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UW-Oshkosh SDS building the fight against budget cuts

By Ryan Hamann |
October 31, 2018
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Oshkosh, WI - On Oct. 25, UW-Oshkosh Students for a Democratic Society (UWO SDS) hosted an event regarding the campus administration's current budget cutting policies. Members of UWO SDS were joined via Google Hangout by a leading student activist from UW-Superior and a member of UW-Parkside SDS, as well as a few members of the UWO faculty.

SDS hopes that this event be the first of many such events aimed at raising awareness among the student body about the issue of budget cuts. Last year, students and faculty at Superior first, then Stevens Point, and finally Oshkosh, were shaken by announcements from administration that major cuts were being made or planned.

In the case of UW-Superior, according to UW-S student Aimee Peterson, there was no forewarning of the cuts before they were set into motion.
"One morning we woke to an alert from a campus resource telling us that 25 programs had just been suspended," Peterson said. "In classes that day, students and faculty just cried. They didn’t know what was going to happen."

Like Superior, UW-Stevens Point saw 13 of their programs eliminated. The initial announcement led to spontaneous student, faculty and community protest. This response ultimately culminated in a 300-person march on the campus demanding that the programs be restored and that no cuts be made. In both cases, the programs under attack were mainly the social sciences and other liberal arts. Despite the resistance on the two campuses, administrators moved forward with their plans.

At UWO, the first announcement from Chancellor Andrew Leavitt's administration involved a 43% cut to the budget of the College of Letters and Science. This was met with outrage from faculty and staff, who quickly organized and formed a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT 6506). Amidst this pressure, Leavitt and his administration released a revised plan that would still seek the huge cut, only spread out over a few years.
On October 12, UWO administrators announced that most faculty would be seeing an increase in their teaching load beginning with the next academic year. Additionally, the non-renewal of the contracts of large numbers of academic staff were announced. Some of these staff - essentially faculty but with rolling one-year contracts that provide zero security - had served UWO for two decades.

In a statement released by United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh (UFSO) - the official name of AFT 6506 - president of the local, Jim Feldman, said, "It may seem taxpayer-friendly to freeze tuition, but now we see the result - fewer classes for students to choose from, fewer teachers to hone their skills, and, likely, fewer majors and programs."

Aimee Peterson, a student activist at Superior, commented how the atmosphere at her university became toxic after the cuts became permanent. There is a mass exodus of students and faculty, one that to this day Superior administration refuse to talk about or acknowledge. The situation is the same at Stevens Point, where the university has lost 700 students since the Spring 2018 semester.

UWO's Chancellor Leavitt likes to pin the blame for the university's budget crisis on "Wisconsin's declining birthrates," and assumes we have no other recourse to preserve the institution than to cut from the bottom. Likewise, increasing enrollment is the key to ultimately solving the deficit problem, according to his administration.

In fact, looking to Superior and Stevens Point as examples, drastic budget cuts such as are being proposed at UWO lead to significant decreases in enrollment. As one of the faculty members at the SDS event put it, budget cuts have a nasty way of snowballing out of control. It is clear that the current course being charted by Chancellor Leavitt and his cronies will lead to no place good for students, faculty or staff at UWO.

That is why UWO SDS resolves to build the fightback against this regressive agenda.

This means first and foremost acknowledging the real roots of the budget crisis: the declining percentage of funding allocated by the state for education. Second, transparency in the budget allocation process needs to be established. Currently, there is no way of knowing just how much of the budget is allotted to administrative costs or even how those decisions are made. Third, it means that our administrators should be putting their jobs on the line to protect their students and faculty in the face of these attacks from Madison. Lastly, where cuts must be made, they need to come from the top and not the bottom. To preserve the integrity of the university's mission - as the chancellor is so inclined to promote is his objective -the proper funding must be in place for student success in the classroom, as well as faculty and staff success in the workplace. For that to occur, there can be none of the proposed cuts.

Only by those most affected by cuts becoming aware of the issue and taking a stand against it can the tide in the war against education in Wisconsin be turned back. UWO SDS, along with our partners at Parkside and our other student activist allies across the state, intends to be on the front lines leading the struggle to reclaim the University of Wisconsin system from the hands of those who would seek to destroy and privatize public education.