. 

“Any university in your community is a part of the community system,” she said. 

Councilor Brent Fennessey said “we as a city do not govern UWS,” and that he would abstain from the vote. Councilor Jack Sweeny said this was not a city council issue, and later voted against the resolution. 

Jenny Van Sickle, who authored the resolution, said that this was a devastating local situation. 

“We can not underestimate our power and voices as a united council. Chancellor Wachter’s attendance today certainly validates that,” she said. “As a first-generation non-traditional graduate, someone you came here to sway, I reject the false account that I cannot be successful.” 

She said the resolution was not meant to criticize the University as a whole, rather it was supposed to be a show support for the University by their elected officials. 

After the meeting, Damberg said he believes that this was not a city issue and that it should be discussed at higher levels with state representatives. 

Chancellor Wachter declined to comment.