UWSP students march fight back against proposed academic changes

By Rose McBride, WJFW News

STEVENS POINT - Dozens of students at UW Stevens Point marched through campus Wednesday to protest changes to their education.

Earlier this month the university released a proposal to cut 13 humanities majors at the school.

Students wanted to let administrators know that they don't like this proposal.

Hannah Juza didn't attend UW Stevens Point to find a career.

"Studying something in the humanities like English allowed me to develop interpersonal skills that I never had before," said Juza, a 2014 UWSP alumnus.

She attended the university to find out more about herself.

"Through studying English and creative writing I was able to find a way to channel my emotions into something productive," said Juza.

But now, she worries that other students like her won't have that opportunity.

"It was really hard to take that this would be taken away from this campus and this community," said Olivia De Valk, a senior studying English.

So students like Valk decided to do something about it.

Wednesday students, faculty, and community members marched to protest the changes.

"Students need to express that we don't like this current proposal and this isn't going to work for us," said De Valk.

Along the way they chanted, and then sat in silence for 13 minutes.

Thirteen minutes represented the 13 majors that the university proposed be cut.

The university's chancellor, Bernie Patterson, attended the demonstration. But he believes the conversation needs to be changed.

"We need to separate the issue of having a major in an area from providing a solid foundation in the liberal arts," said Patterson.

Patterson said the liberal arts classes aren't going anywhere. Students will still be able to, even be encouraged to, develop communication and critical thinking skills.

Still, the switched emphasis on majors with direct lines to a career after college worry people like Juza. She fears the school's focus will change, for the worse.

"We're losing sight of what a liberal arts school is and what humanities degrees mean," said Juza.

The proposal to cut programs comes from a budget deficit at the university.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Gronik attended the demonstration Wednesday. He says eliminating majors isn't the answer to a budget problem.

"We have to make sure we're properly funding our university system, that we're actually building on the strengths of something that has always been an economic engine of our state, that we're defining an effective way to bring education and businesses together," said Gronik.

The university says cutting the programs will be an economic benefit to the university. But Representative Katrina Shankland (D - Stevens Point) says it will actually create an economic problem for northcentral Wisconsin.

"I worry that if they cut majors that fewer people will come to this campus and they will go to La Crosse and Green Bay and Eau Claire and Madison at a time when we have a workforce shortage and we really need people to stay here after they graduate," said Shankland.

Shankland wants to see the proposal retooled in a way that doesn't just eliminate the humanities majors. Patterson says he will work with students and staff to listen to what they want moving forward.