|Where am I? Kalispell.|
On Tuesday last week, the Republican governor, who is also running for President in 2016, announced in his budget a $300 million dollar cut to the University of Wisconsin System, which employs 39,000 people and serves 180,000 students via 26 campuses statewide, plus an online program. Estimated economic impact is $15 billion annually, give or take. In exchange, the current state allocation is $1.2 billion--just 19% of total GPR funding statewide. This cut would bring state funding for the system to about $743 million, or 1998 levels if you're keeping score at home.
His budget altered Wisconsin State Statute 36.01(2) to get rid of the Wisconsin Idea. His budget added the words "to meet the state's workforce needs." His budget cut the words "Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educated people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth." Then he backtracked and called it a "drafting error."
His budget proposes changes to tenure and shared governance in exchange for more "autonomy" at some future date. The tuition freeze will remain in place until 2017.
He thought this would be fine, as Wisconsin Assembly Speaker (and probable candidate for Governor) Robin Vos declared back in November, nobody really gives a shit about the "ancient mating habits of whatever." Just prior to dropping the budget bomb, Walker was on right-wing talk radio telling the host that professors need to "work more."
The cuts are an existential threat. The University of Wisconsin System will cease to exist as a world-class institution. The Chancellor of UW-Madison has said that should the cuts to Madison remain, they are the equivalent to laying off 1/3 of Madison's faculty, or 1,000 support staff. Imagine that.
These proposals have already affected every level of the UW System. At UW-Green Bay, all professional development has officially been shut down. In addition, their campus has banned all out-of-state travel. A world renowned scholar has pulled out of a UW-Madison job search over concerns about the viability of the UW System. If you are a scholar currently involved in a UW System search, do not pass go. GTFO. Take the interview, but don't take the job. You do not want to be here for this fight if you can help it.
And for the rest of us, the smaller four-years and the two-year campuses, it could mean consolidating programs or closing campuses--actions which have been discussed behind closed doors by the Joint Finance Committee. It is not outside the realm of possibility that despite having tenure, I could be out of a job within the next two years, if not sooner. Our chancellor is addressing us on Monday. I am not hopeful.
The students and alumni are fighting back. Whatever you feel about them, there are several specific Facebook campaigns, including Save the Wisconsin Idea. People are writing letters and contacting their legislators. I wrote mine, both of whom are Republican and campaigned on "fiscal responsibility," but have yet to hear back.
Even the Republicans in the legislature are not happy with having to support an unsupportable cut (plus borrowing $1.3 billion for roads instead of raising the gas and/or vehicle taxes), only to be left holding the bag when Walker leaves to campaign for President in earnest.
"The boundaries of the University shall be the boundaries of the state." The Wisconsin Idea is over 100 years old, and with this budget, the Republican governor has declared war on the search for truth, and the idea that affordable access to higher education serves to improve the human condition. I'm a humanist, so praying for help doesn't really work for me. I'm just going to get up and go teach my classes as long as I have them. So it goes.