Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
According to its newly-minted website, the Advocates "are dedicated to supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... [and] will promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution." This lobbying effort is similar to efforts afoot in other states to use state budget issues to privatize public higher education institutions and put more assets and power at the disposal of powerful corporate interests.
The lobby shop's PR description closely mirrors the title of the Wisconsin Public Research Institute's December 2010 report titled, "Making the University of Wisconsin More Accountable Through Greater Autonomy." WPRI is heavily funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a right-wing neo-conservative think tank.
"Enhanced autonomy for this unique insitution" is more well known as the New Badger Partnership (NBP). The NBP, which UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin has been advocating for since fall 2010, and which controversially was snuck into WI Republican Gov. Scott Walker's 2011-2013 Budget, would cut the strings that tie UW-Madison to the UW System. This would make UW-Madison, the current state flagship university, a quasi-private "public authority" institution.
As seen by other public universities that have privatized, including the recent changes at UC-Berkeley and theUniversity of Virginia System, tuition would skyrocket under this plan. The initiative would also serve tocorporatize and thereby neoliberalize all pillars of the University, an effort being pushed by corporatists at universities nation-wide.
The Advocates, 14 well-connected corporate lobbyists, will be working with Martin to destroy, once and for all, the concept of UW-Madison as a public higher institution.
A biographtical sketch of some of them thus is in order.
Brandon Schlotz: Schlotz, listed as one of the two contact people for Advocates, is currently a lobbyist for The Capitol Group, LLC. The Capitol Group is the "manager" of Badger Advocates, according the Advocates website. Schlotz is also the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) lobbyist registry, he also lobbies for the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, Visa U.S.A., and the Wisconsin Collectors Association.
The charter school effort is something Walker supports and is trying to direct more state dollars to, as part of efforts that some contend undermine the public education system by subsidizing the privatization of it. The credit card issues are a sore spot for many in the wake of the pattern of credit card companies giving out high interest credit to college students with little income and escalating college expenses. And collection agencies are also a sore spot for students struggling and to pay back their debts.
When asked during a phone interview whether his work on behalf of credit card companies and collection firm agencies serves as a conflict-of-interests, he responded, "I don’t think I’m going to be an authority on that. We represented Visa on the gift card issue and this was quite some time ago (even though he's still listed as their Wisconsin lobbyist on the GAB website). I would go back to my earlier comments that the University wants to work to control its future and destiny and maintain affordable financial aid packages and tuition assistance." Thus, this answer was a non-answer.
Brad Boycks: Boycks has been the chief lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association since 2004. Prior to that stint, he served as Chief-of-Staff for former Wisconsin State Senator Bob Welch, who now lobbies for The Welch Group. Welch's clients include Georgia-Pacific (owned by Koch Industries), SC Johnson & Son, theWisconsin Corngrower Association, Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute, and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.
Thomas Fonfara: Fonfara works as a lobbyist for Arrowhead Strategies. Through that position, he lobbies for the American Federation for Children, which describes itself as, "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs." Fonfara is thus a lobbyist for efforts that undermine the public eduction system and seek government subsidies for private or corporate schools.
American Federation for Children is chaired by Betsy DeVos, whose brother, Erik D. Prince is the former CEO of Blackwater USA and is now an expatriot, having fled to the only country in the world in which somone who flees the U.S. cannot be extradited--the United Arab Emirates. Her family also owns the controversial corporation Amway, a major funder of right-wing interests. Fonfara also was formerly on the Board of Directors of Pigeon Falls State Bank.
Bob Seitz: Seitz is Fonfara's partner at Arrowhead Strategies. From 1989-1991, he served as former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's policy advisor. He also lobbies for the American Federation for Children.
Mark Graul: Graul played the role of campaign manager for Bush/Cheney's 2004 Wisconsin campaign. He was loosely linked to Jack Abramoff, from whom he recieved free tickets to a pro basketeball game from in 2000. He now works for Arena Strategy Group, a lobby shop with offices in Green Bay, WI and Madison, WI.
Kristin Ruesch: Ruesch is listed as Graul's colleague at Arena Strategy Group, and is listed as the othercontact person on the Advocates website. Her background consists of formerly working as the Communications Director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, as well as working as Communications Director on Ron Johnson's campaign for U.S. Senate.
Carol McCoshen: McCoshen lobbies for Capitol Consultants, Inc, which advocates for some of the biggestcorporate powers in the United States. Her husband, Bill, who also works for Capitol Consultants, is the former chief-of-staff for former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.
