Republican-appointed Universities of Wisconsin regent refuses to step down after his term ends

Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents member Robert Atwell, who was appointed by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2017, says he won't step down when his term ends in May 2024.

Associated Press

May 28, 2024

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Bascom hall with the Abe Lincoln statue to the right.

Robert Atwell has served on the Board of Regents since Scott Walker appointed him in 2017, but won't give up his seat any time soon. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative University of Wisconsin regent says he won’t step down when his term ends.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, appointed Robert Atwell to the Board of Regents in May 2017. His seven-year term ends in May.

Atwell sent an email to Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman, regents President Karen Walsh and regents Executive Director Megan Wasley on May 20 saying he won’t step down until he chooses to resign or the state Senate confirms a successor.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that political appointees don’t have to leave their posts until the Senate confirms their successor. Atwell said in his email that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos reminded him that he could remain in his position on the regents.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has yet to announce Atwell’s successor.

“I knew Bob Atwell as a person of high personal integrity,” Evers told The Associated Press on May 25. “Something has changed.”

UW system spokesperson Mark Pitsch didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Atwell said in his email that he hoped that his “temporary continuation” as a regent will support communication between legislators and the regents.

He also complained in the email that the UW system’s financial reporting is weak and took issue with UW studies that conclude that system graduates earn more because they attended a UW school are “shallow, inaccurate and highly insulting to parents, the students themselves and to the community institutions who also help form young people.”

He also complained that no one has ever answered his questions about how many faculty and staff quit or were fired because they defied the system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Atwell is one of two Walker-appointed regents who remain on the board. The other is Cris Peterson. Her term expires in May 2025.

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