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.
Categories: Big Picture