By Derek Woellner —
Six University of Wisconsin–Stout students (and one Stoutonia writer) crammed into a van early Monday morning to make the one-hour drive to UW–Barron County in order to have their voices heard.
Held in the UW–Barron County Fine Arts Theater, the students attended the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) public hearing.
The students attending the hearing consisted of five SSA members and one computer engineering student. Speaking were SSA President Amerika Vang, SSA Director of Financial Affairs Eric Huse, and SSA Senator of Fiscal Management James Robertson.
This was the third of four public hearings on the Governor’s 2015-17 Biennial Budget. The public hearings allow speakers two minutes to voice their opinions on the budget to the state legislators that make up the JFC.
Vang, a past recipient of the Lawton minority undergraduate grant, was the first student to speak, bringing to light the additional cuts outside of the $300 million cut to the UW System that would impact minority and disadvantaged students. In the budget proposal, there is a deletion of the requirement that the Board has to fund programs for these students. Specifically, the Lawton minority undergraduate grant program and a grant program for minority and disadvantaged graduate students, known as the Advanced Opportunities Program, will no longer be required to be funded. The removal in funding from these programs would take away the $700,000 that is available to minority and disadvantaged students. Additionally, grants that are used for pre-college programs by the Multicultural Student Office and the College of Arts and Humanities could be cut under the deletion of this requirement.
Huse used his two minutes to explain how Stout, Wisconsin’s only Polytechnic University, would be unable to offer a polytechnic experience with the drastic cuts. He argued that a $6 million reduction in funding coupled with another tuition freeze will force Stout to “begin finding areas to eliminate funding—significantly limiting our ability to fulfill our mission, not only as a polytechnic institution, but as a higher education institution.” Huse ended his speech by alluding that reducing funding and removing the language that shapes the UW System from the State Statute will, in a way, privatize the system, “We are the University of and for Wisconsin. However, without full support from the great state of Wisconsin, I fear we will become the University in Wisconsin”.
Robertson was the last Stout student to speak and, reflecting on his experience working in the business office for three years, told how decreases in funding have increased additional fees for students such as parking passes, athletic passes, and special course fees. Robertson also brought up that under the new proposal, the removal of rights given to students in the State Statute would take away the students’ ability to challenge the Regent’s rulings. This is because the policies enacted by the Regents won’t be able to be fought as easily on legal grounds. Issues between students and the UW System have gone to the Wisconsin Attorney General, Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court almost 30 times since the Statute was enacted in the 1970s.
Chancellor Bob Meyer also spoke during the hearing. He informed the legislators of the $5.9 million per year cut that Stout is facing shall the $300 million cut to the System be made. The Chancellor expressed that the cuts could lead to the dismissal of 50-90 Stout employees depending on where the reductions are made. He also brought up how hard it is for the university to retain quality professors due to the proposed budget cut, providing examples of faculty and administrators that have already left the school to work outside of Wisconsin. He urged the committee to reduce the amount of the budget cut, slow the rate at which the cuts will happen, and to consider the proposed flexibility that the budget grants the UW System.
An SSA ad hoc budget cut committee organized transportation to the event in order to give students a chance to speak their mind to the state legislators. Students could sign up online through an email sent to them by the SSA.
Future events planned by the SSA ad hoc budget cut committee include a rally on Wednesday, April 1, and a trip to Madison on Thursday, April 2. Transportation to Madison with coach buses will be provided to students.