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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Letter to the Editor: The future demands unity in commitment to the Universities of Wisconsin

Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison; Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick; and Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, each serve on the Senate Universities and Revenue Committee.

Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor and open letters reflect the opinions, concerns and views of University of Wisconsin-Madison students and community. As such, the information presented may or may not be accurate. Letters to the Editor and open letters do not reflect the editorial views or opinions of The Daily Cardinal.

Wisconsin is rich with resources, and none are greater than our young people. 

Our history of investing in higher education is perhaps our greatest commitment as a state. Since its inception, the transformative impact of our UW System has been felt across our state and around the globe. 

For decades, Wisconsin prioritized funding the UW System, knowing that it was the most important thing we could do to develop our workforce and innovate for our future. Our public universities attract people from the Great Lakes region and beyond because our institutions offer quality educational opportunities and affordable tuition. 

For that reason, business leaders have historically been eager to establish businesses in our state, knowing that they will have a wellspring of talented UW System graduates to choose from, no matter the field. We continue to see the benefits of higher education in every community in our state. 

We have a century of research and results, making it clear that education boosts our economy: investing in higher education leads to family-supporting jobs in our communities. Our universities help people establish careers, facilitate career transitions and make valuable contributions to their communities.

Whether it be innovations in the Fox Valley paper industry from UW-Stevens Point or UW-Madison helping EXACT Sciences develop lifesaving colon cancer screening, Wisconsin’s public universities continue to embody the best of the Wisconsin Idea. Wisconsin became the agricultural giant that it is in part because of our commitment to water conservation and soil health, made possible by research and collaboration among farmers and faculty at the Universities of Wisconsin.

Despite the indisputable successes of our UW campuses, we’ve seen damaging disinvestment by lawmakers over the last several decades, which has greatly accelerated over the last 12 years of Republican rule in the legislature. This disinvestment always comes with excuses and often partisan culture wars. The most recent example is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ tantrum about efforts to ensure that our universities are welcoming to — and inclusive of — all students. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs help first-generation college students, veterans returning from service, women in STEM, single parents attending night classes, and many other students on every campus in the state. Despite their success, in the most recent budget, these programs were scapegoated when Vos and his allies cut $32 million from our UW campuses.

In budget after budget, Speaker Vos and Republicans have failed to invest in the UW, including in the most recent budget. Delaying investments in a new engineering building at UW-Madison, Prairie Springs Science Center at UW-La Crosse and Winther Hall at UW-Whitewater will have a lasting impact on our state. All of these projects are part of a pattern of Republicans actively choosing to skip investments in our workforce to further their ideological agenda.

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Speaker Vos’ latest scheme is withholding long overdue raises for UW employees unless each campus ends all diversity and inclusion efforts. This is a demand that no Fortune 500 company would agree to and that our schools simply cannot accept.

Unfortunately, Speaker Robin Vos seems to despise UW-Madison and our entire UW System more than he loves the state of Wisconsin. It’s a sad state of affairs when no legislative Republicans are willing to stand up to Speaker Vos, even though their constituents directly benefit from investments in UW.

Instead of Republican cuts to UW in favor of their radical social agenda, we need to confront the challenges of our workforce shortage, fight climate change and meet our state’s growing healthcare needs. We need to ensure that everyone who seeks a high-quality public education can receive it – that every UW campus can serve the tens of thousands of promising students who seek to further their education and participate in our economy. We need investments in social work and nursing programs, mental health care, childcare, education, scientific research, engineering, agriculture and sustainability.

The Universities of Wisconsin are the crown jewel in our state’s public education system. We must continue to support our public higher educational institutions if we are to have any hope of addressing our current economic and workforce challenges and to lay the groundwork for a brighter future for generations to come. 

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