The 16.4%

on February 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

The early estimates are out that my place of work … my alma mater … the University of Wisconsin-River Falls … will face a 16.4% budget cut for the budget year beginning July 1st, 2015.  Even with what I learned in my college composition class, my speech class and all my other communication experiences, I don’t think I can adequately convey the impact this has, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.  And likewise, the cuts aren’t going to stop us from trying as an institution to do what we’ve always done to educate and make the world a better place.

Teach more with less “they” say. We’ll still teach English.  That can’t stop of course.  But the student who needs more clarity because she didn’t understand the explanation … she might not get that opportunity as there are now 12 other hands raised in the class of 120, instead of 3 others in a class of 30. The student who needs some help with wordcrafting on a Friday afternoon? Yeah, he’s on his own too.  The instructor is busy providing academic career guidance to the extra 50 student she had to take under her wing after her coworkers were laid off.

You don’t do enough work “they” say. We’ll still teach biology.  That won’t stop of course. But the student who’s doing undergraduate research on a promising treatment for pancreatic cancer might miss that breakthrough discovery that would improve the lives of thousands. Her mentor is too busy grading exams for an extra 60 students this semester to look over her notes from the afternoon’s lab research and ask a question that would change her life.

You need to focus on preparing people for the workforce “they” say. We’ll continue to do outreach as well of course. But that boy who would have benefited from the spark of excitement seeing the magic of static electricity at his elementary school’s STEM night won’t be inspired to pursue a career in electrical engineering. He’ll bounce from job to job, struggling to support his family as he’s been unable to find his passion.

These are all hypotheticals, but I hope they illustrate very real ways these cuts can impact both our current students and potential future students. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to pick an instructor from any academic department at your local higher education institution and ask them what effect cutting 15-20% of their institution’s instructors would have.  We’ve already had our “fat” cut these past few budget cycles.  I won’t argue about whether it was really fat, because that’s water under the bridge.  What’s left is people. Real people, whose driving desire is to make a difference in the lives of our students.  People who want to help those students achieve their goals, whether they’re as small as understanding the physics problem on today’s homework, as big as being the first person in their family to graduate from college, or as lofty as the pursuit of a PhD and discovering a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Please understand that the time to speak up is now. May is too late. Regardless of the fact that our legislators don’t have to vote until June (or even later as has happened in the past), our students will be deciding in April what classes to take this Fall. This means we need to decide which classes are going to be offered and whether we’ll have staff to teach them.

Unfortunately, I don’t really think the people who most need to understand this message will ever see it. If you’re a Wisconsin resident who understands how you’ve benefited from higher education, whether it be a UW campus or other institution, please make sure your friends and legislators understand that the cuts being proposed will be very damaging and in fact are doing damage to our state’s reputation already.

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