This story was written by Cassie Kornblau, Badger Herald
State Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, has long been critical of the University of Wisconsin System and the Board of Regents.
Nass, chairman of the colleges and universities committee, said in an interview with The Badger Herald he is OK with being a "critic" because it means he is going to speak out against the university system and its past mishaps.
"If being a critic means I am going to speak out against $28 million wasted on a computer program, incarcerated professors getting a paycheck or cows dying at a research facility then yeah, I am a critic," Nass said. "I am just doing a job taxpayers expect me to do, and I will continue to do it if they like it or not."
Nass, who says the UW System's 1999-2006 payroll benefits program never worked, said any industry or business would have to put a stop to it long before they spent $28 million.
With the state budget still not finalized, Nass is critical of UW System President Kevin Reilly for saying the UW System does not have enough money -- after it lost $28 million.
"When the university is forthright and accountable and puts information out, the public will be saying it is OK to give them more money," Nass said.
Nass said Reilly's "doom and gloom" is not helping to reconcile the differences between the UW System and state, but rather is just part of a scare tactic to advance the idea that the UW System does not have enough money because of budget delays -- when in truth doors are open and students are attending classes.
"Life goes on," Nass said. "The sky is not going to fall, students will not freeze in the classroom because the heat won't turn on, and money is available to the extent as it was approved in the last budget."
Currently, Nass said the UW System is also carrying out "scare tactics" with financial aid.
The UW System says students are not receiving checks for financial aid, and UW College Republicans accused the governor's office of using private financial aid information to gather students to promote the Democrats' agenda.
"This is ethically wrong, and the university does not see it," Nass said. "Private information is private and precious and should not be used for partisan political purposes."
Nass said a completed budget will not be everything UW and state Democrats want.
"The UW System will have to move forward with the money that is made available to them by the Legislature," Nass said. "We are in a difficult time as a state, and we are at a defining moment as far as our future financially. There is a $2.2 billion deficit right now, and every department will have to restrain their spending."
According to Nass, had the Legislature restrained spending over the last six years, the state would not be in the predicament it is right now.
However, some students believe Nass is too critical of the UW System.
UW Student Regent Colleene Thomas said Nass' chairmanship is contrary to the purpose higher education stands for.
"His position does not take into account a long-term vision for the state, or at least a long-term vision to secure jobs and prepare a workforce to hold those good jobs," Thomas said.
Oliver Kiefer, chairman of the UW College Democrats, said there is obviously no bigger critic than Nass and there is a fine line between what is good, honest governing -- holding people accountable -- and crossing the line. The truth, Kiefer said, is Nass crosses that line.
Kiefer said he thinks the easiest way to make sure there is a positive relationship with the state Legislature would be to change the chair of committee since too many bridges have been burned between the UW System and the state.
In addition to the budget, wit elections approaching in the upcoming year on both the state and federal level, Nass said from an educational standpoint, access and affordability are the key issues.
"It is unfortunate that our Wisconsin-born-and-bred students are not able to get in with great ACT scores and great class rank," Nass said. "We ought to be able to keep our brightest and best here in the state of Wisconsin."
Nass said Assembly Republicans set a 4 percent tuition cap to make higher education more affordable and force the UW System to live within its means, while giving students some predictability in tuition rates.
Despite his strong beliefs, Nass said he is not planning on endorsing any candidate on a national level. He plans to wait and see what they all have to say, but will encourage everyone, especially students, to vote.
Nass quoted a speech by former president Ronald Reagan and said what people look at as an everyday occurrence -- the right to vote -- is a miracle for parts of the world.
"It is such a precious right in democracy, and it is unfortunate we take it for granted," Nass said.
Despite the issues curtailing both the state and the UW System, Nass said he is hopeful everything will be resolved between parties and has met with Reilly and plans to meet again to discuss some of these issues.
"Both parties recognize the university is one of the economic engines for the state of Wisconsin," Nass said. "The battle right now is over taxes, and too much of it, historically, has to stop."
"This story appears courtesy of UWIRE, a news service powered by student journalists at more than 800 universities. To learn more, visit UWIRE.com."
© 2007 Badger Herald via U-WIRE
AP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi - Pool