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Conservative University of Wisconsin regent resigns after originally refusing to step down

University of Wisconsin could lose $32M over diversity initatives
University of Wisconsin could lose $32M over diversity initatives 00:27

A conservative University of Wisconsin regent who initially refused to step down even though his term was over has resigned, clearing the way for his successor named by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to take his spot.

Regent Bob Atwell notified university leaders Monday that he was resigning. Atwell was appointed in May 2017 by then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican. His term ended May 1 this year.

Atwell initially told university leaders he would not step down potentially until the state Senate confirmed his successor. Evers named his successor last week, but the Senate is not scheduled to be in session again until next year.

Regents can serve without Senate confirmation as long as the person they are replacing has stepped down.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that political appointees don't have to leave their posts until the Senate confirms their successor. The Senate often takes months, and sometimes years, to vote on confirmations.

Evers last week questioned Atwell's integrity with his initial decision not to resign.

"When we have these games being played with Board of Regents members, that's a problem," Evers said Friday. "I know Bob Atwell and as I said before, he is — was — a person of extraordinary integrity. Something happened along the way that caused that not to happen."

Atwell, in his email Monday announcing his resignation, said he was glad to see that Evers had appointed bankruptcy attorney Tim Nixon to the board. Evers also made two other board appointments.

"I would go into detail about why I think Tim is a great choice, but I don't want our friendship to taint his reputation for clear thought and ethical conduct," Atwell wrote.

Atwell cited "5 or 6 hate mail contacts" he received since announcing he would not resign, calling them "particularly unimpressive."

He said his actions were motivated out of a concern with the university's relationship with the Legislature.

"There is not a high cost to foaming at the mouth about me, but vilifying the elected body that must approve your budget is kind of dumb," he wrote. "The UW system is in dire need of reform and a reset in our relationship with all the people of Wisconsin. It is not Tony Evers' university any more than it was Scott Walker's."

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