Save the Wisconsin Idea!

Dear Commons Community,

Christine Evans, an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has an op-ed piece  in the New York Times today, calling out Governor Scott Walker for his attack on the University of Wisconsin.   Earlier this year, Walker proposed a budget that would cut $300 million of funds to the University of Wisconsin system and shift power over tuition from the Legislature to a new public authority controlled by appointed regents. The initial draft of Mr. Walker’s budget bill also proposed to rewrite the university’s 110-year-old mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, deleting “the search for truth” and replacing it with language about meeting “the state’s work-force needs.”  Evans comments:

“[Walker’s] attack, surely meant to impress possible donors to the governor’s potential presidential campaign, squanders the inheritance of all Wisconsinites: an affordable, top-ranked university system that attracts students and scholars from around the world and is a major contributor to the state’s economy. Criticism prompted the governor to restore the Wisconsin Idea’s wording, but the budget cuts remained.

Mr. Walker’s action implies that Wisconsinites no longer share their parents’ and grandparents’ values. He suggests that a university system with a mission to “educate people and improve the human condition” is no longer a priority here. He is wrong.

Evans, who teaches history, also defends the importance of the humanities in a college education, and concludes:

“We should reject Mr. Walker’s claim that he knows best what the limits of Wisconsin students’ education should be. As my students understand, the humanities train critical thinkers and citizens. That may be inconvenient for politicians who see their constituents as merely a “work force,” but it is definitely good for our democracy, as well as our economy.

Students like mine are the ones who will be hurt most directly by Mr. Walker’s proposed changes. The experiences of the Wisconsin system and that of other state universities show that when state funding is cut, regents raise tuition sharply to compensate. Students pay more and get less. This has already happened in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal has implemented similarly drastic cuts to the public university system. During his time in office, tuition at public universities in the state has nearly doubled.

The Wisconsin Idea has been a national model for over a century. Mr. Walker’s assault on it is meant as a model, too — a guide for dismantling the public universities we’ve all inherited.”

Walker is considering a run for the Republican nomination for president.  He is not likely to win it but he is probably the leading candidate among the right-wing factions of the party.



Comments are closed.