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Students at the University of Wisconsin Superior held a series of protests this week concerning the school administration’s recent decision to suspend 25 academic programs. The protests included an online petition, sit ins, letter writing campaigns, and a community rally. “Basically what’s happening is students are taking back their right to a quality public education,” said Trudy Fredericks, administrative program assistant for the department of social inquiry, during a sit-in Tuesday morning. “As an alum of this campus, I was a first generation working-class student and non traditional student, and this place was the first place that ever validated me and allowed me to critically think and question things, to investigate ideas. They believed in me, and it was the first place I felt that my whole life, so it means a great deal.” Tuesday morning’s sit-in was attended by students, professors and faculty members holding signs and making solidarity pins. They sat on the second floor of Old Main, UWS’s administrative building, in between Chancellor Renée Watcher’s office and interim provost Jackie Weissenburger’s office. Both of whom walked by the protest but made no acknowledgement of it.
In the afternoon Monday students sat in the Yellow Jacket Union and encouraged others to write letters to be sent to representatives of the community and university. They generated over 200 letters on top of a petition circulating on change.org that as of this articles writing Tuesday has 5,100 digital signatures. “As a student we deserve to know what is happening to our University,” said Emily Koch, a junior who helped organize these protests. “As someone who was in the art therapy major, and know people in the art therapy major… people gone through years of education, have thousands of dollars in debt and our now being told they cant complete their program… it’s completely wrong what they’ve done.” Koch called the art therapy bachelors and graduate program something that brought her to UWS and made the university stick out. The only other university to get a masters degree for art therapy in Wisconsin is at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. There are no art therapy masters programs in Minnesota. In 2014, UWS cut 11 programs as a result of UW-System wide budget cuts. This program suspension, administrators said, are not related to budgetary concerns but are rather intended to help student make decisions on programs to major in. The programs have a history of low-enrollment and low completion rates according to Weissenburger. They have stated that there will be no layoff’s as a result of program suspensions. It’s not only students and professors upset with the suspensions. Tuesday evening, a community and alumni rally was held in the parking lot of Old Main. People were encouraged to speak to a crowd of others holding protest signs in hopes of being heard by their peers and by administrators as they left the building. Cole Maki, an alumni who majored international peace studies talked to the crowd about why this issue mattered to her. “I can definitely say as a first-gen college student, it’s not that the choices overwhelmed me, I was just at a point in my life where I wasn’t really sure what I wanted and I didn’t want to nail myself down. I spent probably more time than I needed to in school and I was alright with that because I wanted to grow and learn as a person and figure out what I wanted in this world and UWS helped me do that.”