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Testimony to Joint Legislative Audit Committee by David G. Walsh, UW System Board of Regents President (Oct 18, 2005)

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For Immediate Release

October 18, 2005

Contact: Doug Bradley
dbradley@uwsa.edu
(608) 262-5061

Testimony to Joint Legislative Audit Committee

David G. Walsh, President

UW System Board of Regents

Related:

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Thank you, President Reilly. On behalf of my Board of Regents colleagues, I want to extend our appreciation for your time and consideration. And a special thanks to co-chairs, Rep. Jeskewitz and Senator Roessler, for their courtesy and assistance.  

I should note that Rep. Jeskewitz and I have had an energetic dialogue about university employment practices and state statues.  I also appreciate the fact that she joined us at our Board of Regents meeting in West Bend in September to listen to our discussion about these complex issues which resulted in our eight-point resolution. We appreciate her concern, and also her participation.

Let me reassure you that my Regent colleagues and I are taking all these matters very seriously. We take our jobs seriously, and when there is criticism it is our responsibility to act, and to act quickly.

Since July, we have dedicated most of our time and attention to reviewing employment policies and practices. As public trustees, we are working hard, as is President Reilly, to ensure openness, public accountability, and, just as important, the stewardship of the UW System's funds and resources.

As I said in July, if this review determines that any policy, practice, or public trust is broken, we will "fix it." Well, there is one practice that I believe needs fixing, and it has to do with the university's disciplinary process when there are charges of criminal conduct against one of our employees. I've identified this issue as one of concern, and we are going to move quickly.

The disciplinary system of UW employees honors a delicate balance.  On the one hand, our System tries to preserve and afford due process to all employees giving appropriate consideration for concepts of academic freedom and an individual's property right in employment.  But, on the other hand, our disciplinary process also attempts to recognize and give deference to the need for public safety, enforcement of high standards of behavior, and good stewardship of public funds. 

Recent incidence of felony charges against UW System employees demonstrate that our disciplinary process needs to be re-examined.  Stated simply, in egregious cases, the process is broken.  It does not work in egregious cases.  It needs to be fixed.  We owe it to the public to determine the problems with it and to take those steps to guarantee the safety of our many, many stakeholders and also to assure the public that we take seriously the discipline of such conduct. 

After broad consultation with attorneys, legislative leadership, including Rep. Jeskewitz, Speaker Gard, Senate Majority Leader Schultz, outside labor counsel, and campus administrators, I have appointed a committee as of this Monday to examine the UW System's disciplinary process to identify what restricts us from making more expeditious decisions in egregious situations, including recommending statutory changes. In other words, we need help from you for making decisions in personnel matters to eliminate the restriction on the use of criminal convictions as a basis for discrimination.

Regent Michael Spector of Milwaukee will lead this effort and will be joined by Regents Peggy Rosenzweig and Brent Smith, UW System General Counsel Pat Brady, UW-Platteville Chancellor David Markee, and law school professor and former head of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Walter Dickey. I have asked the committee to prepare recommendations to the Board to be considered at our December meeting. That will be a very tight timeline given what's before us, but we recognize the need to move quickly.

Thank you again for your time and attention. My fellow Regents and I pledge to continue our commitment to serving students and Wisconsin citizens, to be responsible in our stewardship, and to be forward-thinking and innovative - as a world-class university should be. We stand ready to work with the Legislative Audit Bureau as it conducts its review of employment policies and practices, in light of constitutional rights, academic freedom, and the need for shared governance. The bottom line for us is to assure the public that on an issue that involves the safety of our students or visitors, we will move to fix the problem.

President Reilly and I and our UW System colleagues would be happy to respond to any questions.  

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