November 30, 2015

Lawrence University students raise racism concerns

Main Hall on the Lawrence University campus in Appleton.

Main Hall on the Lawrence University campus in Appleton.

Minority students at Lawrence University have submitted a three-page letter to school President Mark Burstein, listing demands and concerns over issues of race, hatred and bigotry on campus. The letter, delivered earlier this week, states students of color on the LU campus “will respond with civil disobedience, protests, and other means if these demands are not met within a timely manner.”

“Many, if not most, of the issues that are identified in the document are things that students have expressed before and that we know need continued work,” says Nancy Truesdell, vice president for student affairs at Lawrence. “These are really serious and important issues so I’m glad that they found a voice to be able to express themselves.”

The 14 demands and 21 concerns listed include discriminatory policies and faculty incidents against students of color. It also involves off-campus incidents of racism along College Avenue in the city of Appleton.

“This is not the first that we have heard about expressions of the experiences that students have,” says Truesdell. “The reports, typically, have been someone driving by in a vehicle shouting things out of windows, it’s very hard to get a description or who to hold accountable.”

Truesdell says Lawrence administrators have been working with the city of Appleton’s Diversity Coordinator along with the mayor’s office to address these concerns.


Lawrence University’s student government president Wesley Varughese says he supports the letter.

“They are negatively affected by the way the university presented itself as far as the opportunities they’ve had to feel welcome and inclusive on campus,” says Varughese, who’s a senior majoring in government and Spanish. “I would say that students of color on campus have felt this for quite a few years actually, going all the way back to the Civil Rights Movement.”

Varughese says those students of color felt motivated after watching the actions at the University of Missouri to express those feelings to the school’s administration.

“Because of those events it has renewed passion in making sure what they believe in is clear on this campus and they can share it with the administration,” Varughese says.

Varughese adds that he expects the administration to respond with a plan, however he admits some of the problems may take years to fix.


The College Board indicates that 71 percent of students at Lawrence University are white.

Based upon the demands and concerns referenced in this list, including naming specific faculty members and the concern about them the group wants investigated, is this Liberal Arts college not tolerant and inclusive??

“I think every individual on the campus would have their own answer to that question,” replied Truesdell.

Varughese believed that much of it is.

“There are marginalized groups on campus that don’t feel safe and don’t feel as welcome as we all might,” said Varughese. “And I think that’s because of the different backgrounds and different walks of life.”

With the last day of classes Thursday, and fall semester finals right after, Truesdell says that senior staff at Lawrence will use the next month to look at immediate changes and forming an action plan. That’s expected to be introduced in January when students return to campus.

Contributed by Jeff Flynt, WTAQ

Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider DPI superintendent’s power

Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case involving the powers of the elected state public school superintendent. The justices will consider whether the governor can have a say over the Department of Public Instruction’s administrative rules.

Republican Governor Scott Walker decided in 2011 to give the governor and the legislature the power to overturn rules from state agencies which implement new state laws. DPI was among those agencies, but two lower court decisions rejected the veto power for education rules. Those rulings say the voters have the eventual control over DPI rules, through the election of the state superintendent every four years. The post is currently held by Tony Evers.

In the state’s latest arguments, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says the justices should consider overturning a 1996 Supreme Court decision which upheld the DPI superintendent’s powers. That ruling set aside former Governor Tommy Thompson’s effort to create a cabinet level Education Department as part of his administration.

Senator Tiffany opposes limiting school referendum scheduling

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst)

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst)

A Republican state lawmaker from northern Wisconsin is speaking out against a bill from a member of his own party, which would limit when school districts can hold referendums.

The bill, offered by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), would only allow school funding referendums to be held during general elections and no sooner than two years apart. Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) told members of the Rhinelander Area Retired Educators Association on Wednesday that he has issues with the bill’s language. “I do not support that bill as its drafted. Maybe it’s appropriate to put some limitations in place. I don’t think this bill does it. I have some real reservations,” he said.

Tiffany also said the current school funding formula, which hurts schools with declining enrollments like most northern schools, is virtually impossible to change. He said legislators in districts where the formula works for them, mainly southern Wisconsin districts, don’t want to change it.

However, he said northern legislators did work get more money in the budget for what’s called sparsity aid and transportation funding, which did pass. “Schools that have very few kids per square mile there’s a sparsity aid…then we added a second thing…high cost transportation aid. So we got some schools additional revenue because they have to travel so far to pick up these kids.”

Some Northwoods school districts are spending more than a million dollars a year to transport students.

Lawmaker renews push for higher ed, lower debt bill

The Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: O. Kay Henderson)

The Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: O. Kay Henderson)

A state lawmaker says there’s a growing in urgency in the Legislature acting on a bill that would help thousands of Wisconsin residents refinance their student loan debt.

A report by the the Institute for College Access and Success ranked Wisconsin third in the nation for the percentage of residents with student loan debt – with 70 percent of Wisconsinites owing an average of nearly $29,000. State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) says that debt has an impact on the economy, with an estimated $200 million in auto sales lost each year and many people forced to continue renting, instead of buying a home.

Hansen is the sponsor of a bill that would allow Wisconsin residents to refinance student loan debt through a state authority, which allow them to potentially reduce their interest rates and their monthly payment. Hansen argues “people should be able to refinance their student loans to get lower interest rates, the same way you do with a home or auto loan.”

The bill has received a hearing, but a committee vote has not yet been scheduled. Hansen believes it would have the support needed, if Republicans allow a vote to take place.

Efforts to pass similar legislation have fallen short in previous sessions. Some Republicans have questioned how much the state can actually help students who are already paying low interest rates on some loans, and whether the state could assume the risk of setting up an authority.

Wisconsin students score above national average on math and reading

State officials are touting the performance of Wisconsin fourth and eighth graders on a national achievement test.

Around 9,600 public school students in the state took the National Assessment for Educational Progress test last winter. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the results of the so-called “Nation’s Report Card,” which shows Wisconsin students scored above the national average in both fourth and eighth grade for mathematics and for eighth-grade reading. Compared to the previous year, the scores of Wisconsin students held about steady in both math and reading.

There’s at least one cause for concern in the test results. Nationwide, Wisconsin’s achievement gap between black and white students was second from the bottom for math and reading at both grade levels.

Contributed by Pat Curtis