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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
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UW ties to labor news service scrutinized
State rep questions connection between School of Workers and Workers Independent News

The office of state Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), its sword still hot from clashing with the UW-Madison for hiring a lecturer who thinks Uncle Sam was behind 9/11, has set its sights on a new target: the connection between the School of Workers, an arm of the UW-Extension, and the Madison-based Workers Independent News (WIN) service.

"The taxpayers pay to have the UW-Extension provide education, not an agenda-ized news service," says Nass aide Mike Mikalsen.

WIN provides radio and print news stories from a pro-labor perspective. It says this is needed because "too often conservative viewpoints dominate the airwaves while workers' interests are ignored."

Nass' office began asking questions after seeing a WIN fund-raising appeal that listed news service head Frank Emspak, also a professor at the School of Workers, by his university e-mail address. UW-Extension Chancellor David Wilson last week sent Nass a detailed letter (see Document Feed at, asserting that the connection between WIN and the School of Workers was severed in 2003 and that all of Emspak's time with the news service is either compensated by WIN or done during unpaid leave time.

But Wilson conceded it was "inappropriate" for Emspak to use his UW e-mail in connection with the project; he said Emspak was "counseled" about this and documentation to this effect placed in his personnel file. Emspak promptly switched to a new e-mail address.

That did not end the matter. While the Extension was drafting its assurance of complete separation, Mikalsen found that the School for Workers' Web site links directly to WIN. "We were a little bit disturbed that their response to us did not seem to be accurate," he says. He's asked for more information, including whether WIN reimburses the School for Workers not just for Emspak's salary but his benefits.

Extension officials are now preparing a response to these concerns. Spokesman David Giroux promises "good answers" to any remaining questions; he suggests the Web link owes to inexperienced Web designers (there's also a link to WORT radio, which is indisputably separate). And Emspak assures that WIN paid "at least as much or more" for his time than the Extension's costs.

Nass' office, meanwhile, remains ever vigilant. Says Mikalsen, "We're also looking at the Havens Center over at the sociology department."

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