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‘Reclaim the UW’ event challenges attacks on Wisconsin's higher education

By staff

Wisconsin students fight attacks on public education.

Madison, WI – On May 9, dozens of students, faculty, campus workers and supporters gathered on the steps of the capitol building just off of State Street in Madison, to protest the continued attacks against public education. These attacks predate Governor Scott Walker's administration but have intensified significantly since he took office in 2011. People came from Steven's Point, Eau Claire, Kenosha, Oshkosh (represented by UW-Oshkosh Students for a Democratic Society), Madison and elsewhere.

This event, titled “Reclaim the UW,” is the third is a series of actions organized by a dedicated group of student activists and supporters from Steven's Point. UW-Steven's Point (UWSP) was the latest victim of the war against education when, on March 5, it was announced that the institution planned on cutting 13 programs, mostly from the traditional humanities and social sciences. Like many schools in the University of Wisconsin system, UWSP faces a budget deficit ($4.5 million) that is the result of massive cuts to state funding of education in 2013 and again in 2015, followed by a tuition freeze that has only exacerbated the issue. The university intends on introducing new programs which markets indicate draw students in. However, many of the programs that are in line to be cut are the fastest growing at UWSP. The proposal is one that further aims to undermine the notion of education as a human right.

Sara Trongone, a graduate student at UW-Madison, stated, “Since 2011, Governor Walker has bullied and devalued teachers, denied educational opportunity to some residents based on their ability to pay, and is now promoting policies that dictate what students may study based on their zip code. This is the most dangerous form of elitism and disinvestment in our teachers and young people, plain and simple.”

Trongone continued, “We remain committed to the values of transparency and shared governance and will continue to fight for students', families', teachers' and workers' right to govern the UW system so that it truly serves our Wisconsin community.”

UWSP, and UW-Superior before it, serve as a warning for things to come for other UW system schools that have fallen on hard times in the last decade. UW-Oshkosh (UWO), the third largest institution in the state and one of the cheapest to attend, has a running deficit of $9 to 12 million – the highest debt of them all. This semester, the UWO administration, led by Chancellor Andrew Leavitt, initially proposed a 43% cut to the faculty and staff in the College of Letters and Science, the biggest department on the Oshkosh campus. These cuts would primarily affect non-tenured faculty in departments such as history, English, and political science. It is easy to see how such a proposal is an attack on students.

“Chancellor Leavitt is a puppet to the board of regents,” says Zach Herriges, a student at UWO, said. “He is a money man who wants to cut everything, hurting students and faculty who are weakest. It's just a few steps away from total privatization of the entire UW system.”

SDS sent a small contingent of students to the event, and member Ryan Hamann was added to the line-up of speakers. Hamann painted a picture of just how out of touch Chancellor Leavitt is from working people and students, stating, “We strongly encouraged that Chancellor Leavitt incur a bit of personal sacrifice in these trying times to demonstrate solidarity with his students by taking a pay cut to his fluffy $240,000 salary.”

Hamann continued, “Perhaps predictably, he declined, and was very adamant that he in fact earns every single one of those 240,000 dollars.”

Organizers from Oshkosh, Madison, Steven's Point and Kenosha made connections that should lay the groundwork for a statewide coalition to build a movement to combat the reactionary agenda of Governor Walker and his hand-selected board of regents, with the ultimate aim of reclaiming the UW system for those who it should serve – the students.

#MadisonWI #Labor #SDS #PeoplesStruggles #Wisconsin #education