Scott Walker: Messing Up Wisconsin Only the Beginning


The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the flagship school of the University of Wisconsin system, was founded in 1848 and became a land grant institution in 1866. It is among the highest-ranked American universities, public or private, as well as being one of the leading research universities in the country. The Madison campus is one of the most attractive large university campuses in the country, with newer buildings seamlessly integrated with the Greco-Roman style of past years. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been called a “public ivy” — one of a small group of state schools than can be ranked alongside of the traditional eight schools of the Ivy League.

And then came Scott Walker.

Scott Walker’s prior career in the Wisconsin State Assembly and as Milwaukee County Executive seemed to classify him as generic Republican – tougher jail sentences, fewer services, and no tax increases. According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2/28/15), “... he was more conservative than 86% of the roughly 7,400 state lawmakers in the nation during his final year in the Assembly...”

Although the Journal Sentinel said that Walker’s ideology as a member of the state legislature was consistent with his recent actions, it was not until he became governor that Scott Walker came into his own. There, he immediately attacked unions, cut funds for education and rejected the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Most recently he has gone after the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the flagship school of the state university. Aside from massive cuts to the university budget, Gov. Walker has attacked granting of tenure to faculty members and brought control of faculty positions under a board that he appoints. Tenure, a contract given to teachers, has never been, as is sometimes represented, a lifetime appointment, but it has meant that a tenured professor was difficult to fire. In contrast, the new Wisconsin rules permit firing a professor “when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.” Redirection is likely to be a shift from left to right. The decision will be made by a board of 18 regents, 16 of whom are appointed by the governor.

In Gov. Walker’s world, the only people worthy of job security are Republican politicos, and even they serve at the whim of the Koch brothers. The underlying concept of tenure was to permit faculty to teach and research controversial subjects. This may be significant because Gov. Walker signed a “no climate tax” pledge promising not to support any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change and has been a keynote speaker at the Heartland Institute, which denies any human role in global warming. As for evolution, in an interview with Megan Kelly of Fox News, Gov. Walker said, “I think God created the Earth. I think science and my faith aren’t incompatible.” Gov. Walker does not, apparently, believe in recycling.

Other changes would weaken the faculty’s role in making personnel and policy decisions. Gov. Walker also redrafted the University’s mission statement. According to the Washington Post, “Gone is talk of cooperation with other institutions in favor of a focus on the state itself. No more educating people and improving the human condition; instead, the goal is to get workers out the door.”

This has been met with an exodus of faculty members. Senior faculty are being poached by other institutions, and taking their research grants with them. One such professor wrote to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Essentially, the political support (not just financial) for higher education in Wisconsin had been so eroded ... and antipathy toward public employees so heightened ... that being a professor in Wisconsin became much less appealing.”

According to the Greater Wisconsin Committee,”Scott Walker cut public school funding more per student than any governor in America.” These cuts to school districts were partially offset by making teachers pay more for their pensions and health insurance which reduced their take-home pay.

In the Spring 2015 issue of American Prospect, Ann Markusen offered a comparison of Minnesota, where Democrats rule, and the conservative administration of Scott Walker. Minnesota, which has raised the minimum wage, encouraged unions and developed environmental resources, has out performed Wisconsin in every economic measure. On July 13, 2015, Gov. Walker announced that he was running for the Republican nomination for President. A section of his speech was devoted to explaining how to buy a shirt at Kohl’s really cheap. Scott Walker, in his treatment of a great university or how to buy an (imported) t-shirt (buy 1 get one half-off) has exemplified the aphorism “he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2015

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