Republican University of Wisconsin Regent Says Won’t Step Down after Term Ends

A conservative regent at the University of Wisconsin said recently that he has no plans of stepping down from his post as his term comes to an end when the calendar turns to June.

Robert Atwell was first appointed to the Board of Regents in May of 2017 by Scott Walker, who was serving as the state’s Republican governor at the time. Atwell’s term, which lasted seven years, ended this month.

Yet, despite his term ending, Atwell says he’s staying put.

He sent an email recently to regents President Karen Walsh, regents Executive Director Megan Wasley and Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman to notify them that he’d be staying on board until he decides to resign, or until Wisconsin’s state Senate confirms his successor.

In 2022, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled political appointees don’t have to leave their current posts until the state Senate confirms a successor. In his email, Atwell pointed out that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos brought this to his attention.

That is possible because current Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, has yet to announce who will succeed Atwell in the post.

Neither a spokesperson for the governor’s office nor the UW system responded to comment requests recently.

Atwell, though, said he hoped his “temporary continuation” on the board would support ongoing communications between the regents and state legislators.

In his email, Atwell complained that the financial reporting that the UW system does is weak. He further took issue with studies at the university system, which have concluded that graduates of the system earn more simply because they attended a school there.

He wrote that this stance is “shallow, inaccurate and highly insulting to parents, the students themselves and to the community institutions who also help form young people.”

He has repeatedly asked about how many staff members and faculty throughout the system were either fired or quit because they defied the mandate to get a COVID-19 vaccine. To this point, he says he has not received a response to any of those questions.

Atwell and Cris Peterson are the only two regents who were appointed to the board by Walker who still remain there. Peterson’s term expires in May of 2025.

The entire situation got a little murkier on Friday when Evers appointed three new members to the Universities of Wisconsin regents. One is Tim Nixon, who was appointed to fill the vacancy that’s created by the end of Atwell’s term.

But, since the state Senate hasn’t appointed him yet, Atwell still won’t leave. That’s something that Evers questioned when he spoke to reporters outside the state Capitol Friday, saying:

“When we have these games being played with Board of Regents members, that’s a problem. I know Bob Atwell and as I said before, he is — was — a person of extraordinary integrity. Something happened along the way that caused that not to happen. I do believe at some point in time he’ll decide to get off (the board).