Dear Commons Community,
Governor Scott Walker was caught in a sly attempt to change the century old mission statement of the University of Wisconsin. Inserted into a budget bill was a change of the mission “to search for truth…to educate people and improve the human condition…to serve and stimulate society”. The language he substituted was to meet “the state’s workforce needs”. In a sense, Walker would reduce a great public university system to little more than a trade school. Walker, who has been elected and re-elected governor and is also seeking the Republican nomination for president, has been rebuked by just about everyone, Republicans and Democrats. His chances for the Republican nomination have just been undermined by his own deceit. Below is today’s New York Times editorial on the issue.
New York Times
Gov. Walker’s ‘Drafting Error”
The Editorial Board
February 7, 2015
It was not enough for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin suddenly to propose a destructive 13 percent cut in state support for the University of Wisconsin’s widely respected system. His biennial budget plan, released Tuesday, reached gratuitously into the university’s hallowed 111-year-old mission statement to delete a bedrock principle: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”
The budget — patently tailored for the governor’s conservative campaign for the Republican presidential nomination — inserted language that the university should be more narrowly concerned with meeting “the state’s work force needs.”
Brazenly deleted as well from the mission statement, which is nationally appreciated in education circles as the Wisconsin Idea, were the far from controversial goals “to educate people and improve the human condition” and “serve and stimulate society.” It was as if a trade school agenda were substituted for the idea of a university.
But Mr. Walker badly miscalculated — in the state at least, and perhaps even with the national constituency he is furiously courting in campaign trips and in his fund-raising. The citizens of Wisconsin, clearly more appreciative of the state university than is their governor, erupted through social media and news outlets, sending Mr. Walker into retreat a day later. His office attempted the ridiculous excuse that the pernicious editing of the university’s mission was simply “a drafting error” in the budget text and that the Wisconsin Idea would be left intact after all. But a December email showed clear instructions from the administration to make the deletions.
Mr. Walker came to national prominence four years ago with his attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts to curtail the benefits of state workers. His new budget doubles down on his recent complaints that university faculty and staff do not work hard enough, insisting that the 26-campus, 180,000-student system could absorb the $300 million state cut he proposed.
Even fellow Republican legislative leaders quickly shied away from the governor’s ideologically driven thrust at the university ethos. Even without the ridiculous changes to the mission statement, the Legislature must firmly resist Mr. Walker’s regressive budget, because it includes the university cut and a vaguely detailed plan to transfer university control to a “quasi-governmental” authority.
The budget also offers virtually no significant increase in public school funding while increasing voucher support for private and religious schools at taxpayers’ expense. It includes another shibboleth of the hard-right agenda — a requirement for drug testing of those seeking a variety of public benefits.
All of that may be red meat for conservative zealots in the caucus and on the presidential primary circuit. Yet it is hard to see such a clumsy attack on education going far with a general electorate concerned about their children’s chances in life. If nothing else, Mr. Walker is sharpening the debate within the Republican Party about whether it can win despite its own extremists.