Forbes McIntosh: McIntosh lobbies for Wisconsin Government Policy Solutions. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Greater Madison, a Board that also seats UW-Madison Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell. When prompted for an interview request over the phone about the Advocates, McIntosh rapidly hung up and did not pick up any subsequent phone calls.
Thus, the New Badger Partnership's lobby team is rife with corporate lobbyists. Given that the Walker-Martin initiative is really about corporatizing a formerly public institution, the all-star corporate lobby team is not surprising.
And yet, the newly formed squadron should be troubling to anyone concerned about preserving the university from the nexus of ideological and corporate interests that are being branded a New Badger Partnership.
This post was originally published by the invaluable StudentActivism.net.
Last week’s March 2 National Day of Action saw scores of protests in more than a dozen states—including two that ended in arrests and one that ended with a bunch of people taking their clothes off.
The big story out of last week, however, was three extraordinary campus occupations—one in the Northeast, one in the Midwest and one on the West Coast.
In Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, feminist students—fed up with their administration’s foot-dragging on campus sexual assault policy—occupied their administration building for four days. They left on Saturday having won major changes to campus regulations.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an occupation of a theater space on campus is still ongoing, six days after it began. The students behind this action, in solidarity with the ongoing protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol, have announced a schedule of events for the coming week ranging from yoga to historical workshops to a movie night.
And at UC-Berkeley, the site of an ever-growing list of mass arrests at peaceful student protests, students finally found a tactic that—at least this time—the administration had no way of shutting down. When nine students climbed up on a high ledge on a campus building and chained themselves together, administrators quickly met their demands.
March is shaping up to be an interesting month this year.
The last three weeks have demonstrated the power of student activism around the world. It seems like every day, high school and university students are using social networks and old-school outreach to launch new revolutions, motivate momentum in fresh protests, and make a statement about what the next generation wants from its government.
This week in the round-up, Minnesota meets to discuss the sex trafficking of Native Americans, Las Vegas students contemplate what it means to be an “American” in light of Arizona’s border control, and student artists at UCLA use dance and theater to explore cultural communication. All of these events are open to the general public.
STANDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH WISCONSIN
WHAT: Wisconsin Student Protests, Walk-outs, and Rallies
It’s impossible to put together a student activist round-up without featuring the students in Wisconsin, whose tireless dedication to planning rallies, walk-outs, and demonstrations have kept the momentum of the movement going. Unfortunately, these events are often planned quickly in advance. So check out defendpubliceducation.org/ for the most up-to-date info on the Wisconsin-inspired student activism going on around the country and in the state itself.
CREATIVE, CHOREOGRAPHED, CULTURAL COMMUNICATION
WHAT: Culture Crossing
WHEN: Tuesday, March 8, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
WHERE: UCLA, Glorya Kaufman Hall, Room 200, Los Angeles, CA
Students and faculty explore the creative potential of intercultural communication through choreography, spoken word, performance, visual art and theater.
STOPPING SEX TRAFFICKING OF NATIVE AMERICANS
WHAT: Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota’s Native Communities
WHEN: Thursday, March 10, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
WHERE: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1314 Social Sciences Bldg
Suzanne Koepplinger, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, will present information on the under-recognized issue of sex trafficking of Minnesota Native girls.
ANALYZING AMERICAN IDENTITY IN LAS VEGAS
WHAT: 'Are You an American?' History at the Arizona Border
WHEN: Thursday, March 9, 7:30pm to 8:30pm
WHERE: University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Auditorium, Marjorie Barrick Museum, Harry Reid Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
University Forum presents a lecture by professor Katherine Benton-Cohen, department of history, Georgetown University. Our speaker this evening explores the contentious and violent history of Arizona’s border and immigration politics. Beginning with the Bisbee Deportation of 1917, her lecture highlights the history of vigilantism at the Arizona border, as well as the surprising changes in how Arizonans have thought about race and citizenship during the twentieth century and beyond. She urges us to ask, “Who counts as an American?” and shows how history helps us to understand the answer.
GENOCIDE SURVIVOR SPEAKS IN MAINE
WHAT: Genocide Survivor Speaks
WHEN: Friday, March 11,12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
WHERE: University of Maine, Augusta, Katz Library
Rwandan genocide survivor, Jacqueline Murekatete, will speak about her experiences.
At a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, students camped out for three days to call upon campus administration to prioritize protecting them against sexual violence. And the university responded by meeting all of their demands.
