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Town hall meeting held on fate of UW-Richland
Town hall meeting held on fate of UW-Richland

By Matt Johnson

UW-Richland's deep-rooted history and its place in the greater Richland County community was the focus of a standing-room-only town hall meeting at the Pippin Conference Center of Melvill Hall, last Thursday.

In November of 2022, UW-System President Jay Rothman asked that preparations be made to possibly end in-person instruction at UW-Richland due to low student enrollment. The enrollment at UW-R has decreased from 370 eight years ago to approximately 65 for the 2022-2023 school year.

Campus supporters have asked the UW-System to give UW-Richland an opportunity to raise enrollment and keep in-person instruction the focus of the university.

“Universities are more than just money,” Andrew Sharp, former District Attorney and Richland County judge, said. “They were put here for the greater good. They were put here to benefit the people of Richland County. That's what the contract said. There's more to it than dollars and cents.”

Speakers, one-after another, came to the podium at the town hall event and told stories of the experiences they or their children had as UW-R students and how the opportunity of having a campus in Richland County helped boost the livelihood of local residents.

The move by the UW-System to possibly end instruction at UW-Richland comes after years of cuts the system has made, which have hastened the university's decline. The system removed a full-time recruiter from the campus, eliminated the campus dean's position and reduced the budget of UW-Richland annually. 

In December, the Richland County board unanimously passed a resolution to seek the return of a full-time recruiter to the campus, allow the county to work with the UW-System to boost enrollment and return the annual budget of the campus to the level it was at when when enrollment was higher – that's about $4 million annually.

In addition to the large audience, the meeting was attended by Jeff Buhrandt, the UW-System Vice President for University Relations.

Buhrandt said, “This is the beginning of a process for us. We’re going to start having conversations with county leadership about what this process looks like and about what our presence in this community continues to be.”

Area resident Michael Grindemann was less diplomatic about the potential for UW-Richland to work with UW-Platteville long-term. Grindemann said that UW-Platteville's actions could be viewed as done “in bad faith” and that UW-P has usurped many programs, staff and students as enrollment has fallen.

Grindemann said UW-Platteville could be viewed as having “stolen” UW-Richland's students, staff, recruiter, international program, college for kids and continuing education program.

Richland Center Mayor Todd Coppernoll said  pro-active dialogue between UW-System officials and Richland County officials to rebuild enrollment was occurring in October of 2022. Coppernoll said that changed in November of 2022 and he's curious as to what happened to put the UW-System on a path to end instruction in Richland Center. 

State Rep. Tony Kurtz said that both he and State Sen. Howard Marklien were not absent as enrollment declined at UW-Richland. They repeatedly asked for updates from the UW-System and prepared for meetings that involved UW-System representatives.

Kurtz said that when he first met with UW-Platteville's interim chancellor Tammy Evetovich last August that his first question to her was, “We need a answer for UW-Richland – we need it sooner rather than later.” However, Kurtz said he received just one day's notice that from Rothman that Rothman was making the announcement regarding the potential end of in-person instruction at UW-Richland.

“We were trying to get answers as well,” Kurtz said. “

Kurtz said although both he and Marklien are on the joint finance committee at the Capitol, they “cannot move mountains.” In fact, Kurtz said politicking to get the $4 million for the campus would be a “fruitless effort” because “we would lose.” Kurtz said if a miraculous effort led to the money being included in the budget, it could still be axed by a line-item veto from the governor's office.

Marklein said that change in direction has to start with the UW-System and the Board of Regents.

The town hall meeting can be viewed online at:

(Matt Johnson can be reached online at