Welcome back to another year at UW-Stevens Point, I hope you all had a relaxing and fulfilling summer and are ready for another great year at UW-Stevens Point. As I was getting ready for classes this semester, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am to be a Pointer. In such contentious times politically and socially, we are lucky to be where we are at.
Public higher education internationally is in crisis, and we are not exempt from the problem, but I like to think that, at least for the time being, we have it a little better here. It is dangerous to become too content with what is in reality a national trend of degradation of quality higher education. This will lead to complacency, and while we do receive a great education, we must all commit to acting in a way that ensures this the standard of quality is the level of standard that is offered long after we receive our diplomas and enter the workforce (with an average burden of $25,000 in student loan debt).
In Quebec, provincial leadership last spring announced tuition would increase 75%. In Chile over the past year and a half, police officers and the military are ordered to attack students who are asking their government officials to reconsider classifying education, both secondary and higher, as a consumer good. At the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the Board of Visitors (similar to the UW’s Board of Regents) made an attempt behind closed doors to unilaterally fire the university president who resisted attempts to privatize the university. Public higher education, internationally, is in crisis.
We as students recognize the importance of an accessible, affordable, and quality public higher education, but as state and federal funds for higher education are continuously and systematically deprioritized and dismantled, we must remember to advocate for ourselves. In Chile a few days ago, 150,000 students marched on their nation’s capital for what is guaranteed to us as students in Wisconsin in our state’s laws. At UWSP we are not exempt from these problems facing our education and our future, but we are in a position of power to do something about that.
You as a student are guaranteed by state law and equal seat in matters pertaining to institutional governance. You as a student are guaranteed the primary formulation of policy development for all things concerning student life services and interests. You as a student are guaranteed the right and responsibility to dispose student fees to pay for those things, which at a campus of 9,200 totals around $12 million. You as a student are guaranteed the right to organize as you determine. Such organization is manifested in our Student Government Association, and the nearly 200 student organizations that you form and you pay for. You have power; that is codified in state law, but with great power comes great responsibility.
Living in 2012, we are familiar with societal contention, and as we get closer to a Presidential election, we are seeing more and more student issues in the spotlight. Student loan debt in the last year surpassed two significant milestones. First, total student loan debt surpassed that of total credit card debt. Second, it surpassed the one trillion dollar mark. It is unacceptable that each student in the United States graduates with an estimated $25,000 in student loan debt, burdening prospective job hunters in an already dismal economy. We are forced to take out more and more loans to pay for our rising cost of tuition.
Going a University of Wisconsin institution, we are lead to believe that this is a public institution of higher learning, but after decades of de-prioritization in the state budget, only 17% of our university’s total budget comes from the state. The rest, for the most part, comes from tuition dollars. I am the 83%. In order to continue to have access to the same quality of education that is the tradition of UW-Stevens Point, there is no way we can continue without support from the state. Failure to restore funds from the state will result in the death of public higher education. As state and federal support shrinks, so opens the door for the privatization of public higher education.
Furthermore, we must realize that this is not simply a Democrat- Republican issue. Former Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, cut the UW System $250 million in his last biennial state budget. Current Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, cut the UW System $250 million in his last biennial state budget. Education ought not to be a political issue, and as we the students, who comprise many generations who are all trying to better ourselves, become more disenfranchised by the deadlock and disagreement, must remember this.
I do not need to remind you how much is at stake in the upcoming Presidential election this November. What I do need to remind you of is the importance of the student vote, of one vote, of your vote. We pride ourselves on being a free and just nation, but as ‘Voter ID’ laws continue to be introduced across the nation, including Wisconsin, we are witnessing the legislation of voter suppression. Such laws have been introduced to restrict access to the polls and to targeted underrepresented communities and make it harder for them to vote. Students are among those targeted. Fight back. Vote.
With so much at stake we must take the time to recognize and be thankful for the power we do have to sway the discourse this nation is engaged in. Step up and exercise that power, but remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Work with the many professors, staff, and administration here, they are facing many of the same issues and then some. We must act together, and when necessary we must fight together. It is our responsibility to keep the tradition of the Wisconsin Idea alive, and to affirm that UW-Stevens Point is a public institution of higher learning, not a business. I’m a student, not a customer.
Seth T. Hoffmeister
(Former) President Student Government Association