UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County open discussion about the ‘merger’

Shared governances work together to uncover questions and solutions across campuses


Photo by Sam Farley

Chancellor James C. Schmidt, Katy McGarry and Nick Webber, the student body president and vice president, respectively, were part of the team from UW-Eau Claire that visited UW-Barron County on Nov. 15. They met with leaders and administrators from UW-Barron County.

Since the Nov. 9 UW System Board of Regents’ approval of the proposal that will merge UW-Eau Claire with UW-Barron County, leadership from both campuses have begun talks about what the future will look like after it officially goes into place on July 1.

Traveling about an hour north of the city, shared governance and administrative leaders from the Eau Claire campus met with their Barron County counterparts on Nov. 15 at the Rice Lake campus.

Katy McGarry, the Eau Claire student body president, along with Chancellor James C. Schmidt attended the meeting.

“It went really well,” McGarry said. “It was great to visit (Barron County).”

The meeting served as a handshake between the two soon-to-be-merged campuses, McGarry said. It was the first of many.

“Turns out we have a lot in common, most importantly that we are all focused on making sure our students have the very best education possible,” Schmidt wrote on his blog following the meeting.

After conversing about the community circling Barron County, the meeting transformed into an open forum filled with Barron County students’ questions.

“I was so glad to see how engaged students were during the open forum,” McGarry said.

Barron County students were “concerned” with changes to courses, instructors and programs, according to Schmidt’s blog. Students wanted to ensure the affordability and flexibility of Barron County would not change.

The UW System’s restructuring website has a “Frequently Asked Questions” page that addresses these students’ concerns: The UW Colleges will not experience a tuition increase.

“UW-Barron County will not become a little UW-Eau Claire,” Schmidt wrote. “We have much to learn from each other.”

McGarry said she realizes the importance of teamwork during the merger’s development. Moving forward, “working groups” will be formed between both campuses to sort out the technicalities that surround the merger.

“We want it to be a collaborative process,” McGarry said.

Decisions will have to be made quickly to meet the July 1 deadline, Schmidt said. However, he also said he has the experience to lead — he’s been through two mergers at previous colleges.

For one of the two previous mergers Schmidt has been a part of, he served as head of a reform committee. Schmidt said his time working at a two-year college while it was undergoing a reform similar to today’s merger has given him a perspective of what it’s like to be a two-year college undergoing a merge.

Tentatively, working groups will be assigned topics like curriculum, operations, shared governance, athletics and the “student experience,” Schmidt wrote. Working groups will comprise administrators and shared governance leaders from both campuses. Groups will be announced in early December.

In the meantime, conference calls between Eau Claire and Barron County happen on a weekly basis, McGarry said.

Through the restructuring process, Schmidt said he will have “open and frank discussions” with anyone curious about the merger.

“There’s a lot of work. A lot of questions,” Schmidt said. “But I also know it will work out — we’ve got good people.”

Cailyn Alexander, an Eau Claire sophomore kinesiology student, said she recognizes the importance of the UW System reform and wishes she knew more about the merger.

“I want more information,” Alexander said. “I want to be a part of a conversation.”

Nathalie Burmeister, an Eau Claire sophomore nursing student, said her main worry is about curriculum and “how education will change” during restructuring. Burmeister said she agreed with Alexander — she wants more information about the merger.

On Thursday, Barron County will visit Eau Claire. An open forum will be held at 12:30 p.m. in the Dakota Ballroom of the Davies Student Center. Students, faculty, staff and community members are all welcome to come and ask questions they may have about the merger.