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Students to fund United Council

March 4, 2010

The United Council has recently made it mandatory for all University of Wisconsin (UW) schools to become members with a mandatory but refundable “buy-in” of $3 from all students.

The “buy-in,” if every UW school is a member of the United Council, will give it a $1.2 million budget.

Students are able to ask for a refund if they do not want to fund the organization, but if the school is a member, then the United Council can still make decisions that affect it.

For the past three years the student population at UW-River Falls has voted against its inclusion in the United Council. Recently, the Student Senate at UWRF decided not to even add the United Council on the upcoming spring elections ballot believing that it would be voted down by the students once again. The United Council, however, has made the decision obsolete with its new mandatory “buy-in” policy.

The United Council is a state-wide UW program run and funded by students. It can make decisions that will affect all schools within their membership that they believe will benefit UW students the most. The United Council, however, has failed to fully represent students of all UW institutions and has recently been only benefiting those within the UW-Madison area, where the United Council is based out of, according to UWRF Student Senate President Josh Brock. The United Council’s lack of representation has been a given reason why some schools have denied membership or withdrew from the student association in the past couple of years, according to Brock.

On Feb. 19, 2010, Brock and another representative of the UWRF Student Senate traveled to UW-Oshkosh to attend a conference with UW student representatives from every four-year institution in the state, most two-year colleges and the current United Council representatives to discuss new policies and requirements for United Council members. These new policies include a mandatory “buy-in” of three dollars for all students and an everlasting membership to the association, according to a document from the United Council given to all universities in the UW system.

UWRF seemed like the minority during the conference, according to Brock, as only it and UW-Whitewater opposed the “buy-in,” despite a lack of support to the United Council from other institutions over the past couple of years. By the end of the conference, all four-year universities signed to be a part of the United Council besides UWRF and Whitewater. Whitewater would later sign the following Monday after an 11-5-1 vote from its Student Senate, according to Brock.

“No one wanted to talk to us,” said Brock. “Since we didn’t agree with the decision, they didn’t want to hear our arguments or reasons. They started using propaganda for us to join.” Such propaganda from the United Council and the other universities, according to Brock, included the threat of not having support from the United Council. Since they don’t represent UWRF, if the system tries to raise tuition, “trying to get out of the United Council is like trying to be in the U.S. and trying to get out of the U.S. government,” according to Brock.

The UWRF Student Senate supports Brock’s opposition, as there is not enough information on United Council and what they can do for UWRF, according to multiple senators. Legislative Affairs Director Alex Nelson wrote a motion for the last Student Senate meeting to send a letter to the United Council president and all other UW universities that states UWRF “…will not approve any mandatory or permanent ‘buy-in’ to United Council,” according to the motion.

The Student Senate does not entirely oppose the United Council, only what it has recently been doing in order to get every school in the UW system involved. “We don’t know how they’ll be run, their structure, what they’ll be doing or what they’ll be financing. We don’t know where the money will be going,” said Diversity Initiatives Director Rodney Hillskotter during the last Student Senate meeting. “What scares me is not that it is mandatory to join but that we will never be able to get out if we sign. We don’t know what they’ll be doing, and that blank canvas scares me.”

Facilities and Fees Board Chair Patrick Okan was never against United Council until its recent activities. The United Council, in a memo sent to all schools, said they want to represent the students’ voice and that students only will have that voice when they join United Council and by denying membership, UWRF is taking away choice for its students, according to Brock.

“By forcing students to join and getting rid of the referenda, [the United Council] are denying the students their voice,” said Okan in disagreement to the United Council’s words. “We want the referenda because we want the students to have a choice.”

Nelson’s motion passed, and the letter speaking against the United Council’s new policies has been sent. However, UWRF is alone against the United Council, and the Student Senate reaffirms it is making the best decision, based off given information, that is in the best interest of UWRF students.