Students at Dickinson College occupied the university’s administrative building since Wednesday and said they would stay until all of their demands were met. Friday night, the college, which had been involved in negotiations with the students since Wednesday, announced it would work with students in rewriting campus policy against sexual assault.
Some of the demands included using its Red Alert system to report cases of sexual assault, full transparency of the judicial process, a stronger stance against sexual violence, the creation of sexual violence prevention program and a time-line for the creation and implementation of a new sexual misconduct policy. The administration also asserted it will uphold the policy to punish rape with expulsion.
High levels of sexual assault are by no means exclusive to Dickinson College. The Department of Justice found that roughly one in five women who attend college will become the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. But due to under-reporting official data from the schools doesn’t reflect the extent of the problem.
Even when a sexual assault is reported, the perpetrator is rarely held accountable. The Center for Public Integrity conducted a year-long investigation in 2010 of the national problem and found that students found responsible for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little to no punishment. This gives victims little incentive to go through the often-traumatizing process.
More than a hundred students have slept at Dickinson’s administration offices during the protest and a few hundred more have attended rallies during the day. That’s more than ten percent of the small college’s student’s population of some 2,400.
Students carried signs that read ‘Stop the silence, our safety is more important than your reputation’ and ‘I value my body, you should value my rights.’
“This is a pervasive problem. Almost every student will tell you they know somebody who's experienced sexual violence or have experienced it themselves,” student Tiffany Hwang told The Nation. “Those that actually do get adjudicated is not reflective of the real experience of students.”
Hwang said that several speakers, such as Jaclyn Friedman, who have visited the campus over the last month have empowered student to act. Friedman is author of “Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape.”
This was originally published by Campus Progress and is re-posted here with its permission.
Black History Month usually focuses on civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. But young black activists are making a difference today. Here are just a few you should know about.
At the age of 19, Marvelyn Brown contracted HIV/AIDS. She remained upbeat while battling her illness, and traveled around the world to share her story. In 2008, she published her autobiography, Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive. Since then, Brown has become the CEO and Independent HIV Consultant for Marvelous Connections and an ambassador for the Greater Than AIDS Campaign.
As a teenager with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Darius Weems had never left his hometown of Athens, Ga. With the help of friends and a counselor at Project REACH, a youth and adult-run, multiracial, multi-gender, grassroots, anti-discrimination, youth organizing center, he took a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, hoping that he might get his wheelchair revamped on the MTV show, Pimp My Ride. His trip was documented in the documentary film Darius Goes West, which helped raise awareness of disability rights and the need for wheelchair accessibility across the nation.
Zim Ugochukwu is a senior at University of North Carolina–Greensboro and founded her own organization, Ignite Greensboro, which seeks to engage young people in their communities. Ugochukwu started the organization to open the International Civil Rights Center and Museum to remember the Greensboro sit-ins that were instrumental to the civil rights movement. Ugochukwu has been named one of Glamour's 20 Amazing Young Women and won an award for her activism from Campus Progress in 2010.
Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Bryant Terry learned to appreciate the cultivation of good food; he soon became an eco-chef and food activist. In 2002, Terry founded b-healthy!, a project encouraging youth to create a more sustainable food system. He “has used cooking as a tool to illuminate the intersections of poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity,” according to his website.
Charlene Carruthers grew up on the South side of Chicago and is a writer, organizer, and activist who tweets under the name @nvrcomfortable. She managed to use a combination of social media and in-person fundraising to gather more than $1,400 worth of donations to send herself to Haiti following the earthquake last August. She plans to return to do more community development in the future. A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and Washington University in St. Louis, Carruthers has worked with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Center for Community Change. She blogs at The Freedom Pages.
With his uncle sitting on death row, De’Jaun Correia has been speaking out against the death penalty. Correia is only 16 years old, but he has already spoken to the British Parliament and will be the keynote speaker at the Amnesty International Youth Summit next month, raising awareness of the death penalty and his uncle’s situation. In January, Correia was chosen as one of The Root’s 25 young futurists and innovators.
A 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama, Kendra Key, ran for student body president, a position that has long been held by a white student. Though Key narrowly lost the race, she brought attention to black representation in student government at her school. Key was also awarded a Truman Scholarship and now works in Washington, D.C. for Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).
As a journalist, Jimmie Briggs witnessed the struggles of child soldiers during wars in Afghanistan, Uganda, Rwanda, Colombia, and Sri Lanka. He documented his findings in Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War in 2005. Briggs co-founded the Man Up Campaign to encourage youth to stop violence against women and girls, and he became the first African American appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador.
