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AFT-Wisconsin press release: UW System union members condemn funding cuts, attacks on academic freedom

For immediate release: May 29, 2015

Madison, WI: Responding to the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee’s expected vote to slash $250 million in UW System funding and remove legislative protections for academic freedom and shared governance, union members in the UW System condemned the funding cuts and called on System and campus administrations to protect academic freedom. “Today’s move by JFC Republicans to pay for Scott Walker’s tax breaks for his wealthy donors by slashing public education is shameful,” said Eleni Schirmer, a UW-Madison graduate student and co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, AFT local 3220. “These cuts will devastate a UW System that has already been cut to the bone and beyond in previous years. They will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs across the System, leading to fewer class offerings and increased class sizes, and will very likely impact the ability of current students to graduate on time. Moreover, since each UW System campus provides a huge economic boost in its community, these cuts will ensure that Wisconsin remains at the back of the pack when it comes to our economic recovery, with hurt that will be felt in communities from Superior to Milwaukee.” 

Richard Leson, an associate professor of art history at UW-Milwaukee and president of The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals, AFT local 3535, expressed concern about the move by JFC Republicans to remove crucial protections for academic freedom and shared governance from state law. “The UW System has a long, rich tradition of encouraging research and learning free from political pressure, serving as a model for the rest of the country,” said Leson. “Our strong history of academic freedom through faculty tenure has protected education in the UW System from political conflict and corruption for decades, ensuring that higher learning in Wisconsin can pursue the truth wherever it might lead. And shared governance has ensured that stakeholders on each campus have a meaningful voice in important campus decisions, protecting the voices of faculty, staff, and students.”

Leson called on UW System President Ray Cross, the Board of Regents, and campus administrations to fulfill promises to maintain academic freedom and shared governance regardless of their legislative status. “What happened today is a major blow to academic freedom by a group of wealthy and powerful politicians who seem to fear a population capable of critical thought. I cannot express how profoundly disappointed I am in the Republican membership of the Joint Finance Committee. Ray Cross has promised to resign as System President if our current standards of academic freedom and shared governance are not maintained, and I know that I and other union members across the UW System take him at his word on that,” said Leson, referring to a pledge made by Cross at a March 25 budget forum at UW-Milwaukee. “My fellow union members and I will continue to make our voices heard in the coming months to defend these important standards in the UW System. Our students’ education depends on it.”