Wisconsin shenanigans provide valuable lesson

Occasionally it’s important to stop and take heed of what’s going on around you before starting forward again. It is with this principle in mind that the recent events at the University of Wisconsin deserve some attention.

The recession left Wisconsin with a projected $1.1 billion budget deficit for the next two years. Like many states in its position, Wisconsin slashed the funding for higher education to balance the books. Initially this meant a $51 million cut, which the governor proposed and the university’s Board of Regents accepted as workable. Then things got a little crazy. Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature added an additional $20.3 million in cuts.

The Board of Regents responded by freezing admissions March 8. The regents complained they couldn’t ensure students a quality education with the new cuts, so they left a couple thousand would-be students hanging in limbo, drawing the media attention they probably intended. Not to be outdone, the House Republicans reacted to the regents’ stunt by cutting the university’s budget an additional $30 million. The Republicans admitted the cuts were in direct response to the university’s actions.

Rep. Robin G. Kreibach, R-Eau Claire, told reporters, “If they’re not admitting new freshmen, they don’t need an advertising budget.” It must be a real rush bluffing with other people’s money and even more so with their lives. Although, most people will never know because they find it as unconscionable as this editorial board does. Politicking is arguably necessary. But throwing around millions of dollars and toying with already stressed out and confused high school seniors’ lives is wrong.

The game ostensibly ended Friday when regents called for an end to the admissions freeze. The Wisconsin governor and state Democrats have promised the university it will get its needed funding. Yet although this hand is over, little is resolved because politicians have lost sight of what they’re funding. And comments by Rep. John Gard, R-Peshtigo and co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee that cut the university’s budget, prove it. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that kids had unfortunately been used and now that the freeze had been lifted, “It will help to basically take the students out of the cross-hairs.” Well, whose funding does he think he’s cutting? The regents aren’t going to take pay cuts. It’s the students who will be stuck with higher tuition and a lower quality education. The politicians are so busy politicking, they forgot it’s impossible to take students “out of the cross hairs” when cutting funding for higher education.

This is why university students everywhere must pay heed to this story. It’s important that politicians hear these words from students every day: “It’s my education. It’s my money. It’s my future.” Because when they hear it from regents and fellow politicians, all they see is another player anteing up.