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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

UW-Madison students, staff protest UW-Oshkosh budget cuts, layoffs

Members of the UW-Madison community gathered to show solidarity with those at risk of losing their jobs due to the budget crisis at UW-Oshkosh.

About 20 UW-Madison students and staff gathered Tuesday afternoon at Union South to stand in solidarity with those affected by layoffs planned at UW-Oshkosh.

Due to an $18 million budget deficit, UW-Oshkosh plans to furlough employees, lay off over 200 non-teaching staff, offer early retirement packages and implement increased teaching loads for faculty. 

The group protested outside Union South before walking to Bascom Hall. The protest concluded with a shout of “Oshkosh solidarity,” underlining the demonstration’s focus. 

“We're here to show solidarity with workers throughout the UW System,” said Jason Le, a UW-Madison academic staff member. “We know when they start to look at cuts, they're looking at some of the most vulnerable people first.”

The protest came after UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt failed to respond to a petition by the United Faculty and Staff of UW-Oshkosh (UFSO). Protestors handed out fliers for the petition, which is now approaching 550 signatures.

“We don’t think that’s right,” said Robert Hawkins, an assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison. “It was done with very little input from the employees and the workers themselves. It just came out of nowhere. Some of these folks had been working there for 20 years.”

Hawkins described this as a “manufactured budget crisis.” Cuts across the UW System have been widespread at the urging of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has also threatened to block pay raises until diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs are cut. 

The Wisconsin Legislature cut all UW System funding by $32 million in June, the amount Republicans said would go toward DEI efforts at the UW System’s 13 campuses over two years.

Most UW-Madison students did not have prior awareness of the issue. 

“I had no clue,”  said Chey King, a UW-Madison student. “I feel like we are kind of a powerhouse, so to speak. Everything is about Madison, so we don’t really talk about anyone else.”

“Being here at the flagship school, I think we have a responsibility to raise visibility for our colleagues at all the other UW campuses,” Hawkins added. “We have to build power, so that eventually we can make our demands.”

The University Labor Council, a coalition of campus workers and labor unions, hosted the protest and demonstrated solidarity between unions in the UW System community. 

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“I think it's really powerful to see that we can all stand together,” said Nina Denne, co-vice president of the Graduate Student Union. “There are a lot of issues that unite all of us.” 

In their petition, the UFSO demanded Leavitt “prioritize cuts to administrative positions and salaries over instructional/student support positions and salaries,” especially since “the size of the administration has increased significantly in the last ten years at the same time that teaching positions have declined.”

“Hearing that from the administration here at UW-Madison would mean a lot,” Hawkins said. 

“It’s fantastic. It’s sunny, and people are just learning about this issue for the first time,” Le said about the protest’s impact.

“Today, it's really about UW Oshkosh,” Le added. “But moving forward, it's really about everywhere ... it takes all of us to figure out how we are going to defend ourselves as workers for the good of public education.”

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Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the Photo Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year Journalism student. She has also written campus, state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6

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