About a dozen College Republicans attended a student government meeting Feb. 18, at which the Associated Students of Madison voted on a resolution to formally oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. The meeting began with a College Republican speaking in opposition of the resolution on the grounds that there are, in fact, students on campus who support the budget.
After his speech, an ASM member asked, “Much of our resolution is focused on the threat to shared governance. Do you have any opposition to that particular piece of the resolution?” After looking confused and glancing over to his fellow College Republicans for help, the speaker stumbled through a clunky answer. The College Republicans were clearly neither well versed nor familiar with shared governance, and what is at stake should it be dismantled with the passage of the governor’s budget.
So what exactly is shared governance? Shared governance is a hard-fought student right that gives us a voice in our university’s administrative decision-making process. Under the current system, students retain this right by virtue of a state statute, which means legally we must be involved in this process. However, this might change as a result of Walker’s proposal. We, as students, will, for all intents and purposes, lose this unique empowerment should the governor’s budget pass, as the University of Wisconsin System would transition to public authority status and power would instead go largely to the Board of Regents.
Shared governance is far from the only victim of the public authority status. Before getting into the details, let’s clear up exactly what public authority means. The name is misleading.
Republicans in favor of the move will argue public authority grants UW more autonomy and control, creating a stronger university in the long run. However, this notion of betterment is misleading. When looking at the laundry list of vital programs that could be cut, it becomes clear that public authority status would completely transform the way our university operates, and students will bear the brunt of the cost.
Public authority leaves UW less protected in the public market, forcing it to compete more heavily with other institutions; money and profit will take precedence. Important UW programs like mandatory sexual assault education, professor tenure and recruitment programs for minority and disadvantaged students risk being cut altogether. These kinds of cuts become completely permissible under public authority because the state no longer regulates university activity.
It’s like saying to Ford Motors, “It would be nice if you put seven airbags in your cars, but you’re only required to put four.” As a business, of course Ford would opt to save money. The UW System, though we may envision it to be above market pressures, would do the same.
On a campus that already struggles with diversity, professor retention and sexual assault, can we really afford to cut these programs? There are certain aspects of our society that don’t belong in an unregulated market, and higher education is one of them.
Let’s dispel the myths about no tuition increase: public authority means tuition will increase in 2017. Under public authority status, the Legislature will have no authority over tuition. The Board of Regents can raise tuition as they see fit, and will have little option not to. Coupled with the $300 million in budget cuts, of course tuition will drastically increase.
Republicans will tout University of Virginia as a shining example of public authority being implemented successfully, but they fail to mention the huge tuition spikes the students incurred following the transition – 52 percent to be exact. Applied to our tuition, that’s a $5,413.20 hike in annual tuition for in-state students and nearly $14,000 for out-of-state students. In Texas, the numbers are even more astounding: tuition rose by 104 percent “between deregulation in 2003 and 2014.”
“It’s all going to be okay,” is the narrative we keep hearing from College Republicans. This is ignorant and, frankly, offensive to those already saddled with student loan debt. It might be okay for some students, but many aren’t prepared to pay thousands more for tuition.
More autonomy is in no way worth losing the brilliant minds that are attracted to this university because of its embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea.
August McGinnity-Wake ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and is the press secretary for the College Democrats.