Student Senate passed a resolution challenging Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed $300 million UW System budget cut last night, but not before a tense argument about whether a plan to dub the UW System a “public authority” is in students’ best interest.
Senate advocates reducing the planned UW System cuts and promotes an “open door” for political dialogue among the student body, according to the resolution.
Chancellor James C. Schmidt said in a blog post Feb. 5 Eau Claire will likely shoulder a $7.5 million cut, or about a quarter of the state aid Eau Claire receives. The cut compounds a current $4.5 million budget deficit.
‘Create’ or ‘prevent’
Monday’s resolution was written to voice disapproval over the size of proposed UW System cuts, but favored reclassifying the UW System as a “public authority.”
Public authority status, which would begin June 2016, would grant the UW System Board of Regents more control over tuition rates, spending, employee salaries and other factors.
Senators expressed concern over whether the public authority system model should be included in the resolution.
A proposed amendment, which would have altered two passages to suggest public authority model will prevent Eau Claire from maintaining a competitive edge and affordability, failed on the floor.
“We need to have a productive conversation,” Senator Christian Paese said, “instead of working against everything that’s being proposed.”
Senator Matt Riedel, who voted in opposition of the resolution, said the points presented were unclear and used vague language.
“A lot of the words you heard with public authority were ‘flexibility’, ‘autonomy’, ‘management,’ buzzwords,” Riedel said. “Not absolutes, not specifics.”
And budget cut specifics from Gov. Walker have not been given to the chancellor. Although he has held three forums to address the significance of this latest cut, Schmidt has still not been given the exact size of the cut the university will absorb.
Riedel said in session he was concerned how Gov. Walker and UW System President Ray Cross each interpret “autonomy” and whether this interpretation is good for students.
“Flexibility and autonomy might be great for the university,” Riedel said. “But it might not be in the best interest of students.”
Senator Steven Kahlow, who voted in favor of the proposed resolution, said amending the public authority portion would have removed the resolution’s strength.
“There is still debate as to whether or not the public authority for the UW System is a good thing or a bad thing,” Kahlow said. “As far as language in the resolution goes, it did a good job of communicating we are not in support of the budget cut.”
Where Riedel saw the lack of clearer terms as a deterrent from showing support, Kahlow favors ambiguity so the university is not held accountable to the public authority model.
“It leaves us options open in the future,” Kahlow said. “It gives us an opportunity to say we don’t like it without being hypocritical.”
Senior T.J. Gouker said he doesn’t have enough information to form an opinion about how the cuts may hurt the university.
“I’ve heard a lot of anger on campus about it,” Gouker said. “I’ve also heard a lot of confusion over what will happen if (the cuts) take effect.”
Senior Alexi Speich said a professor took ten minutes out of the scheduled class to discuss what these cuts meant to the university.
“Which I did not appreciate,” Speich said. “It was not helpful in trying to promote an unbiased discussion.”
Student Senate released a press release urging students to contact legislators and join in the conversation of how these cuts will impact the university.
Freshman Bailey Pascale said student conversation about the cuts is beginning to pick up.
“Students are mad,” Pascal said. “They keep asking, ‘why are we getting new buildings yet cutting professors?’”
UW-Eau College Democrats plan to hold a rally to protest the cuts and to speak out over “the attacks on shared governance and faculty” this Friday.
UW-Eau Claire College Republicans were not available for comment.