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Opinion

Students and faculty should speak out against current budget cuts, fight for a quality education

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March 23, 2016

I just returned from my first Faculty Senate meeting at UW-River Falls. I was there as a photojournalist, but it was hard for me to separate my feelings from my work as I was observing a meeting where topics that have a large impact on my life were being discussed with strong tension in the room.

I was on the verge of tears for most of the meeting as I listened to faculty and students beg to no longer feel the despair that they currently do.  I believe everyone fears that the quality of education will become lost due to a lack of funds in the future and it seems that future gets closer every day.

I’m sure by now that most people are aware of not only the budget “crisis” happening in the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences but also the huge budget cuts that Gov. Scott Walker proposed last year around this time that later were implemented. It has now been one year since the potential budget cuts were announced. The reality has set in and the impacts of those budget cuts are very much being felt across campus.

As I was taking in all of this tension and frustration in the room and trying to digest what I was hearing, I started to become overwhelmed with emotions. I love the UW System and I want to see it thrive.

I came into the UW System in January of 2014 as a student at UW-Fox Valley, one of the 13 UW College campuses in the state. It was there that I transformed from a high school student who didn’t really care much about her studies to a college student who is eager and loves to learn.

When I began at UW-Fox I started taking classes that interested me, naturally, and others that were simply required. Looking back, I appreciate both of those types of classes. In my first semester of college I developed a sense of curiosity and a desire to learn that I never had before. I suddenly didn’t care if I was initially interested in a subject; I was willing to learn about anything that was thrown at me. This is the type of education that the UW System gives to all of its students.

This has translated into my everyday life. I am now an open-minded individual who welcomes new opinions and foreign subjects into my realm of thinking.  I believe that without my liberal arts education in the UW System, I would not have acquired these traits.

When news of the budget cuts came around last year, my curiosity and desire to learn died a little bit. I suddenly felt anxious to get out of the system and to complete my degree. I no longer feel the same desire that I once had to explore every possible subject I can. Ideally, I would like to stay in college longer than 4 years and take every class on the list that interests me, so that I can go into the world with as much knowledge about as many things as I can.

Now I feel deterred from that learning because seats in those classes are limited, and other students need those seats so that they can graduate on time. These seats are limited because there is not enough funding to allow for more teachers and in turn more classes to be offered on college campuses.

I wish that everyone valued education the way I do, but the only way to spread that value is to talk about it. Students and faculty in the UW System need to stand together and make their voices heard so that institutions like UWRF, that help students to become more open-minded and to view the world in a different way, can thrive and continue to pursue their mission of higher education.

I encourage everyone who reads this to think about their own experience in the UW System and to share their story with others. A simple way to get others to see the value in education is to show them that someone they know and love has benefitted from it. I also encourage you to share your story with your representatives, in hopes that they will spread that message and together we can change the negative atmosphere around higher education in Wisconsin.

Tori Schneider is an alumna of UW-River Falls.