To absolutely no one's surprise, Wisconsin Governor and GOP superstar (and potential 2016 presidential nominee) Scott Walker is at the forefront of another legislative war in Wisconsin. The center of the debate this time: his 2015-2017 executive budget plan.
The plan calls for a number of controversial ideas; it removes state funding from the Wisconsin State Parks system, expands state vouchers for private schools (through the use of taxpayer money) while also cutting $150 per student in aid to public schools and implements drug screening for those receiving unemployment benefits and food stamps, just to name a few of the measures. By far the most damning for the state, however, is what the budget has in store for the University of Wisconsin System.
The new budget also repeals the state law that establishes tenure for professors and instead leaves it up to the University system's Board of Regents--16 out of 18 of whom are appointed by the Governor--to decide if it is to be reinstated.
That's bad enough by itself, but the core of the budget battle rests on a proposal that calls for building a new, $200 million stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks while simultaneously cutting $300 million from the University system--13 percent of its state-supported budget--in one year, with tuition freezes in place.
Simply put, the only way the UW system will be able to meet this budget is by cutting programs, laying off professors and possibly closing campuses that are already struggling to make ends meet, though UW System President Ray Cross has said that campus closures are a last resort and are not yet being discussed by officials.
That said, program cuts and layoffs alone are bad enough for a university the size of the UW system's flagship school in Madison. Without enough professors, there won't be enough sections for students to take required classes in time meaning that a significant portion of students won't graduate on time, thus significantly devaluing their degrees. That alone deters students from wanting to come, which only further compounds UW's problem of already declining enrollment (and subsequent profit from tuition).
In short, the budget creates a massive brain drain on one of the most prestigious state schools in America, all under the guise of giving the system "more autonomy"--also known as an attempt to pseudo-privatize another public system.
But Walker supporters don't see it that way and argue that the governor has proven his loyalty to university students with the aforementioned tuition freezes. But this is an inherently problematic argument. Tuition freezes are important when it comes to trying to keep college education affordable for all, but they do not work without government support. Walker himself has also fired back at his critics, arguing that the professors just need to "start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work."
Being smart and not having a college degree are by no means mutually exclusive, but based on the above statement, you'd never know it. Faculty members at universities don't work only during the class times they teach--according to Cross, most UW professors work at least 50 to 60 hours a week on average. As Cross points out, tying pay to hours visibly working is totally ridiculous, and not just for professors: Wisconsin State Senators themselves are full-time employees, and are paid just over $50,000 a year, despite only visibly working 9 days on the floor last year. Obviously, they, just like professors, spend many hours doing work behind the scenes, but Walker apparently doesn't see a problem with their pay.
All of this comes on the tails of Walker's botched attempt to remove the UW mission statement, the "Wisconsin Idea." Planned for removal, among others, the phrase "Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth." Instead, he proposed to replace the text with a short clause: "to meet the state's workforce needs."
To a university outsider, changing the Wisconsin Idea may not seem like a huge deal, but its 111 year-old mission statement has distinguished the university system from others and been at the core of University functions since its development. And it makes sense--what university wouldn't want to have a commitment to the truth of all things in their mission statement? And yet Walker and his cronies apparently thought the truth isn't all that important (which actually isn't that surprising, if you look at his history).
After a wave of criticism and backlash, Walker later claimed the amendment was a "drafting error." However, memos from the Governor's office itself listing clear instructions on how to edit the mission statement show this was no simple "miscommunication," but rather a perfect example of how little the search for truth means to the most powerful member of Wisconsin's workforce himself.
Naturally, all of this has incensed university administrators and faculty members alike. And unfortunately for the rest of the country, Walker's master plan no longer restricts itself to state lines. The governor has seen outlandish popularity across the nation and recently had a strong showing in the CPAC straw poll, despite his complete and utter inability to answer straight questions--like whether President Obama is a Christian or loves America--and his total lack of knowledge of world affairs, which reared its head at CPAC when he boldly declared that he was prepared to take on ISIS despite not having any military background, foreign policy experience (or even a basic college degree, which is a somewhat reasonable excuse for ignorance as an 18 year old blogger, but not a governor, let alone a presidential candidate), stating, "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world." Walker later clarified that he was not trying to compare schoolteachers and other union members to terrorists, but instead was attempting to make a point about his "leadership."
The takeaway from this entire mess of a winter? Despite all the contrary evidence, Walker isn't entirely stupid--or at least, he's surrounded himself by people who have more sense than he does, and has come up lucky: Walker remains in power, after coming out on top in two general elections and surviving one failed recall attempt. The low voter turnout in these gubernatorial elections should send a very clear message to frustrated Wisconsinites, and now, it seems, America as a whole: If you feel strongly, angry letters, and mass protests aren't enough against the campaign finance machines. Unless you actually vote on Election Day, a 2016 featuring a President Walker is a very real, very frightening possibility.
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