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Letter to the editor

Proposed UW System budget cuts cause worry

February 18, 2015

I am not a big political player. I pay attention, I have opinions and I vote. Occasionally, I write to my local representative to try to make my voice heard on specific issues. And then there are times when that simply doesn’t feel like enough.

This is one of those times.

I’ve written and shared my letter, but I want to make sure that you do, too, if you also feel that something is not quite right here. As Christine Thomas has said so eloquently in the past: “It’s up to the citizens of the state to make their feelings known.” I have, will you?

When I first read about the proposed budget cuts to the UW System my first thought was worry. Worry that the professors I’d had the privilege to work with would be impacted, as, of course, they would be. Worry that students won’t have the kind of chance to aspire as I had because of lack of money that leads to less staff, less time, less opportunity. And, finally, worry over how this lack would eventually ripple out and impact my home state as a whole. The UW experience should not be one of less.

I knew I had to respond in some way. But until now I couldn’t quite put my concerns into words. I’ve felt helpless, as this seems so much bigger than me and it’s difficult to feel that anything I say will matter. Which is ironic, because education often equals power, giving a stronger voice through knowledge. I had to ask myself, even though I might feel powerless about it all, what do I know? More importantly, what do I know that is vital for you to know during this important time of decision-making?

If you’ve ever been a student of the UW System you likely know that professors are not working a cut and dry set of hours a week. They’re seen in classrooms when they teach, in their offices as they mentor, correcting papers and exams, setting lesson plans, engaging their students beyond the four walls of academic buildings and nine-to-five of the typical world. They educate, yes, but this act goes far outside the lecture halls.

In my own time as an undergraduate there were many opportunities professors took to engage with me that went beyond the classroom. I was reassured by a psychology professor during a time of emotional upheaval that got me through and helped me feel connected. So I continued on. I was encouraged by my English professor, someone who had a clearer vision than I of where my interests were leading me.

She had recently given life back to the campus literary and arts journal, where she steered me to roles that became foundational for the publishing world I would eventually call home. My advisor, former chair of art, extended a design project outside of the curriculum, essentially giving me my first freelance assignment to make mistakes on while still under her watchful guidance, with patient time to be congratulated and corrected.

Yet another professor gave me creative range by allowing me to insert an independent study that would require, on her part, and provide, to my benefit, more one-on-one time while also allowing me to graduate a semester earlier, as my needs had suddenly changed. And this is only the start of my long list.

All of these examples are the kind of extra mentoring time and consideration that is vital to many students for both personal and professional development. And this is what would likely be the first cut in an effort for professors to “work harder.” But this isn’t wasted time that would end up being cut out. It is valuable. For some, it is actually vital to the learning experience and preparation for professional fields. Without these extra hours of guidance, mentoring, and additional opportunities for beyond-the-classroom education I would not be where I am today. And where I am today allows me to now serve others.

I aim to nurture, encourage, and inspire, reciprocating back to the community what I received through my UW experience. Because of my time there I create artwork for hospitals and healing centers to ease stress, hopefully giving a sense of connection during times of upheaval. In publishing I also successfully serve as an acquiring and developmental editor, helping writers find their voice and potential. I shepherd their wisdom and talent to the world where others can then be nurtured, encouraged, and inspired to be who they are in turn. And on and on we go.

While the UW System is stable and nurtured so are those connected to it, resulting in ripples that spread far and wide. I worry that with the proposed changes many entering their college days now won’t have the same opportunities I had, employees working for the Wisconsin Idea will not be allowed to perform to their full potential, and the state will suffer as a result.

There are a lot of things within the 2015-2017 budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker that leave many feeling unsettled. Removing the citizen voice (changing the boards that govern our Natural Resources to advisory bodies, thus removing transparency of process and putting power in the hands of the political administration) and pulling money from education (drastically cutting funding for the UW System and providing no support for growth in K-12) are only some of the items that do not seem in the best interest of the state as a whole and in the long-term.

While there are other items I’m concerned by and that I believe should be given just as much emphasis, I choose to speak here specifically about the proposed cut to the UW System, because it is an item I have the most personal connection to and can offer inside knowledge of. My hope is that this will help you better understand the concerns of citizens you have been elected to represent.

Education is our foundation. I hope you will bear this in mind, ensuring that the end decision on the proposed budget is not short-sighted. The tragedy would be lost voices when students give up too soon because there isn’t enough money, which translates to less time. And if there isn’t enough time to attend to someone who needs to feel a personal connection, see their potential reflected back to them with better clarity, or be given an extra chance to build up their confidence, ripples may end before they’re allowed to even start.

To find your Wisconsin legislature visit http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and make your feelings known.

Angela Wix
UW-Green Bay class of 2005