Since he first came to the United States with $20 and little fluency in English, Thione Niang has become a political activist and consultant. He campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election and was national chairman for the Young Democrats of America college caucus. Niang is now the CEO of the Give1Project to encourage youth to become community leaders.
Although she had superior grades and performance in high school, Kayla Vinson had to convince school officials to allow her into advanced classes, where black students were a minority. Now a senior at Yale University, Vinson is focusing her research on black male students and hoping to pursue a career in reforming the education system, according to The Root.
The United States Student Association (USSA) called on students, union and community members today to participate in a national day of action to show legislators that there's widespread opposition to state and federal budget cuts to public education.
While proposed cuts to education have overwhelmed the nation, the organization called the day of demonstrations primarily in response to a recent vote by the House of Representatives to cut 16 percent of the total funding from the Department of Education.
Part of this resolution includes a 15 percent slash to Pell Grant funding, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates, by more than $800 for the neediest students. Over 9 million lower-income students currently receive the Pell Grant; those students come from families whose total annual income is around $20,000 and many of them can hardly sustain another blow without being forced to drop out of school.
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education credits the Pell Grant program as being the “cornerstone of African American higher education,” because nearly 50 percent of African-American undergraduate students use this funding to assist in tuition and living expenses. Minimizing this funding would be no small matter to the nearly 70 percent of African-Americans who don’t graduate from college and point to the high cost of tuition as the main reason.
“Being able to use this money for textbooks, transportation, child care, or other costs can make the difference between staying in and dropping out of school,” USSA President Lindsay McCluskey asserted.
The resolution also cuts $25 million from TRIO, a federal program that reduces barriers to higher education for underrepresented and disadvantaged youth, and it eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), a program to encourage access to postsecondary education by providing support to students with the lowest Expected Family Contribution.
The USSA asked demonstrators, while protesting against their own state’s public education budget cuts, to call their senators imploring them to vote against the Department of Education funding cut proposals.
While legislators across the nation are placing budget woes on the backs of students, it’s clear that this is not the prerogative of the American public. A Harris poll released mid-February found that 71 percent of Americans opposed cutting federal education spending. This was more than any other program except social security.
At the National Governors Association winter meeting, the group concluded that increasing college attainment rates is a crucial priority for economic competitiveness.
“In the future, more than two-thirds of jobs will require an advanced degree—whether it is a degree from a two-year community college, four-year university, technical program or other credential,” Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said. “We need to put the right policies in place to meet this workforce demand."
This article was originally published in the Harvard Crimson.
Protesters in 55 cities worldwide gathered for International Walk for Choice day on Saturday in response to a number of bills introduced in Congress which could de-fund the $317 million-Title X federal aid program, which funds organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest family planning organization.
In Boston, over 1,400 protesters rallied with signs, starting from five locations and converging in Boston Common in front of the statehouse. Harvard College and graduate students, including members of the Radcliffe Union of Students, Harvard Students for Choice, and International Women’s Rights Collective, walked with fellow students and community members to protest the House bills.
“The proposed bills will infringe upon the natural human rights of half the population in this country ... The right that all human beings have to control and care for their own bodies,” said Jessica Lockwood, one of the organizers and a representative of the International Socialist Organization, in an address to the crowd.
As part of their pro-life platform, Republicans introduced a number of bills in the past few weeks to restrict abortion services. The H.R.1 bill, passed by the House on Feb. 19, prohibits the appropriation of federal funding to “any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion.” H.R.3, H.R.217, and H.R.358, which have not yet been passed, place further restrictions on public funding of abortions, permanently limiting place further restrictions on public funding of abortions, permanently limiting the funding to only cases arising from rape and incest involving a female minor. The bills would also allow hospitals to refuse to provide training or to perform abortions.
None of the bills aimed at limiting government funding for abortion have passed the Senate, which is controlled by a Democratic majority.
“The government’s attack on [women’s right to choose abortion] is an attack on women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” said Akanksha Sharma ’14, who participated in the walk. “We need to stand up against this.”
Neil Peterman, a Harvard graduate student who was at the rally, said, “I think [the Republican] strategy has been that they can’t take away abortion rights, but they can make it as hard as possible [to acquire an abortion], especially for poor women, working women, and women of color.”
