Students protest UWS decision to suspend 25 programs

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Since University of Wisconsin-Superior administrators announced the suspension of 25 academic programs Oct. 31, students have attended meetings, launched a petition and voiced frustration over their lack of input in the decision.

Emily Koch, a junior art education major, held up a sign saying "You've robbed us" during last week's student forum to address the move.

"We've been holding signs since Friday. Tthe entire time, we don't put them down," she said.

Koch and junior Aime Peterson are among a loose coalition of students who planned a sit-in, letter-writing campaign and rally this week to protest the suspensions.

"We deserve to have a voice," Koch said. "This university says they're here for the students and that's their main priority, so why wouldn't they consult the students about something like this?"

For years, UWS political science professor Khalil "Haji" Dokhanchi has heard that teachers need to pay attention to their customers, the students. Yet they were blindsided.

"The media knew about this before the students knew about this," Koch said. "That just sends out the message that this decision is not something you have a choice about."

The programs were targeted based on low enrollment and the need to streamline offerings, according to a release from the university. The more choices students are given, the more overwhelmed they can get, according to Jackie Weissenburger, interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs for UWS.

That doesn't add up, students said.

"That's what attracts people to the school is the variety of classes," Peterson said. "And it's ironic what they said, 'Oh, there's too many choices for freshman.'"

Theater major Christopher Linder told those gathered for last week's forum that the Halloween email to students about the course suspensions felt like a breakup via text message.

"Imagine a hospital that only treated popular illnesses. Imagine a church that constantly changed its policies and documents to amass and maintain a large congregation. What is that?" Linder asked. "Is education supposed to be business as usual, because as far as I'm concerned this college experience is more about direction and guidance than it is jumping through hoops for a piece of paper to lock the rest of my life into a career path."

Faculty, too, said the suspensions came as a surprise.

Eric Edwards, chairman of the department of social inquiry, said there was talk during an August meeting about evaluating minors to see how many students graduate per year.

"Never in the discussion was there any talk of majors or talk of suspending anything," Edwards said. "When we learned that Halloween morning, that was all new to department chairs."

He said the move is something a for-profit university would make. Koch said it leaves many of her friends in a bind.

"I'm still upset about this because of the method it was delivered to the students by and by the fact that my friends, people I'm very close to are being told to A, switch majors or B, go to private school," she said. "Those are the options they're being left with and I think it's completely unfair and it's in contradiction with the university's mission statement."

About a dozen people staged a sit-in at Chancellor Renee Wachter's office Monday. That afternoon, a letter-writing campaign collected 200 hand-written letters that will be sent to legislators, city council members and UW-System officials. An online petition had gathered 5,353 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

"We've had so much support," Koch said. "People have anonymously donated money for stamps; people have been giving us food and resources; it's been amazing ... You see how much people deeply care."

Alumni, students, faculty and community members gathered Tuesday for a rally outside the campus' Old Main building. They said they're asking for reconsideration of the suspensions.

"The big thing is faculty, students and staff were not consulted about this," Edwards said. "So the people who should be determining what our students learn had no role in this whatsoever."

According to Jordan Milan, special assistant to the chancellor, about 5 percent of UWS students are in the programs being suspended. All students currently enrolled in suspended majors or minors will be allowed to graduate before the programs end.

In response to last week's student forum, administrators gave students a one-week window to enroll in the suspended programs. As of Wednesday afternoon, 13 students had declared either a suspended major or minor, according to Jordan Milan, special assistant to the chancellor.

There are no plans to rescind the decision to suspend the programs, administrators have stated.

Students plan to continue their activities.

"We're going to be on an ongoing battle with this," Peterson said.

If people believe this will die down in a few weeks, she said, they're mistaken.

"I'm hoping maybe by the next few weeks we have a whole website going to make sure that people are aware of what's happening."

Information is currently available on the Voices of UWS Facebook page.