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Debate in Milwaukee

Education Rights Campaign Takes on UWM Administration

By Jacob Flom |
May 5, 2010
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Debate on education rights in Milwaukee
Debate on education rights in Milwaukee (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Milwaukee, WI - A forum on education rights held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) drew 300 people to hear a debate between Chancellor Santiago and the Education Rights Campaign. Chancellor Santiago agreed to participate in the public forum after 16 students and community members were arrested at his office on March 4, trying to meet with him about budget cuts and tuition hikes.

City Alderman Nik Kovac facilitated the discussion between seven members of the education rights campaign and four administrators. Professors, faculty, workers, graduate students and undergraduates all had the chance to tell their stories of working at or attending a university that faces over $20 million in cuts.

Panelists from the Education Rights Campaign pressured administrators to stop layoffs, furlough days and tuition hikes. Michael Spector, vice-president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, said “We all know that nothing’s perfect and we cannot have it all,” Chancellor Santiago agreed by saying “I don’t see any way to turn it around.”

Education Rights Campaign members offered the administrators solutions by demanding that administrators “chop from the top” and take a pay cut from their six-figure salaries. Another faculty member in the audience asked the Chancellor if he would take a pay cut from his salary, which is over $300,000 with benefits. The Chancellor smugly replied “no” - in front of an audience of faculty members who were forced to take a 5% cut this year.

Students and faculty agreed that public education should be a right, not a privilege. Panelists demanded that the university work for the public good, not private business. Professors on the panel effectively exposed the administration’s ambitious plans to further privatize the university as a step in the wrong direction. “UWM is subsidizing our corporate partners instead of the other way around…we need to mobilize and attack the very basis that creates the fiscal crisis!” said Professor Mark Levine.

Audience members were angry over the police brutality used against students outside the Chancellor’s office at the March 4 Education Rights rally. Dr. Rachel Buff pressured Chancellor Santiago to drop all charges against the Milwaukee 16, citing that three large faculty organizations have already signed on to support the 16. The chancellor showed no compassion towards the students, who face a total of $5000 in fines, and punishment from the Chancellor’s office. Nearly the entire crowd responded by standing in support of the 16, as members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led the crowd in chanting, “Drop the charges!”

Panelists also brought up serious concerns with the recent rise of racism on campus and the lack of diversity, as the university is priced out of reach for oppressed nationalities living in Milwaukee. Chance Zombor of Waukesha Students for a Democratic Society said “As a father, I’m concerned about the future of my son and the availability of education to him when he gets older…and as a Latino, I’m concerned about the disproportionately low rate at which, relative to the demographics of the community, oppressed nationalities are enrolled at UWM.”

The campaign continues to build momentum as the administration ignores the demands of faculty, students and workers. While the administration turns public education into a commodity for the wealthy elite, students, workers and faculty will continue to demand “Education is a right!”