The UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium joins AAUP-Wisconsin and other groups across the state in calling for a new search for the UW System President. As COVID-19 and police brutality intensify the deep roots of systemic racism, it is more important than ever that the new UW System leader embraces a vision of higher education that prioritizes diversity, inclusion, access, and equality. The state of Wisconsin currently has one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country, and the UW System must respond to the current racial and health crisis by placing working class families and communities of color at the center of its plan. This vision would place the mission and vision of community investment front and center and prioritize financial decisions that boost access, affordability, and curricula that speaks to underrepresented groups. Given the metrics of low enrollment and retention of Indigenous and students of color under President Johnsen’s tenure at the University of Alaska System, along with multiple votes of no confidence, Title IX complaints, and program accreditation failures, we are unconvinced that Johnsen represents the type of leadership needed to respond to the current political moment. Access to higher education and programs that teach students how to articulate the relationship between racial justice, queer organizing, labor activism, feminism, and other movements for equality are crucially important at this moment. We urge the Board of Regents to begin a new search and offer a slate of finalists with a proven track record of developing polices that prioritize the needs of first-generation students, students of color, women, LGBTQ+ students, and other underrepresented groups. The protests erupting across the country underscore the relevance of education focused on diversity and inclusivity as more urgent than ever, and as educators and community leaders it is our job to contribute strategies to combat these crises.
Approved by the advisory board of the UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium June 5, 2020