With UWSP liberal arts programs’ future uncertain, students and administrators continue to fight back against UW System cuts
UWSP proposed program cuts fail to stop activists from fighting for the humanities.Image By: Samantha Nesovanovic
With a decision less than two months away, UW-Stevens Point students and UW System administrators refuse to let the budget cuts mean the end to a liberal arts education.
In a UWSP statement released in March, it detailed the decision to cut 13 humanities programs. This revealed the declining rate of students enrolling in humanities programs combined with the loss of state dollars and a $4.5 million deficit.
And yet, the cuts affecting UW-Superior and UWSP are not isolated. The UW System has been plagued by significant cuts that could hinder the future of humanities, according to Brailey Kerber, the UWSP Student Government Association president.
“No UW is safe from cuts of this nature when we are so underfunded. UW-Madison should be proactive to prevent cuts on their own campus and show solidarity with the campuses already being hurt,” Kerber said.
Under Gov. Scott Walker, the UW System has been at the receiving end of major budget cuts. In the 1970s, the UW System received over 75 percent of their budget from taxpayer dollars. Now, that number has decreased to around 17 percent, according to The Hechinger Report.
Over the past six years alone, the UW System has suffered over $362 million in budget cuts, according to The Observatory. Specifically hit the hardest are UW-Superior and Stevens Point, both losing many liberal arts programs due to the cuts.
“I am frustrated that it had to come to this. The UW System has been hurting for a while and it took these proposed cuts to bring attention to the lack of state support for our education,” Kerber said.
With the loss of these majors, UWSP would lose the university title, as it no longer would have the liberal arts programs to sustain the name, according to Bill Grunewald in a letter to the Stevens Point Journal.
“A university strives to educate individuals who will, with that broad base of knowledge, improve society and promote certain universal ideals and truths,” Grunewald wrote in the letter. “If we are to advance society, we need universities.”
Humanities programs have a history of low enrollment. And, where there are less students, there is less funding for more popular programs. So, what makes students shy away from humanities majors?
Job outlook, according to Lexie Neeley, a leading protester and recent UWSP graduate.
“There's also a reigning belief that money equates to happiness, and if your discipline doesn't yield a six-figure salary it's not worth doing. What motivates some STEM students may be a high paycheck, but ultimately it comes down to talent and passion,” Neeley said.
Simply saying “college is not just about finding a job” is not providing enough encouragement to future college students.
“No one is saying that a public university shouldn’t prepare students for their future careers. But it is wrong to limit students’ choices to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and it is wrong to narrow the university’s mission exclusively to workforce training,” said UW-Madison sociology professor Chad Goldberg.
UWSP lacked in their promotion of liberal arts majors, according to Neeley. On their homepage, they featured only non-humanities fields, while Point Forward, an effort to restructure their curriculum released in March, would work to “strengthen [their] core liberal arts curriculum.”
This prompted Neeley to ask: “If we can't show prospective students everything we have to offer, how can we get them interested?”
At the end of April, the Portage County Board unanimously voted in favor of keeping the humanities programs. Their resolution announced a desire to maintain a diverse and comprehensive workforce within their local community.
Reclaim the UW protesters have battled rain and snow to fight the proposal, but they are lacking in numbers. At their last event on May 9, only 50 people stayed despite the thunderstorms in solidarity.
Neeley understands the toll of activism but remains hopeful for future events.
“Activism is hard, and it takes time and energy. You have to decide what's important to you and make time to show up for those causes, because attendance speaks volumes to everyone watching to see how this all unfolds,” Neeley said.
Goldberg encouraged students across the UW System to remain active and make their voices heard.
“One word: organize. In addition, build coalitions: Work with students at other UW campuses. Partner with faculty and staff unions and other organizations that are resisting the radical restructuring of our university,” Goldberg said.
The cuts will not be formally reviewed until August 1, according to UWSP. Kerber is hoping for that date to be pushed back exactly two months.
“This gives us more time to create a new proposal or ways to restructure already existing programs,” Kerber said. “If a program should be discontinued, it would not be immediately eliminated.”Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter