An Account from UW-Madison

Bascom Hall at University of Wisconsin-Madison (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The other day, I got the chance to catch up with a friend from high school who is now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My friend, Andrew, lives a 10-15 minute walk away from the state capital. Andrew considers himself a conservative, moderate Republican, so I was surprised to hear that he is not supportive of Governor Walker’s plan to heal the state’s deficit.

As Andrew told me, the real issue affecting UW-Madison undergrads is not the strain on professors, although he did voice concern that good professors would have less of an incentive to come to the school, potentially leading to a general decline in quality of education. Rather, as Andrew told me, the real problem lies in the effect on the school’s teaching assistants.

Indeed, UW-Madison employs some 1,700 TAs who play an extraordinarily important role at the school. Andrew has two TA-led classes, not to mention discussion sections of lecture classes where lessons are broken down and information is analyzed through TA-led seminars. According to Andrew, part of TA compensation includes tuition support by the school, a benefit that is jeopardized under Governor Walker s budget plan.

While I largely disagree with the protestors who have taken to the Wisconsin state capital, I can certainly appreciate the strain on financially strapped students who are supported by the school much more than I can of lunatic teachers who make annual incomes approaching six digits. Predictably, the TA response at the school has been similar to that of the teachers, with many TAs cancelling classes and staging a walk out. In addition to several of Andrew s classes being cancelled, one of his two TA-taught classes had to meet in a cafeteria in order for his TA to avoid detection by his colleagues engaged in a walk out.

Andrew had more to tell of the toxic atmosphere around campus. For one thing, protests at the state capital were loud enough to hear from his dormitory a mile away, not to mention those protesting on campus- apparently it is virtually impossible for him to walk to class without seeing vicious, vulgar signs held up by in-your-face protestors.

Furthermore, class cancelations have been more than common despite the many midterms scheduled throughout the week. Moreover, even with classes being held, attendance has been more or less optional, with professors more than happy to excuse students for protesting. According to Andrew, most students are more or less apathetic towards the political situation but are more than happy to capitalize on it for some time off.

–Adam I. W. Schwartzman