Congressional cuts in Planned Parenthood funding would affect over 4.7 million women, including more than 3 million women at or below the federal poverty line, according to Planned Parenthood’s website.
To raise awareness about this issue on campus, the Harvard College Democrats are working with Students for Choice on a campaign for reproductive justice and access to reproductive health care. Yesterday, they launched a Tumblr site (harvardstandswithpp.tumblr.com) where students can send in photos attached with the statement “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” to show their support.
“These cuts are about Planned Parenthood, not about balancing the budget,” said Harvard College Democrats Campaigns Director Katie R. Zavadski ’13. “What these cuts are harming are women’s access to pap smears, and [Sexually Transmitted Infection] tests. We don’t think that women’s lives should be part of a political game.”
“We hope to get people to submit pictures of themselves—with Harvard affiliation—to show, ‘I care about this,’ and that we are all standing together—both men and women,” said Leah Reis-Dennis ’13, a board member of Students for Choice who also walked on Saturday.
The president of Right to Life, Harvard’s undergraduate pro-life group, declined to be interviewed yesterday.
Image courtesy of Jessic C Salley / Harvard Crimson
The Nation spoke with Beth Huang, a University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate who has played a key role in organizing the student protests. Beth gave us the inside scoop on the fiery campus campaign that sparked and exploded, becoming one of the country’s loudest student activist movements in years. From couch-crashing Cornell students to manic Twitter accounts, here’s a look at how the youth are doing battle on behalf of labor.
Long before Wisconsin started blowing up, Beth was laying the groundwork. She’s an elected representative for the Associated Students of Madison, a devoted disciple of the student labor action coalition (affectionately nicknamed SLACKERS), and a card-carrying member of the College Democrats. But she laughed telling The Nation this is the first time she’s seen all three groups work together. “This issue is so huge it galvanized the student government into email spamming the entire 42,000 student population to come to the rallies and fight. The ASM never takes a stance on anything not related to students—especially not labor. That’s when I knew this was going to be huge.”
Beth first got wind of Walker’s radical plan on Thursday Feb 10, when the Teaching Assistants’ Association showed up late to the SLACKERS meeting and dropped the bomb. The students were shocked, but immediately began gearing up for battle. “There was a huge sense of urgency that first weekend,” Beth told the Nation. “The TAA’s office looked like a war room. We were bombarding people with calls—everyone we knew—every student club we could think of—friends and family across the state—setting up buses to ship in protesters—calling media to let them know we wouldn’t be going down without a fight.”
Students can be notoriously apathetic about labor issues, but 1,000 people turned out to the first campus rally on Monday Feb 14th—a number that has grown exponentially at every rally afterward. Beth said “I could hardly believe my eyes when I got halfway down State St. and saw this mass of students marching towards the Capitol after the rally. I’ve never seen that many protesters in Madison—ever—except in a movie I once saw about 1960’s Madison anti-war activism.”
Beth had a few theories on why students have become so active: “The politics are hitting so close to home. And by home, I mean our actual home. We are fiercely loyal to this school, and Governor Walker is coming after OUR teachers. Students are next in line to be attacked with the budget coming out. The future of Wisconsin is at stake whether we are students or workers or retirees. THAT’s why a lot of young people are fighting.”
The Wisconsin-Madison campus is humming with activity, and in every corner people are talking. Student leaders are inviting library-goers into 20 minute protest education ‘study-breaks’ in the café. Professors are holding class at the Capitol. Daily campus rallies are attended by thousands of people – some of whom have never cared about politics before. Twitter and Facebook home pages are brimming over with status updates about the latest news (“I can’t even count how many FB event invitations I’ve received to rallies and phone bank sessions and Capitol meet-ups,” says Beth). It appears that the initial mobilization by a few campus clubs has opened the floodgates on an avalanche of fresh student activism, among disparate and previously disconnected cells of individuals across the city and country.
“I’m housing Cornell students on my couch this week. Lots of people coming in from outside the city are just sleeping in the Capitol. We joke that we’re ‘sleeping in solidarity’ not ‘standing in solidarity.’ But it’s become a symbol of democracy -the people of Wisconsin have been able to make the Capitol our space, and we keep our space by sleeping in the Capitol.” Alongside students, sleep firefighters (‘It’s difficult for police to arrest firefighters,’ Beth notes). Ian’s Pizza down the street opened an online donation button, and funds to feed the Capitol demonstrators have poured in across the world – coming everywhere from China to Egypt.
