Letter to the Editor: Budget cuts put paychecks over higher education

March 29, 2016

I am writing this letter because I have been encouraged by colleagues to keep writing in hopes that there will be changes in the future. I tried to think about what would be best to write about, but any topic is too great to be truly comprehended in one short letter. The complexities of every issue and the interconnectivity of them all is simply too massive. But then I realized that the answer I sought is the problem itself.

It has become an unfortunate reality that we do not allow ourselves the time to think, question, and converse. We seem to use a shorthand version of language to communicate, becoming impatient if someone tries to seek – or even provide – answers. I now consider it a gratifying work week if I have one robust, comprehensive, and intellectual conversation. Just one.

With such a quick-answer mentality, it is difficult to address any subject matter whether it is malicious, benevolent, or benign. This is why it is imperative to start conversations now. As a custodian, I have had many conversations with faculty, staff, and students about what we custodians do and what our department does. As a former AFSCME Union President, I have been more than willing to share my opinions and experiences. As a student, I have received advice and words of encouragement from the campus community.

It is important that we acknowledge what I just stated because it is not just students who are able to learn here. Everyone can learn more if we are patient enough (and perhaps strong enough) to have these conversations. Think about all of the “truths” which we have held at one time only to learn that we were wrong, or simply misled. I’m not suggesting that a person give up their opinions, beliefs, or convictions. I am suggesting, however, that if we are to change the future then we must understand that the first step isn’t combating those who think differently, but rather ask why they do so. Even more to the point, I am suggesting that we ask ourselves why we think the way we do.

Learning can lead to tolerance and understanding, which can lead to activism, which can lead to change. In other words, continuous education mixed with action can bring about change. This is one reason why the UW System has been attacked. By cutting back on the livelihoods of those of us who work here, we are constantly more worried about the next paycheck rather than standing up for what is right. By cutting the budget, the students’ education begins to become limited, and at some point they become another number rather than an educated citizen.

If ever there was a time to make a declaration that people of the campus community should be allowed to stop, converse, question, and act, it is now.       

Jeff Ehren

Cusodian, UW-W

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