Friday, December 21, 2018

UW Oshkosh settles dispute with its foundation

Ownership of the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center will be transferred to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

By Miles Maguire

After a full day of mediation, the dispute between the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and its fundraising arm is coming to a close.

Full details of the settlement were not immediately available, but Tim Mulloy, chairman of the UW Oshkosh Foundation, said, "We feel pretty good."

"After completing a court-ordered mediation process, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Foundation are pleased to announce that they have agreed to settle all issues relating to the disputes between the Board of Regents and the UW Oshkosh Foundation," the UW System Board of Regents said in a statement released Friday night.

The university will take ownership of the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center "for a net settlement of $4.6 million," the regents said.

"Additionally, the Board of Regents will invest approximately $1.7 million in the Witzel Avenue Biodigester, a renewable energy power plant and revenue-generating educational asset that will yield significant returns," the statement said. 

The money will be paid directly to the banks that funded the projects, which will allow the deal to go forward notwithstanding a provision in the current budget law that says funds may not be paid to the foundation without approval of the legislature.

The two sides have been battling in court for more than year. For almost two years, the regents have taken the position that what they are now planning to do is prohibited by state law and the Wisconsin Constitution.

Their stance, described in a Jan. 18, 2017, announcement, was that public money could not be paid to support a private organization. This position provided the rationale that led to civil and criminal actions against former UWO officials and that cut off funding to the foundation, causing it to file for bankruptcy.

A federal judge and a state judge have both since ruled that this reading of the law is incorrect, a view that the regents and UW leaders have apparently now come around to.

“The UW Oshkosh Foundation is pleased that we were able to reach resolution with the Board of Regents to move forward," Mulloy said in a statement issued jointly with the group's secretary/treasurer, David L. Omachinski. "This joint resolution will allow us to focus on our shared core mission – which is to support the students, faculty and entire UW Oshkosh community.” 

"The Board of Regents is pleased to have resolved this issue in a way that protects taxpayer and student interests, and renews the productive relationship between UW Oshkosh and the UW Oshkosh Foundation,” said Michael Grebe, a lawyer for Aurora Health Care who serves on the board.

Said Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt: “We look forward to working together again to support UW Oshkosh, the region and the citizens of Wisconsin. I thank our partners in the UW Oshkosh Foundation for joining with the university in renewing a spirit of trust, service and philanthropy as we support the experiences and journeys of our students.”

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