Last Wednesday, the Joint Finance Committee handed UW System an additional $46.1 million cut in the form a budget lapse, continuing the deleterious trend of divestment from public higher education and the economic engine of Wisconsin. Like the $250 million that JFC cut from UW System this summer, this $46.1 million budget lapse will lead to continued faculty and staff salary freezes, gradually rising tuition, and threats to UW-Madison’s ability to produce an educated workforce for the twenty-first century. Although it is politically convenient to blame these cuts on the current Republican legislature and the Walker administration, the cuts to UW System have long-standing bipartisan roots.
In this political climate, the Faculty Senate, Academic Staff Assembly, and Associated Students of Madison Student Council have all passed resolutions support a new social compact between UW-Madison and the state of Wisconsin. The new social compact endorses a renewed financial commitment to funding UW System from the state in exchange for the fulfillment of UW System and UW-Madison’s mission to provide a quality, accessible education for all Wisconsinites. In passing this legislation, the three shared governance bodies have voiced vehement concern about the fiscal crisis that UW-Madison and UW System now face and have asked to be part of the solution.
In the Academic Staff Assembly, one member raised the quintessential question whenever a deliberative body takes a stance on an issue over which they have no direct power: what does passage of this resolution actually do? Why should we pass this value-driven resolution if we lack the teeth to enforce it?
My answer to the gentleman who spoke at the Academic Staff Assembly is simple: give the new social compact some teeth. The power of lofty resolutions such as the new social compact derives from its ability to be shared. As students, staff, faculty, and community members of the great institutions of UW System, we can empower these ideals of access to quality higher education and enrichment of communities across Wisconsin by infusing our stories of why UW-Madison matters to us. To make these resolutions relevant and powerful, we must share our stories with state legislators and encourage our neighbors to do the same.
Students are doing just this. On March 6, join the United Council of UW Students for the statewide lobby day. United Council will begin the statewide lobby day with a press conference to advocate for the Wisconsin student agenda, one major component of the social compact that all members of the UW-Madison community now officially support.