Gov. Scott Walker and his aides assaulted the vision of the University of Wisconsin earlier this year, when they used the governor’s budget plan to try to eliminate Wisconsin Idea language outlining the UW’s public mission. Walker got caught and attempted to claim he had no idea what his administration was doing — a common response from our truth-bending governor — but he was tripped up by the official record and his own conflicting statements.
At the heart of the matter, however, is the reality that the governor wants to radically change how the University of Wisconsin operates: to make it more corporate, more exclusive and more likely to serve the interests of elites than students, faculty or the great mass of Wisconsinites. Essential to this project is Walker’s proposal to begin breaking the bond between the state of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin System.
The idea to radically remake the UW as a so-called public authority — with dramatically less state involvement and support for the system — is unpopular for a number of reasons, some good, some bad.
Progressives recognize, correctly, that decoupling the university system from state support would steer it more in the direction of big business — and, ultimately, make the UW a more exclusive institution. Even UW System President Ray Cross, who has allied himself with Walker on this issue, admits that the change would make the UW more “market-driven” — translation: more corporate.
Many conservatives, inclined as they are to top-down approaches, simply do not like to give up control.
But almost everyone recognizes what Walker is trying to remake the university system in a way that delinks it from Wisconsin, and a number of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have made it clear that they do not like what they see.
So the governor is scrambling, as the Legislature begins to focus on the budget debate, to keep his plan alive. Walker — who is in Europe this week on what he calls a “trade mission” but what is really an effort to beef up his foreign-policy credentials for a 2016 presidential run — has written the legislative Joint Finance Committee asking that it retain the proposal to remake the UW as a public authority.
The public authority scheme is a bad idea, in and of itself.
But it is made worse by the rush to implement it without adequate debate and safeguards for faculty, input from students, and principles of shared governance. Faculty and student groups do not want the proposal to proceed without serious study and a review of the economics.
Joint Finance Committee Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, has recognized those concerns and expressed his own opposition to a public authority scheme that has not been sufficiently considered by legislators and Wisconsinites, who treasure their great state university.
Scott Walker does not share the respect for the UW System that Wisconsinites of all backgrounds and ideologies do. But many legislators, Democrats and Republicans, maintain that respect. They should express it by rejecting the governor’s public authority scheme.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.