MADISON (WKOW) — After originally slated for distribution in the spring, University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman said students at 13 universities will be surveyed this fall about their perceptions of the climate of freedom in expression on their campuses.

The surveys were originally supposed to be distributed in the spring, but were delayed. The idea originated under former system chairman and former longtime governor Tommy Thompson.

Rothman took office as system president on June 1. In an interview to discuss his first 100 days on the job, Rothman said the polls would be distributed later this fall.

“We’ll see what the results bring,” Rothman said. “We are, and I am, in particular, very focused on protecting free speech, protecting academic freedom, but also modeling civil discourse and debate.”

Free speech has long been a controversial topic on college campuses. Rothman said he believes there is a “vibrant” environment around the debate on UW campuses and expects it to remain so.

He argued that it would be important for universities to be seen as places where people challenge the beliefs of others.

“These challenges aren’t solved by sound bites or tweets,” Rothman said. “They are solved by people talking, working on problems, seeing different people’s points of view. Universities should be marketplaces of ideas.”

Top priorities after the first 100 days

Rothman said that after having had 100 days to investigate the current state of the university system, he believed the top priorities were upgrading infrastructure and increasing salaries for faculty and staff.

Rothman said too many buildings in the system, which includes a total of 26 campuses, have survived expected lifespans of 50 to 70 years.

Regarding compensation, he said an analysis of the university system found that salaries did not keep up with comparable positions in the private sector.

“Over the past 10 years, the compensation of our faculty and staff at our schools has declined relative to market compensation,” Rothman said. “And I think that’s an area that we need to address so that we pay our people fairly and equitably.”

Basically, Rothman said the university needed more state funding. To get it, he acknowledged it would require the support of the GOP-controlled legislature. Rothman said he met with legislative leaders and introduced them to what he described as a “talent war.”

Rothman said that without modern buildings and competitive compensation, the brightest students and staff would work in other states. The concern, he said, was that it would eventually deplete the talent pool of people able to start and work for Wisconsin companies.

“[Employers] are struggling to find people who have four-year degrees, who have graduate degrees,” Rothman said. “And if they don’t find them here, they’re going to move those jobs, by necessity, out of state, and I think that’s what we need to focus on.”

Deal with tuition fees

The price of higher education has been in the national spotlight following President Joe Biden’s announced plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for borrowers.

Rothman declined to take a position on whether loan forgiveness was good policy.

“Certainly what the president has done is done at the federal level,” Rothman said. “We really strive to make Wisconsin – UW system schools affordable and accessible for our students.”

About these costs within the system, Rothman said a review of tuition and fees revealed that there were different price levels at universities that provided an opportunity for any student.

“We were relatively well positioned in terms of affordability,” Rothman said.

The UW system board voted earlier this summer to extend the tuition freeze for another year.

Rothman said the system will become more accessible when Wisconsin’s Tuition Pledge goes into effect in the fall of 2023. It’s an extension of Bucky’s Pledge at UW-Madison, applying the program to each of the universities. of the system.

Under the pledge, the system will cover tuition and fees for students from families earning less than $62,000 a year.

“After the Pell grants, Wisconsin grants, etc., we will fill that void and the system will cover it for the first year,” Rothman said. “We will request as part of our biennial budget request [next year] May the Legislature join us in this investment in the people of the State of Wisconsin.”