Ideograph by Michael Wilson. Click to enlarge.
They stay at work late to grade our papers, they come to work early to open their offices to us, they’ve dedicated their lives to teaching us about the world we live in, and have spent countless hours guiding each and every one of us though our college careers. But as time progresses they are finding it more and more difficult to do the simple things in life like paying the bills, putting their own children through college and making ends meet.
“There are professors here whose kids are qualified for reduced school lunch fees,” said Andrew Felt, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point.
Reduced lunch fees is part of the National School Lunch Program, which aims to help children of lower income families afford lunch at school. This program is in danger of being removed from state funding.
Since the Walker budget cuts, faculty at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have seen on average about a 10 percent reduction in their take home pay. These reductions have been enacted in an increase in the cost of faculty benefits.
“Morale is quite low. We’ve endured five years now of no raises what-so-ever; for the past several we’ve had furloughs, which is essentially same work for less pay, and now have even greater reduction in take home pay,” Felt said.
“For potential new employees of UWSP, the benefits in particular were a selling point, but since the Wisconsin legislature significantly reduced contributions to faculty benefits, this is no longer the case.
According to a study done in June of 2010 by the University Workforce Commission, UWSP staff make less on average than their peers at other university systems around the nation. Here, professors make 20 percent less, lecturers make 23.68 percent less, and the list goes on.
These numbers were recorded before the Walker education budget cut.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the result of that will be. The faculty and staff are upset,” Felt said. “They are professionals, but they are also people.”
A high number of campus faculty members have left UWSP this year since the Walker cuts.
This year, we have had 13 faculty retirements, 12 faculty resignations, 10 academic staff retirements, and nine academic staff resignations,” Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Greg Summers said. “Not all of these are necessarily due to the budget cuts and political turmoil, but the numbers were unusually large at UWSP as well as across the state.”
But the faculty is putting up a fight. Three weeks ago, the constitution for the new faculty union, also known as the UW-Stevens Point Academic Recourse Council, was ratified. The group consists of a high early membership rate of around 30 percent of the employees on campus, and counting.
“It is in my opinion that the interest of the students and the interests of the faculty are both highly aligned. We all want high quality education and we all want it to be affordable to students but the idea that the money must come from the students for fair wages is incorrect,” said Felt. “The system is designed to get the faculty and students at odds.”
In generations past, it was the state’s responsibility to pay the majority of tuition costs for students; some 60 percent of costs were paid by the state, but now the state pays less than 25 percent of tuition while the students make up the difference.
“Every year the state has reduced its support for publicly funded higher education. People think the state pays for their education whereas they are actually paying a greater percentage than ever before,” Felt said.
Concerned students may also aid in the struggle.
“I think students can make a difference for faculty by staying involved politically, regardless of their beliefs or values,” Summers said.