Beth closed our interview with a promise: “I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 19 years now. My Dad chose to move here because he thought it was a good state to raise a family—a place that educates its people, makes sure that everyone is healthy and has access to healthcare, and that workers have rights. We won’t stand by while that is destroyed.”
Amid confusion regarding the proposed split of the University of Wisconsin at Madison from the UW System, a summary of the proposal to be included in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget was posted to the New Badger Partnership website Wednesday, reports the student-run Daily Cardinal. The proposal has compounded frustrations with Walker’s attempts to take away collective bargaining rights for public employees.
The New Badger Partnership website, which has tracked the university’s efforts to increase institutional flexibility—especially regarding setting tuition—posted a summary (PDF) of the proposed bill which would rebrand UW-Madison as a public authority, much like the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.
The document confirms there is legislation in place to separate the Madison campus from the UW System under a public authority model in Walker’s proposed 2011–13 budget bill. According to the summary, the institution would be governed by a twenty-one-member board of trustees, eleven of whom would be appointed by the governor and ten who would be elected by UW-Madison affiliates. This new board would set and manage tuition rates.
In addition, all of the institution’s assets and liabilities would be transferred to the newly established authority from the UW Board of Regents. The institution would remain public and continue to receive state funding, but as a “block grant”—which would allow the university to allocate public money as it sees fit.
The proposed bill has been denounced by many university officials who fear that the split will play out particularly poorly for many of the system’s satellite schools. In a letter to Walker and UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, UW System President Kevin Reilly and other officials wrote that “dismantling our public university structure is a consequential public policy decision that affects every UW campus, all 72 UW-Extension county offices, and every family who dreams of seeing their child earn a UW degree.”
This artcle was originally published in the Nation Associate newsletter.
This year’s Nation Student Writing Contest, the magazine's fifth annual, drew high school and college students from all over the country who felt called to share their stories of how budget cuts had impacted the quality of their education. The two first prizes were awarded to Amanda Lewan, writing about her struggle to attend college in Detroit, and Melissa Parnagian, a high school sophmore in Matawan, New Jersey.
Amanda Lewan didn’t expect to win with her entry. “I stumbled upon [the contest] online one day and I was just really inspired by the question,” she said. “I felt that there was a story to tell, especially where I was coming from, the area.” In 2009, the erstwhile “Motor City” was a wreck, with nearly 25 percent of its population unemployed. “I felt like I had something positive to say about [Detroit], too.” Amanda is currently tutoring students in composition and working on her bachelor’s degree. “I get a discount at my school now [Wayne State University], but at Michigan State I didn’t. And it’s pretty expensive to go to Michigan State.”
Although the financial pressures she faced as a student have eased somewhat, the precariousness of Amanda’s situation is compounded by the fact that both of her parents are employed by a school system that has undergone yearly budget cuts. Both of Amanda’s parents were born and raised in Detroit. “My parents just have the attitude that ‘Detroit’s always had problems, they’re never going to fix it,’” she said. “Maybe my generation’s more positive about it and wants to work to make it a better city. There are still some really good parts of Detroit, but it’s one of the cities in the whole country that’s having the toughest time recently.”
Amanda hopes the contest will continue to highlight student needs. “It really inspired me to write and share my story, even though my story was one of hardship,” she said. “I hope it was positive and inspirational, too, so that other people who are going through hard times can read that in a magazine and see that it’s not so bad and that they can get through their hard times.”
Melissa Parnagian, who hopes to attend Princeton University and is considering a career in journalism, had already written a letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and was poised to send it to him. “My parents—probably wisely—advised me not to,” she said. So she saved the letter. “When I saw the Nation Student Writing Contest, I thought it would be a perfect fit.”
She had not heard of the magazine prior to hearing about the contest. Ironically, the shortcomings of her school have led Melissa and her classmates to enhance their education outside of school. “The overall budget crisis made us all a little more interested in ‘local democracy.’ A lot of my peers shared the same feelings I had: that this was our future, our opportunities being debated, and we needed to do as much as we could to influence the outcome. As a result, we started learning about the school budget process.”
Melissa believes other young people can similarly benefit from becoming more involved in the political process that shapes their future. “People of voting age have a great responsibility, and I just want them to remember who their decisions affect. Especially in the case of a budget—or a governor who vows to cut it—what they decide can influence a whole generation,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to fight for the basic necessities of public education. There is a face behind every issue. On the whole, however, I am thankful for this experience: it’s taught me myriad of things about politics, compromise and the power of words.”