The Chronicle Analyzes Scott Walker’s Utilitarian View of Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured story (subscription required) today analyzing Governor Scott Walker’s “utilitarian” view of higher education.  Tracing his days as a student at Marquette University to the present, Eric Kelderman, the author of the article, reviews many of Walker’s controversial proposals for the University of Wisconsin. As an example:

“In the spring of 1990, Scott Walker, then a senior at Marquette University, decided to leave college before finishing his degree. A job in finance had opened up at the American Red Cross in Milwaukee, and Mr. Walker, now the governor of Wisconsin and a Republican candidate for president, leapt at the opportunity. “Certainly, I wanted an education for more than a job,” he has since said, “but my primary purpose was to get a job.”

It’s impossible not to consider that statement when regarding the governor’s recent gambits in higher-education policy.

In January, when Governor Walker released his proposed budget for the next two years, he put the finances and mission of Wisconsin’s university system front and center. He recommended granting the system autonomy from several state regulations, but as part of the deal, he proposed to cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin budget over two years while freezing tuition. In addition, he pushed to remove protections for tenure and shared governance from state law.

Those proposals set off a storm of controversy within the state and led to head-shaking from higher-education advocates across the country. With the cuts, Wisconsin became one of just a handful of states planning to reduce its spending on higher education. The plan for autonomy, which came with a high price, smelled too much like part of the governor’s privatization agenda, which had already made many observers in the state wary.

The kicker came when it was discovered that the Governor Walker’s budget proposal would have gutted the “Wisconsin Idea” — the university system’s mission statement, ensconced in state law, that had long been a point of pride in the state. The Wisconsin Idea sets the system’s goals to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.”

“Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition,” reads the state law. “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” The proposed budget sought to excise “knowledge,” “truth,” and “public service,” while adding a goal for the system to meet the state’s work-force needs.

Mr. Walker quickly backtracked on those changes, but the episode made the governor’s position seem clear: The value of a college degree, in his view, can be measured largely by the job that a graduate gets, and colleges are spending too much money and time on things that do not serve that mission.”

Kelderman concludes his article by speculating on whether Walker’s policies on higher education will play nationally as he seeks the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.  He quotes Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, as saying that “If you look at everyone who’s running for president, Governor Walker has very little crossover appeal.”

I agree, Governor Walker has enough financial backing to lock in his position in Wisconsin but not enough in a national election.



Comments are closed.