UW-Whitewater faculty walking 43 miles to deliver message to Capitol

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Kevin Hoffman
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
— Opposing Gov. Scott Walker’s budget is one thing.

Walking 43 miles across three counties to deliver that message to the Capitol steps is something different.

A small group of UW-Whitewater faculty members on Thursday will leave campus for Madison, carrying a letter outlining their stance on Walker’s proposal to cut millions in funding to universities across the state.

Faculty last week showed strong support for the letter during its spring meeting, expressing displeasure with the budget repair bill and proposed changes to the UW System that include breaking off UW-Madison into its own entity.

Staff at UW-Whitewater argue they lost contracted pay raises well before Walker announced $250 million in cuts to the UW System. The budget repair bill could take an additional 7 to 10 percent out of their salaries, even though professors at Wisconsin campuses earn up to 21 percent less than those at comparable universities in other states, faculty wrote.

“We want this message to be heeded and listened to,” said James Hartwick, one of three professors making the walk. “This is designed to bring attention to what we consider moral issues.”

Hartwick said it’s a moral issue when government drives up the cost of higher education, forcing students to take out bigger loans.

The best way to make that point, he said, is delivering the faculty’s letter straight to the Capitol, just as messengers have done throughout history with important information.

Faculty members plan to leave Hyer Hall at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and close to nine hours through Fort Atkinson before arriving in Cambridge. They’ll continue from there the next day, making a 20.6-mile trek to Madison East High School.

The last leg of the journey, a 2.2-mile walk up East Washington Avenue in Madison, will be made Saturday. Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, have agreed to receive the letter at the Capitol.

“Effective lawmakers open their ears more than they open their mouths—and in the past month, I’ve listened to so many constituents with concerns over Gov. Walker’s budget plan,” Jorgensen said in a statement.

“I commend UW-Whitewater educators—many who live in my Assembly district—for taking the time to make their voices heard, too. I look forward to meeting with them Saturday to find out what they think can be done to protect Wisconsin colleges and universities and to working with them as we move forward in the legislative process.”

UW-Whitewater faculty members said they’re also standing up for students, who they believe will be subject to significant tuition hikes in the coming years.

Hartwick said Walker’s budget would lead to a severe “brain drain” on Wisconsin’s education system. The cuts against teachers and universities will force out high-quality educators, while student costs will continue to climb, he said.

Eric Compas, a geology and geography professor also making the three-day trip, said the journey from Whitewater to Madison is a way to give his students a voice. He already has heard from students who have maxed out their loans, and they still might not be able to afford to come back next year.

Compas referenced national reports that show tuition costs nationally have increased four times the rate of inflation over the last decade, and the average student debt has more than doubled to about $22,000.

“Most of what we’re looking at with the budget is the cuts to the university and increase in tuition,” Compas said. “As that discussion heats up, we’re hoping to have a seat at the table and be a voice.”

UW-Whitewater is on spring break this week, but Hartwick said several faculty members supported the idea to personally deliver the message. He’s expecting as many as 30 people to join the group for the final walk Saturday in Madison.

Last updated: 4:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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