Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Students Respond to the UW Taskforce

Today the Wisconsin Legislature's "Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities" meets again in Madison.  In honor of that, I want to bring you some student perspectives on one of the prior task force meetings--the one that took place on February 8, and included presentations from the chancellors of UW-Madison and Milwaukee. I'm doing this because student voices are notably absent from these meetings-- students have not been given a chance to present (they will, for the first time, on May 9) and they do not serve on the task force.  A few have written letters or spoken publicly on the topic, but most have not.

Recently, students in my Introduction to Debates in Higher Education Policy course (EPS 518) were asked to view a legislative or regents hearing or meeting of their choosing and write a response paper.  Below, I provide some representative examples of their responses -- these are deliberately provided without attribution to the student (all are undergraduates) and are posted with their specific permission.  My intention is to simply allow the voices of students to emerge, as I think their comments and questions are critical to the discussion. If other students wish to share their considered opinions of hearings, please do send me your memos, and I'm happy to post thoughtful excerpts.

Student 1: "..The nature of the meeting itself...was self-congratulatory and generally insufficient in data. The meeting focused on individual knowledge and individual power, that is they spoke of their personal bailiwicks, which, while it makes sense for a panel of experts, was insufficient...though the panel brought up several reforms, these reforms were often self-serving, under-supported by data, and/or uncertain in their impact." 

Student 2: [Flexibilities were a primary topic of discussion at the hearing and yet] "there was an utter lack of understanding about what was being discussed...Despite the apparent knowledge gap about what flexibilities were, they were the main focus of discussion and seemed to be the only thing anyone believed could save the UW System money...What is perplexing about the deregulation rhetoric is that, according to Gary Rhoades, this behavior is...a trickle-down model of funding.  In exchange for deregulation and flexibilities, institutions receive less state support. This ends up privileging the elite institutions while creating problems for local institutions. However, it was chancellors of schools like UW-Oshkosh and Platteville who were calling for this deregulation..I cannot help but wonder why the chancellors of these schools would call for deregulation when it would mean less money from the state."

Student 3: "I was surprised at the small number of women on the task force-- just 3. I was disappointed at the lack of minority representation, but not surprised....[many spoke about the word 'product']  and the word 'product' is a difficult one, and its use underscores the different positions and value systems of the task force members. [Most] seemed to think that having a better education and a lower price were mutually exclusive things, and that one must be sacrificed for the other."

Student 4: "As a student, a major concern became evident at this meeting. Members of this task force have been charged with creating innovative solutions to the challenges facing the UW System, challenges that have arisen from a lack of funding. The majority of task force members, however, are not even close to specialists in higher education, let alone public higher education.  In fact these people who are supposed to be coming up with solutions are primarily business people who have spent most of their professional careers in the private sector.  [Thus] it is clear these are powerful voices denouncing the importance of public funding for various reasons."