Chancellor Ward provides clarification on WISPIRG

March 14, 2013

I support registered student organizations and the activities and opportunities they provide for our students. I’d like to provide more clarity around the issue of funding for WISPIRG (Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group), a group that has been widely discussed around campus over the past few weeks. I have heard from many faculty members who have been solicited for their support of the group with an incomplete version of events.

Much is being made to suggest I have taken a grand departure from past practice related to funding of student organizations, and specifically, WISPIRG. I write today to clarify that this is not the case. Please read on to understand the most recent facts.

In fall 2011, WISPIRG applied for funding to support its activities for the 2012-13 academic year through the student segregated fee process (GSSF funding). ASM initially approved the bulk of their request, and as is required, sent it to me for final approval.

A portion of WISPIRG’s budget was allocated for its professional, non-university staff.  Because the rules of F50 (UW System policy governing use of student segregated fees) state that segregated fees cannot be used for expenses related to non-university employees except via contract, that portion of the budget was reviewed to determine if it met the governing provisions of F50.

ASM has a process for identifying and contracting for services for students that meets the expectations of F50.  Like elsewhere on campus, this process, known as the Campus Services Fund, is outward-facing, meaning student government must seek and identify a service needed by students and follow the state requirements for contracting for those services.  That contracting process is separate from the GSSF funding process WISPIRG used to apply for its funding and is not organized in a way that accepts applications for funding from student organizations.

In Spring 2012, ASM set forth an additional contracting process for groups like WISPIRG and approved money for WISPIRG’s professional staff through this process. ASM’s approved budget for WISPIRG contained a sunset provision under which the funds approved by ASM for those professional staff items that required a contract would lapse if I did not approve contract status. Unfortunately, that contracting process did not meet the provisions of F50, requiring that I deny the contract request.  When the contract for WISPIRG was denied, only the portion of the budget allocated for its professional staff was removed.  For this current fiscal year, WISPIRG has had access to the $55,571.17 that I approved for its membership dues to the state and national PIRGs, office supplies, printing, training, and other similar items. 

This has been an ongoing issue since F50 was created in 2007 in response to Board of Regent concerns about the potential abuse of student segregated fees by external non-profit groups that affiliate with a student organization to obtain student segregated fees to support the external non-profit groups’ activities. Consistent with the efforts of former Chancellors John Wiley and Biddy Martin, I am working to uphold the requirements of F50.  Chancellor Martin was the first one who determined, in 2010, that the contracting process was inadeqate. ASM then chose to completely defund WISPIRG for 2011-12. As explained above, the students presented a revised contract process which still did not meet the requirements of F50 and I approved a portion of their budget but not the portion related to professional staff.

Late last spring, both the president of the UW System and the president of the Board of Regents upheld my interpretation of F50, further reinforcing the fact that the additional contracting process proposed by ASM is not the appropriate way for WISPIRG or other groups to receive funding. ASM did not appeal my decision regarding WISPIRG’s budget and the Board of Regents approved the budget for 2012-13 without the contract for WISPIRG.  I do not have the authority to reinstate or issue funding for a contract for WISPIRG’s professional staff for the 2012-13 academic year.

I believe WISPIRG can continue to operate effectively on campus, as many WISPIRG members have shared with me its successes over the past year. It has the opportunity, like other student organizations, to apply for funding from ASM in future years. ASM has not yet forwarded the proposed budgets for the 2013-14 academic year for my review. 

I must be clear, however, in noting that F50 will continue to govern my review of such budget requests, and my interpretation of its requirements have been upheld by UW System and the Board of Regents. WISPIRG is advised, once again, to work with ASM to best understand the available funding resources. Thank you for taking the time to understand this complex issue.