A Brief History of Scott Walker’s War on Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced today his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. The Chronicle of Higher Education thought it appropriate to review Governor Walker’s “war” on the University of Wisconsin. Here are several excerpts:

“Since he was elected Wisconsin’s governor, in 2010, Scott Walker has been waging war against higher education…

As governor, he has earned a reputation for pushing controversial, conservative-minded reforms. Now, as he sets his sights on the White House, here’s a look back at how a few of his efforts to reshape higher education in Wisconsin have fared.

Attack on Collective Bargaining

Mr. Walker took office in January 2011. In February he announced a controversial “budget repair” bill, which, among other things, would strip public-college faculty and staff members of the collective-bargaining rights they won in 2009. Mr. Walker argued that the measure was crucial to plugging a big hole in the state budget.


Autonomy, at a Price

Mr. Walker was behind two proposals to grant public colleges autonomy from the state. First, shortly after he took office, the governor unveiled a plan to grant the Madison flagship autonomy from the larger system, and to lay the groundwork for the Milwaukee campus to do the same. The flagship’s leaders argued that the measure would give them much-needed flexibility (even though it would result in a cut of $250 million in state funds over two years), while system officials opposed it.

That proposal ultimately failed. ..Another version of the autonomy plan was unveiled by Mr. Walker last year. The proposal would have granted the entire system more autonomy from the state while dealing it a budget cut of $300 million over two years. Lawmakers rejected the plan in May, leaving the proposed budget cut intact (it has since been reduced to $250 million).

The ‘Wisconsin Idea’ in the Cross Hairs

One of the most vocal protests against Mr. Walker’s administration erupted in February, when it was revealed that a proposed version of the governor’s budget would strip the state’s revered Wisconsin Idea of its public-service mission. While news outlets turned up evidence that Mr. Walker’s administration had directed budget writers to replace the public-service mission with a focus on meeting “the state’s work-force needs,” the governor tweeted that the changes had been the result of a “drafting error,” which was subsequently corrected.

Mr. Walker, who attended Marquette University but left without a degree, has presided over another attack on a few cherished features of academe: tenure and shared governance. In May a state legislative committee voted to strip protections of tenure and shared governance from state law as part of the state-budget proposal. The Legislature approved the changes, much to the chagrin of faculty members and their advocates on University of Wisconsin system campuses. The system’s regents voted quickly to enshrine those protections in system policy, but faculty members have worried aloud whether that step would be enough to keep tenure intact.

The New Budget

Mr. Walker on Sunday signed the much-debated state budget, which sets in stone the two-year $250-million cut in the University of Wisconsin system and the removal of tenure protections from state statute. The chancellor of the system’s flagship, Rebecca M. Blank, had publicly asked Mr. Walker to exercise his broad veto powers to reverse the controversial tenure measures. He did not.

Walker is a long shot to win the Republican nomination and even a longer shot to win the presidency. In the meantime, he has done everything possible to destroy one of America’s great public higher education systems.



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