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State Sen. Steve Nass asks GOP leaders to sue UW System over COVID-19 policies
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State Sen. Steve Nass asks GOP leaders to sue UW System over COVID-19 policies

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Sen. Steve Nass asked the Legislature’s Republican leaders Tuesday to sue the University of Wisconsin System after system officials refused to submit their COVID-19 protocols to his committee for approval.

Nass sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu demanding they file a lawsuit forcing system leaders to submit their policies to the Legislature’s rules committee. Nass, a Republican and longtime UW critic, co-chairs the committee.

It’s unclear what Vos and LeMahieu might do next. Their aides didn’t respond to messages and at least two Republican lawmakers — Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, Vos’ second-in-command, and Sen. Robert Cowles — oppose any legal action.

UW System President Tommy Thompson has called for UW campuses to hold at least 75% of their classes in person this semester. The schools have implemented a range of protocols to meet that goal, including mask and testing mandates.

Nass has been threatening to sue for weeks unless system leaders hand over the policies to the rules committee for approval. Thompson has maintained the system has the legal authority to manage itself and doesn’t need legislators’ approval to adopt policies to protect students and faculty. He has said he would win any lawsuit.

The squabble has caused a rift between Republicans who vehemently oppose any mandates to mitigate COVID-19 and those who still see Thompson, who served four terms as governor, as a GOP icon.

Fave 5: Higher education reporter Kelly Meyerhofer shares her top picks of 2020

The first story I wrote this year was about a two-legged dog. 2020 only got more weird from there.

In early March, I sat in a room with about a hundred others listening to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank brief professors on how the coronavirus might affect campus operations. During the Faculty Senate meeting, she encouraged instructors to consider what classes or meetings could be delivered online.

"We have no idea quite what may be coming, if anything,” she said on March 2.

Oh, how quickly did the world change. 

Over the next nine months, I wrote stories that would have seemed surreal a year ago: dorm rooms considered for potential hospital overflow, online commencement ceremonies, campus mask mandates and students stuck in lockdown

It's been a privilege to bear witness to all of the seismic changes 2020 brought to college campuses, most of which I reported from my kitchen table (OK, and sometimes my couch). I'm grateful to the State Journal's subscribers who help support my job as one of the few higher education reporters in Wisconsin. The five stories listed below were some of my favorites, but you can find the 172 other stories I've written so far this year here

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UW-Platteville Richland had nearly 250 students in 1980 when the campus was considered for closure. Today, it has 155.

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The annual Match Day tradition, where students stand on stage to learn where they will do their residencies, was scuttled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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Thousands of students moved into UW-Madison's dorms with a mixed set of emotions about the semester ahead — excitement, hope, doubt, fear — and I tried to capture it all in this story. 

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UW-Madison's return to the physical classroom stokes fear among some who say the safest option is to continue online and relief from others whose experience teaching or learning remotely was underwhelming.

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The Trump administration proposed a number of actions that made life difficult for international students.

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