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UWS protesters remain visible

Protesters stand outside of the Yellowjacket Union on Saturday evening in Superior. (Maria Lockwood)

About 20 protesters dressed in Halloween costumes stood in front of the Yellowjacket Union on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus Saturday to address recent program suspensions.

Alumni attending the Chancellor's Ball were greeted with a smile and a bowl of treats as they walked toward the door.

"Thank you for supporting UWS students!" the paper attached to each candy said. "Please ask Chancellor Wachter to reconsider the program suspensions at UWS. More choices for students, not fewer, is what makes UWS great."

Many of those who walked by took candy, some took solidarity pins. Others spoke out in support of the students.

Deb Lucci, a former art teacher and registered nurse, was concerned the art therapy master's degree was one of 25 academic programs suspended by administrators Halloween day.

"It's a very valid program, and the fact that discussion wasn't done is something that the university should rethink, big time," Lucci said.

Elsie and Ron Hicks attended UWS when tuition was $36 a semester, including books. Their three children also graduated from UWS.

"I've been reading about these cuts and I just think it's very sad that they have to do that," Elsie Hicks said. "I don't think they should make these cuts."

Former city councilor Ed Anderson questioned if the impetus for the cuts was originating in southern Wisconsin.

"I don't think the people in southern Wisconsin realize how much area UWS covers," Anderson said. "There's a lot of things that this university has done in supporting northern Wisconsin, and I don't think it does anybody any good to diminish anything at this university."

Since the suspensions were announced, students have staged sit-ins, written letters and held protests. Student representatives have gone in to speak to administrators.

"The message has been no, nothing's going to change, but we don't really believe that," said junior Emily Koch, one of the student organizers. "We think that with the right amount of push we can at least put it back on the discussion table."

The group aims to remain visible and keep the issue in the public spotlight.

"I'd like to say that we're peacefully protesting, we're not angry, we're not trying to be hateful, we're just trying to spread the word and create a community in the most respectful way possible," Koch said.

Calls to Chancellor Renee Wachter and Interim Provost Jacalyn Weissenburger were not returned by press time.

UWS leaders told Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Danielle Kaeding in November that the suspensions weren't driven by budget cuts. They said they're trying to eliminate poor-performing majors and minors, and that administration is responding, in part, to the state's plan to tie new UW System funding to how institutions perform on things such as student access and success.

Faculty, students and alumni have expressed outrage over the suspensions, which they say was made with little or no input from those affected.

Suspended programs have a five-year window in which they could be restored if prospective students showed substantial interest in those programs, the university has said. The 25 programs include nine majors, 15 minors and the arts therapy graduate program. Students enrolled in the affected majors and minors will be able to complete their degree.

For more information on upcoming events protesting the suspensions, visit the Voice of UWS Facebook page.

Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Danielle Kaeding contributed to this report.