Wisconsin-Superior students protest plan to cut programs

Dec. 2017 Wisconsin students

University of Wisconsin-Superior students hold protest signs during Nov. 3 forum about program cuts. The signs read: “We want honesty,” “Stand with UWS” and “You’ve robbed us.” Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

By LUCAS ALAN DIETSCHE

On Oct. 31, the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Superior decided to give a trick instead of a treat to faculty and students. Without any warning before making the decision, the administration decided to cut (they use the word “suspend”) many of its major and minor programs. At least 25 programs are affected, including political science, sociology, and theater as majors.

The initial reason that the administration gave for its action was that students have too many choices and therefore cannot finish their degree. The administration also claimed that there was low enrollment in many of the programs.

The last of the forums given by the administration to explain the cuts included 200 to 300 students, faculty, allies, and alumni voicing strong concerns about the decision. The opposition yelled, cried, laughed, and clapped in standing ovations against the administration’s answers.

Theater major Christopher Linder said the decision to suspend the programs doesn’t fit with what a university’s mission should be. “Imagine a hospital that only treats popular illnesses,” he said. “Imagine a church that constantly changed its policies and doctrines to amass and maintain the largest congregation. … Is education supposed to be business as usual?”

Chancellor Renee Wachter’s comments at the forum were akin to talking down to students and allies as if they were naughty children having a temper tantrum. But nothing that was said by the administration could soothe the frustration of having the futures of students abruptly destroyed.

Megan McGarvey, a digital cinema major, expressed the view of many students that they should have had a voice in the process. She told National Public Radio: “We spend thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’m going to be in debt at least until I’m in my mid-30s—and that’s only if I can have a job right after I graduate. … For the choices that we wanted and had here to be just cut without our acknowledgement, without our knowledge, I think it’s just disrespectful to the students and the student body.”

On Nov. 6, students organized a sit-in inside the student union. Participants wore black and had red squares (akin to the 2012 student Quebec uprising ) pinned to their clothing. The student union contained a mélange of students writing letters to community leaders, posting anti-administration signs, and donating plethora of foodstuffs. And on-line petition against the cuts was circulated; it gathered over 5000 signatures by Nov. 6.

The next day included a protest in front of the administration building. One of the provosts marched through the picket line without comment.

The next week, faculty organized a teach-in to discuss campus strategy, social movements, and college activism. The teach-in was well attended by many faculty, alumni and students. The faculty senate has been discussing a vote of no confidence in the chancellor. Many alumni donors are pulling their money out of the college.

After a month of all these different tactics of fighting back, the administration has tried to pressure faculty and students to quit their activism. Many students state that they feel a sense of worthlessness. Some are organizing to express their opposition at the Chancellor’s Ball.