While discontent over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed biennial budget has created a schism between the state and its public universities, UW System students are more united than ever in their response to the expected changes.
The Better UW Initiative, launched Tuesday by UW System student representatives, is a formal campaign emphasizing the dangers of cutting $300 million from the System and the importance of keeping shared governance in state statute.
Currently in its initial stages, the campaign hopes to inform students at all 26 UW campuses about the potential impacts of Walker’s proposed changes, as well as engage them in talking to their communities and contacting their state representatives to voice concern over the budget, UW-La Crosse Student Association President Kaylee Otterbacher said.
“What we need to be asking for is for the state to invest more in our education,” Otterbacher, who helped amend and pass the initiative, said.
Associated Students of Madison Vice Chair Derek Field worries the “unprecedented decline” in state funding will manifest itself in an immediate hike in tuition for out-of-state, graduate and professional students, as well as an increase in in-state tuition when the current tuition freeze expires in 2017.
“I think that putting UW in the position to be forced to raise tuition and generate more revenue from tuition dollars is irresponsible and it balances the budget on the backs of students,” Field said. “Increasing the percentage of UW’s budget that comes from tuition dollars is a really, really shameful thing to be doing right now considering the gradual increase in student debt.”
Less support for the System would affect students in both four-year and two-year UW institutions, Field said.
UW Colleges Student Governance Council President Graham Pearce said cuts to the System could mean raising the minimum enrollment required for a class to run, thus decreasing course selection and potentially forcing students to take more time in completing their degrees.
“We don’t have a whole lot of room for any additional budget cuts ... we’re down to the bone,” Pearce, who is a sophomore at UW-Marshfield, said. “There’s pretty much no getting around the fact that additional cuts, especially of this size, will mean loss of critical services for students.”
Along with limiting funding, the proposed budget could jeopardize students’ coveted “seat at the table” should shared governance be eliminated from state statute, a concern all three student government members expressed.
“I see shared governance as being a critical aspect of the ongoing maintenance of how the system is run, and I also see it being a critical aspect of the loyalty and buy-in that people have into the System,” Pearce said.
While student representatives are still working on developing more materials surrounding the campaign, Otterbacher said members of UW campuses will continue “fighting the student fight.”
“It’s a student issue and students band with students no matter where they’re from, no matter what kind of institution they go to,” she said. “It’s a time for us to unite all of our campuses together as one large student body.”