The state of Wisconsin is facing a financial crisis. Former Governor Doyle left the state with a $3.6 billion dollar budget deficit. The people of Wisconsin voted into office Scott Walker, who ran on a platform of reducing state spending, ending the raids of segregated funds, and balancing the state budget. These principles can be found on his campaign website. Regarding these principles, Governor Walker stated:
“Wisconsin deserves a government that puts the needs of citizens first. The following set of reforms will help put state government back on the side of the people.”
While his actions so far have held true to the reforms he set forward, they are by NO means actions that the majority of Wisconsin residents would agree with once all implications of the policies are known. This week, Governor Walker proposed removing almost all collective bargaining rights of public employees, affecting roughly 175,000 workers. It also requires employees to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare.
Though no-one expected Walker would be friendly towards unions, this goes well beyond what most believed would happen. Even State Senator Luther Olson, a Republican said to the Associated Press, “It’s not what I thought he was going to do.” While I agree with some of the reforms, such as greater contributions to pensions, the proposal as a whole will have a terrible effect on middle class and working class people around the state. In this post, I’m going to focus on how higher education will be affected if this proposal passes.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are currently 9,116 graduate students. Of these, over 2,800 serve as Teaching Assistants who directly educate undergraduates in the classroom and allow such a large university to have smaller discussion sections. Another 2,500 are Research Assistants, and are responsible for making our university one of the most well-respected research institutions in the world.
The TAs are represented by the TAA, and through that representation have gained tuition remission and more healthcare options for working as TAs, helping to attract the best and brightest graduate students to Wisconsin, and greatly improving the undergraduate experience by giving us better teachers. The RAs were in the process of unionizing to bargain for better working hours and conditions, which would help bring UW up in the research rankings through the recruitment of top-tier researchers. Under Governor Walker’s proposal, our graduate students will lose these extra benefits and our faculty and staff will not be able to form unions to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.
I am asking all students to become better informed on this issue, and become involved in order to protect the quality of our education and the reputation of our university. Articles to read can be found here, here, or in almost any local newspaper in the state.
Those of you who know me know I am not one to rally or protest as the first point of action, but this issue is incredibly important. The TAA will be organizing in their office (254 W. Gilman Street) all weekend, and will have free pizza and beer for volunteers at 5pm tonight. Additionally, there will be a rally at the capitol at 11am on Tuesday to protect state workers and our education. Watch your e-mails for more ways to be involved. As for me, I will be working on this all day today in the ASM office. Stop by to help out or get more information. I can’t stress how important this is, and I hope all of you can help out in some way.
*Edit* If you are not from Madison, but would like to take part in the “Hands Off Our Teachers” Rally, we have places for you to stay. Also, check out this page to see where you can catch a bus to the Capitol.