Savvy and engaged members of the campus community and leadership will turn Gov. Scott Walker’s recent attacks on the University of Wisconsin system into an opportunity for change, rather than being forced into a defensive position. If the people of Wisconsin are persuaded to support Walker’s plan to cut $300 million from the UW System, it is in part because they do not feel connected to the university. But they are connected, and we need to show them that. Saving UW means reaching out beyond the tight corners of Capitol Square, and reminding the citizens of Wisconsin that UW is here for them.
UW System President Ray Cross, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, students, business leaders and donors should come together to start a listening tour in Wisconsin. They should hold town hall meetings throughout the state, in Wisconsin’s smallest and most remote communities to its largest cities, discussing with the people the problems facing the system, as well as allowing Wisconsinites to articulate their own concerns.
They should offer new plans and initiatives to make the system more accessible: more summer and evening courses, guarantees that credits will transfer from one institution to the other within the system, plans to improve graduation rates and time-to-degree, more opportunities for high school students to earn UW credits while in their senior years, etc.
They should schedule interviews with local newspapers, radio and television stations, to address these concerns, and remind everyone that the system is for the people of Wisconsin, and that more public support could also mean lower tuition rates, smaller classes and better instruction.
But this cannot be done if the system continues to pursue the public authority model. The people of Wisconsin will see that plan for what it is: a guarantee of more and higher tuition increases that will bar Wisconsinites from accessing a system which they have built with their tax and tuition dollars, labor and volunteer hours and continuous public support of the system.
This is not a partisan issue. Republican members of the Legislature have already voiced opposition and grave concerns, both about the funding cuts and the public authority model. The UW System is here for all people, and not just those of certain class or racial backgrounds, or political affiliation. But only with the leadership of the UW System can we keep these great institutions open to everyone. Without it, we genuinely risk closing the doors of this system to regular Wisconsinites, and guaranteeing that UW belongs to Wisconsin in name only.
With the right leadership, UW can be saved. And it should be.
Joshua Brazee ([email protected]) is a PhD candidate in the English department.