UW-Extension loses $3.6 million in annual funding; cuts may hurt state economy

After three budget cuts,the state could cross into dangerous territory

Ask around campus and you’ll start to see the aftermath.

The state of Wisconsin instituted three budget cuts in six years, the last of which removed $250 million in state funding for the UW-System, roughly $12.2 million a year from 2016-17 (the foreseeable future) UW-Eau Claire will have to live without.

For a university that values small class sizes, the student-teacher ratio has been notably skewed. Depending on how valuable a course is to multiple majors, a student may walk into a class of thirty the first semester, just to squeeze themselves into an identical course (if they’re lucky it’s offered at all) with forty, fifty or even more students just a few months later.

Eau Claire took pride in the fact that its students never had to get a second-hand education from a teacher’s assistant. Now departments across campus have seen literally thousands of years of experience walk out the door as a result of staff and faculty reductions to meet the budget cuts.

It’s no surprise the UW-Extension lost $3.6 million in annual funding along the way. The UW-Extension is a bridge between the UW-System and the state of Wisconsin. Through the Cooperative Division — partnerships with local farmers, business, youth and families — the UW-Extension is the perfect counter argument to anyone who says universities work in terms of ideas, not reality.

Vice-Provost Michael Wick said these budget cuts are challenging, both in the obstacles they present, but also in the opportunities for institutional streamlining and efficiency as well. The cuts will force the university to reevaluate its values and shed the unnecessary, and the excess, in exchange for what’s worthwhile.

Dr. Robert Hooper, a professor of geology and 33-year veteran, said the budget cuts mean the UW-System isn’t competitive in the job market where instructors realize they’ll make thousands or even tens of thousands more in salary if they look elsewhere. The best and brightest of Wisconsin will inevitably look for better pastures.

Luke Kempen, the director of Eau Claire’s Small Business Development Center, said he has aided roughly 200 clients, helped build 44 enterprises and created 92 jobs in twelve counties over two years through Extension.

But for what it offers communities across Wisconsin, the UW-System is more inclined to protect the student body and entities like the Extension pay the price.

Cathy Sundeen, chancellor of UW-Colleges and Extension, is reviewing a conceptual plan to remove 80 positions across the state in order to protect research positions within the universities, according to an article by the Capital Times. This will remove many agents who are responsible for coordinating with local farmers during the course of the harvest year.

Of course, similarly to what they did with the staff and faculty of the universities, administrators believe that by reorganizing county services those who remain can pick up the slack.

“We feel ownership of that. We are the part of the university most engaged on the ground working with farmers and families to make connections to the university,” Carrie Edgar, department head at the Dane County branch of Extension, said. “We’re not giving up on that, but we’ve got to find new ways to do it.”

It’s not so much right or wrong as much as it is facing the facts of a tough situation the UW-System now finds itself within. The effects of wholesale budget cuts tend to snowball, if recent history is any indication, and the cuts to Extension are tangible evidence the state of Wisconsin may face the consequences sooner than later.

Budget cuts are typically a necessary evil. However, at the most basic, universal level we have to ask the question: How long can a state expect people to do the work of two or three or four before it falls behind?

If there’s one thing we should ask around, it’s: “Have we’ve gone too far?”