MADISON, Wis. — According to University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross, necessary reorganization will be coming to the UW-System, as well as the extension.

The Board of Regents approved the restructuring of the colleges and extension Thursday afternoon during its meeting at the Gordon Dining and Event Center. Those against the plan voiced concerns that students and faculty weren’t conferred with, and the plan was too ambiguous.

“A vote to merge is not the end; it’s the start of hard work ahead of us,” said Regent Bryan Steil. “Change is difficult and bold actions are required to implement change. Some said that we need to slow down, they identified risk in the proposal. I see opportunities and say full steam ahead.”

After hearing many testimonies from all stakeholders involved, the regents gave the go-ahead to begin the restructuring process after many people called for the group to slow down.

“As I’m sure you’ve seen from my various media posts for the past few weeks, I have stated my ongoing concern, practically since I started, about the sustainability and viability of these wonderful institutions — the UW-Colleges,” UW-Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen told the Board of Regents. “There are probably many, many ways that we could structure ourselves for sustainability, but President Cross has decided on this approach and I support it. As you know over the past several years, we understand that given the demographic factors, we really can’t do much more and this is a great solution.”

While most regents agreed to the plan, Wisconsin Public Schools Superintendent Tony Evers and Janice Mueller were the only ones to oppose.

“I will not vote for this,” Evers said. “A bad process usually leads to bad policy. There are people in the State of Wisconsin who feel they’ve been left behind in this process. Whether that’s reality or perception doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference.”

Mueller said the plan includes no financial projections or estimations on potential job losses. Cross said over time there will be elimination of administrative jobs, but not immediately.

Cross’s plan includes merging the two-year schools with the four-year campuses. The 13 two-year schools will become regional branches of the seven four-year campuses. 

UW-Marinette, along with UW-Manitowoc and UW-Sheboygan, will join UW-Green Bay in July of 2018.

UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary Miller said he is very optimistic about the four campuses coming together.

“The resolution proves that UW-Green Bay will join three remarkable communities in Northeast Wisconsin,” he said. “These are communities that have three excellent colleges that we’re very familiar with and have had lots of interaction with. They are institutions that we have admired for a long time. This is a region that has an interesting cohesion in economic development.

“The community of Green Bay and UWGB are very excited about this opportunity and I’m here to support it. I will tell you we are very optimistic. We are confident this will be a difficult process; it will take a lot of work. We’re committed to doing that work. I believe we can integrate and join these universities efficiently in full collaboration with Chancellor Sandeen, the colleges and the communities who are going to join in this endeavor as well.”

Along with making the process of transferring from two-year colleges to four-year campuses smoother, students will be able to earn certificates up to the potential of doctoral degrees with this plan. The hope is to attract more students to the two-year colleges so they can continue to remain open. 

Cross stated that enrollment in the two-year institutions has dropped 32 percent since 2010.

“Clearly the status quo is not sustainable,” Cross said. “We could continue to study this for months or even years, but the challenges we face will not change.”

One of the main concerns regarding the merging was potential loss of identities within the two-year colleges.

“Losing local identity is really important,” Cross said. “We want to give them input into that process and clearly listen. They pay for these buildings, they maintain major aspects — this is their community. We are partners with them. They will have a huge voice within them. I don’t believe there’s an intent to create a specific type of identity. That will be determined locally and regionally with how they want to do that.”

There was also the question if lawmakers were pushing for the restructuring.

“As a matter of fact, I did everything to keep this from being political,” Cross said. “I didn’t want it pursued as a political move. From my perspective, it’s a rational move in response to demographic and financial data and other challenges, including funding, these campuses are experiencing.

“One of the principles that is sacred to us is not closing a campus. We can’t do that. These campuses are incredibly important to these communities and to the State of Wisconsin for the future. Restructuring gives us the tools to hopefully better approach and deal with these challenges that they’re facing.”