Union criticizes cuts

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University of Wisconsin-Whitewater United, Contributor

Do your job!

In August, Chancellor Watson announced a “Program Optimization” initiative that will assess the relative “priority” of different programs on campus so that campus resources (money) can be “redirected” from lower-priority to higher-priority programs. Ultimately, this process could lead to the elimination of entire academic majors and minors on campus and the laying off of faculty, instructors, and other staff. This process will radically change our campus. Make no mistake: UW-Whitewater will be decimated by these cuts.

The Administration wants you to believe that because we are in a budget crisis, we have no choice but to “tighten our belts”—that is, reduce operating costs by eliminating programs and laying people off. This is indeed how a private business works. In line with this business logic, the Administration has been studying and collecting data on how “productive” each program is—that is, how good it is at churning out students, like a factory product. The Provost already used this data to decide which colleges’ budgets to cut the most when instructional staff were eliminated before the Coronavirus struck.

We should not fall for this logic. UW Whitewater is not a factory, and students are not products. A public university is not a business and should not be run like one. It is a public institution, serving the public good. Every single part of the university costs, rather than makes, money, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is not with us—the university, its various programs, its faculty and staff—but rather with the State Legislature, which has shamefully abdicated its responsibility to adequately fund the UW System. Our public funding now stands at a measly 10%, which makes a mockery of the moniker “public university.” The result is that students sacrifice greatly to pay tuition while the quality of their education is continuously eroded. Everybody loses in this scenario, most of all Wisconsin.

Chancellor Watson wants you to believe that he is showing leadership by forcing us as a community to cut off our limbs one by one. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Chancellor of a university has one job. It’s actually not to handle the day-to-day running of the school—the Provost does that. Rather, it is primarily to represent the university’s interests to the outside world. That means fundraising, that means public relations, and for a public school especially that means politics. It is a travesty that the State Legislature holds Wisconsinites in such contempt that it has almost completely defunded the UW System, which used to be one of the finest public university systems in the world. The Chancellor should be raising hell with legislators, writing op-eds, appearing in the media, pushing the UW President and other UW Chancellors to fight harder, and rallying the public to push for the refunding of public education in the state of Wisconsin. Instead, Chancellor Watson is doubling down on a regressive strategy of aimlessly slashing the university, inevitably hindering the quality of education our institution will provide to its students. So no, the “program optimization” initiative is not a sign of leadership on the part of the Chancellor or his Administration. On the contrary, every program that is cut, every job that is eliminated, every dollar by which our budget is reduced is evidence that the Chancellor is content to draw a six-figure salary while simply not doing his job. Our job is to provide world-class instruction and to empower students with the skills they need to pursue their dreams. When will you start doing your job, Chancellor?

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater United is a union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, representing faculty and academic staff at UW-Whitewater.

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