Cuts to Higher Education: Consequences for Libraries and Future Librarians


Today I’m going to scale back a little bit to talk about graduate school more generally, and some events that have been affecting my own university in particular. These last few weeks have been tough for my school, UW-Milwaukee, as the governor of Wisconsin has announced that his proposed budget includes a $300 million budget cut to the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System, in exchange for “more autonomy from state government.” Milwaukee alone will suffer a $40 million cut over the next two years. Campuses expect layoffs, building closures, and skyrocketing tuition rates in the coming years. In short, it’s a disaster.

This is a big blow to the campus communities in Wisconsin, and it will have a dire, long-term effect for the faculty, staff, and especially the students. It will impact the quality of instruction that they receive, the amount they pay for tuition, and the opportunities for paid student employment that we so desperately need while living on a graduate student budget. I have heard a lot of people say “thank goodness I am leaving” or “this is my last semester, so it won’t affect me,” and I am certainly guilty of these very mutterings. But I also feel it’s important to think about how this will have a lasting impact on current and future students, including out-of-state, or even international students, all of whom will now have a hard time finding academic positions close-by and will be forced to leave.

I was informed last week that my student job in the library would likely be eliminated when I leave and to certainly not expect there to be any openings in any Wisconsin university libraries when I graduate. Lucky for me I was planning to head back to the east coast to be closer to family anyways. However, this has an immense impact on a large number of my classmates whose lives are here in Wisconsin or who are in a situation where they are unable to relocate. This has made the already difficult and competitive situation of finding an academic library position look rather dismal.

On another note, I am wondering how these budget issues will affect the future of academic research libraries, and what will be the long-term consequences for such libraries in Wisconsin. My boss at UW-Milwaukee’s library said they will likely eliminate all travel funding for staff, which means she and the other librarians cannot participate in professional development activities unless they pay for it out-of-pocket. She also mentioned that most of the library’s budget is tied up in collection development, and that instead of laying off staff they will likely subtract from there. My question is this: how can a major research institution expect to maintain its mission as such without a current, up-to-date, and extensive library collection, and librarians who are involved in national discourses?! The library stands at the very heart of any research institution, but is unfortunately often overlooked. On the other hand, the alternative is layoffs, which detract equally, if not more, from the image and mission of the university. The library along with most of the departments on campus are stuck between a rock and a hard place, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Additionally, how will the budget cut impact MLS programs in general, such as those at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison? Will there be lower enrollment, due to the inevitably higher tuition rates? My department has a large online program that is attractive to many students because of the flat-rate credits and the absence of campus activity fees. But if the school is forced to jack up prices, online students could very well choose somewhere cheaper. The department has also instituted an immediate hiring freeze, which leaves the two open faculty positions completely up in the air. This is not good news for the current faculty, since they were expecting some back-up within the coming semester!

There is so much uncertainty throughout my campus, and it seems like the administration is having a hard time conceptualizing how they will deal with the largest higher education budget cut ever to happen in the state. I do not have any answers to these, and a slew of other questions, but I hope with all my heart that this is not a trend that we will have to contend with on a national scale.

How can we, as students, better advocate for the support of public education? Is it possible to achieve the level of support necessary to give people a fair chance at higher education? I’d love to hear from you about what we can do in these desperate situations.

7 replies

  1. “She also mentioned that most of the library’s budget is tied up in collection development, and that instead of laying off staff they will likely subtract from there.” (This is a crappy thing your boss has to do, I am sure she thinks its lousy because austerity is lousy.) One of the most perplexing things about the austerity logic is that first resources and then people are cut, and there is nothing to show for it. Austerity doesn’t have to show its promised results. Put a freeze on buying, cut all unnecessary journals, rework title packages with vendors to cut all further unnecessary journals, cut everything except only those services and subscriptions needed to keep the Business School’s accreditation…

    “How can we, as students, better advocate for the support of public education?” We really cannot as students: with distance learning and the short time we are/were involved with campuses… We will never–as alumni–endow chairs or departments or think tanks. We can not reproduce austerity when we become managers. But mostly we are going to have to really mess up the student loan system and actually take back public education from neo-liberals.

    We have Bruce Rauner down here… so we’ll be WI in a few years.


    • I meant to add: we cannot really really advocate for the support of public education as students (as citizens, even) unless we dismantle the neoliberal apparatuses that have eroded democracy. Much (if not all) of our LIS education lacks a critical look at what sort of social relationships, valuations of public goods, relations to power, decaying democracy, and so on, are reproduced in library and information work. It’s a glaring gap which produces students crippled with debt in a constantly contracting job market oversaturated with credentialed candidates ill-equipped to deal with austerity and the erosion of the public sector.


  2. This is a great post, Jasmine. It’s so disheartening to read about budget cuts.

    I also wanted to point out the comments made by Scott Walker, the governor who proposed these cuts. He essentially said that the university can save money by asking staff and faculty to teach one more class per semester. It just shows just how out of touch politicians are with what professors actually do and the immense workload that they already have. Link to an article in the Chronicle for those interested:


  3. Thanks for this post, Jasmine. We have a similar situation at Maryland. (WaPo article with some context for the cuts; plus two recent announcements from the President’s office). I’ve heard around school that this is part and parcel with major swings between flush and lean times that the state and university have been experiencing — and been themselves responsible for — since at least the late 90s.

    I’m curious what other implications there are for making the university system a public authority rather than a state department. “More autonomy” (quote from where?) and “new flexibilities” (from the J-S article) sound like ways to avoid accountability and responsibility down the road.

    In terms of advocating for higher education, I think presence and visibility — using any and all available broadcast / publication / communication channels to express support for public higher ed — are powerful tools with low barriers to entry that are available to students. Getting to know K-12 and higher-ed politics and policy (federal, state, local) is important, too (if not more so). We should be informed.


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