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Release: The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis

Madison, WI: With Wisconsin at the center of a national debate over tenure, academic freedom, and funding for public higher education, members of the AFT-Wisconsin Higher Education Council announced a series of events to be held across the UW System in November examining the theme of “The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis.” “The Wisconsin Idea is a simple one,” said Richard Leson, a UW-Milwaukee associate professor of art history and the president of AFT local 3535, The Association of UW Professionals. “It’s the idea that the University of Wisconsin System should improve the lives of all Wisconsinites—through high quality education, research for the public good, and constant community outreach. As members of the AFT-Wisconsin Higher Education Council, my colleagues and I—academic and university staff, faculty, and graduate employees—are deeply troubled by efforts of radical politicians to weaken one of the preeminent public university systems in the world. That’s why we will be holding events on UW System campuses across the state—at Eau Claire, Stout, Madison, Green Bay, Stevens Point, and Milwaukee—to draw attention to the existential crisis that we in the UW System are confronting.”
The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis series of events was spurred by recent attacks on higher education from the Republican dominated Wisconsin legislature, according to Andy Felt, a mathematics professor at UW-Stevens Point. “This year started off with a proposal for the largest cut to the UW System in state history, during a time when other states around the country are reinvesting in public higher education,” said Felt, the president of AFT local 6505, the UW-Stevens Point Academic Representation Council. Then, we saw Scott Walker’s attempt to delete the Wisconsin Idea from state law. But as bad as all of this has been, it’s Walker’s attacks on academic freedom and tenure that fundamentally threaten the UW System. Academic freedom protects the right of faculty to teach and perform research in pursuit of the truth, wherever that might lead them. Do we really want faculty members to be afraid of losing their jobs if they perform controversial research or publish a study that offends a powerful politician? What kind of educational environment would that create for our students?”
Chad Alan Goldberg, a UW-Madison professor of sociology and president of AFT local 223, United Faculty and Academic Staff, pointed to the impact that the most recent funding cut would have on UW System students. “While Scott Walker’s $250 million attack on the UW System is bad enough on its own, it is only the latest in a seemingly unending series of cuts to state funding of the UW System. Billions of dollars of cuts can’t just be ‘absorbed,’ and it’s UW students who are paying the price. Despite the temporary tuition freeze, UW System tuition has skyrocketed over the past decade, and so has student loan debt. Class sections are being cut, along with whole courses and programs, leading to increased time to degree. If we want UW students to receive a degree that means what it used to, it’s up to us to act.”
The events, which began on November 11 and continue to November 19, are sponsored by AFT-Wisconsin and allied organizations, including the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee chapters of the Association of American University Professors. A list of events in the series and co-sponsoring organizations is below.
The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis Event Series
UW-Stout: Wednesday, 11/11/2015: “Budget Cuts: A Panel on the Continuing Effects of the State Budget on UW-Stout.” Jarvis Hall Science Wing 114, 7:00-8:30 p.m. Co-sponsored by the Stout Student Association, Social Science Society.
UW-Green Bay: Friday, 11/13/2015: “The Wisconsin Idea.” Legend Larry's, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
UW-Milwaukee: Wednesday, 11/18/2015: “Paying the Price: College Affordability and the Future of Wisconsin Public Higher Education.” Greene Hall, 3:00-4:30 p.m. Cosponsored by UWM AAUP, Wisconsin HOPE Lab, and the Comparative Ethnic Studies Program.
UW-Madison: Wednesday, 11/18/2015: “The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis: A Public Teach-In.” 8417 Sewell Social Sciences, 1180 Observatory Drive, 4:00-5:15 p.m. Co-sponsored by AAUP UW-Madison.
UW-Stevens Point: Thursday, 11/19/2015: “The Wisconsin Idea: Past, Present, and Future.” Collins Classroom Center 227, 4:00-5:30 p.m.
UW-Eau Claire: Thursday, 11/19/2015: “The Wisconsin Idea in Crisis: Problems and Practical Solutions.” Guests include Rep. Dana Wachs and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.  Centennial Hall 1704, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

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