University of Wisconsin Board of Regents Collection

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UW System logoThis collection consists of the digitized minutes of the meetings of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents from 1921-1991. The 70-year scope of this collection captures the expansion of the University of Wisconsin from one four-year campus in Madison with 7,344 students to a statewide system of 26 campuses annually serving more than 173,000 students and over one million Wisconsin residents through statewide Extension.

The minutes of the Board’s monthly meetings provide a well-rounded sense of life in the University. Through the years, the Regents dealt with a wide variety of campus issues, including budget development, construction of new buildings and infrastructure, approval of new departments and classes, acquisition of new property, oversight of inter-collegiate athletics, and regulation of student conduct and behavior. The Wisconsin Idea is manifest through minutes reflecting the leadership of President Charles Van Hise by which UW-Extension was charged with the mission of extending the resources of the University to serve all of Wisconsin’s citizens. Contemporary observers will undoubtedly recognize the Regents’ frequent discussions about such topics as free speech on campus, student protests, and budgetary debates with the State Legislature.

Despite such common themes, the specific material before the Board of Regents tended to vary over the years. During the 1930s and 1940s, as the University grew in size and complexity, the Board of Regents devolved more responsibility to the chancellor and other administrators in Madison. Nonetheless, the minutes of the Regents’ meetings still conveyed day-to-day operations of the University. During the Great Depression, for example, regents, administrators, students and the State Legislature struggled to make ends meet during bad economic times; and, during World War Two, the campus community banded together in support of the war effort.

In 1956, the State Legislature approved the expansion of the University and created a second University of Wisconsin campus in Milwaukee. The Regents continued to govern an increasingly diverse and complex University, adding four-year universities in Green Bay (1965) and Parkside (1968). The University of Wisconsin also consisted of 10 freshman-sophomore centers, now called UW Colleges. Despite the expansion of the Board of Regents’ workload, the minutes provide an excellent snapshot of the campus turmoil of the 1960s, as the Regents struggled to balance the interests of students, administrators, legislators, and the public.

In 1971, the State Legislature merged the University of Wisconsin (and its four universities, 10 freshman-sophomore centers, and Extension) with the nine universities and four freshman-sophomore branch campuses of the Wisconsin State University System to create a statewide University of Wisconsin System. The merger more than doubled the membership of the Board of Regents and greatly increased its oversight responsibilities. After the 1971 merger, the Regents spent much more time on policy and other matters involving the operation of the whole system. Despite this distance from everyday life on the various campuses, the minutes still capture the important trends and controversies in higher education in Wisconsin, such as the 1982 UW-Extension Policy by which Extension embarked on a new era of educational effort; the increasingly vital role of information technology; the battles over South African divestiture, and the struggle to increase diversity in the UW System.

Special thanks to UW System President Kevin P. Reilly, the Secretary of the Board of Regents, the Office of General Counsel (in particular Holden Weisman), and Gregory Bond for their dedicated work to this project.