Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wisconsin: Closed for Education, or, "Ancient Mating Habits of Whatever"

Things are kind of a clusterfuck in Wisconsin right now. 
Where am I? Kalispell.

On Tuesday last week, the Republican governor, who is also running for President in 2016, announced in his budget a $300 million dollar cut to the University of Wisconsin System, which employs 39,000 people and serves 180,000 students via 26 campuses statewide, plus an online program. Estimated economic impact is $15 billion annually, give or take. In exchange, the current state allocation is $1.2 billion--just 19% of total GPR funding statewide. This cut would bring state funding for the system to about $743 million, or 1998 levels if you're keeping score at home.

His budget altered Wisconsin State Statute 36.01(2) to get rid of the Wisconsin Idea. His budget added the words "to meet the state's workforce needs."  His budget cut the words "Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educated people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth." Then he backtracked and called it a "drafting error."

His budget proposes changes to tenure and shared governance in exchange for more "autonomy" at some future date. The tuition freeze will remain in place until 2017.

He thought this would be fine, as Wisconsin Assembly Speaker (and probable candidate for Governor) Robin Vos declared back in November, nobody really gives a shit about the "ancient mating habits of whatever." Just prior to dropping the budget bomb, Walker was on right-wing talk radio telling the host that professors need to "work more."

The cuts are an existential threat. The University of Wisconsin System will cease to exist as a world-class institution. The Chancellor of UW-Madison has said that should the cuts to Madison remain, they are the equivalent to laying off 1/3 of Madison's faculty, or 1,000 support staff. Imagine that.

These proposals have already affected every level of the UW System. At UW-Green Bay, all professional development has officially been shut down. In addition, their campus has banned all out-of-state travel. A world renowned scholar has pulled out of a UW-Madison job search over concerns about the viability of the UW System. If you are a scholar currently involved in a UW System search, do not pass go. GTFO. Take the interview, but don't take the job. You do not want to be here for this fight if you can help it. 

And for the rest of us, the smaller four-years and the two-year campuses, it could mean consolidating programs or closing campuses--actions which have been discussed behind closed doors by the Joint Finance Committee. It is not outside the realm of possibility that despite having tenure, I could be out of a job within the next two years, if not sooner. Our chancellor is addressing us on Monday. I am not hopeful.

The students and alumni are fighting back. Whatever you feel about them, there are several specific Facebook campaigns, including Save the Wisconsin Idea.  People are writing letters and contacting their legislators. I wrote mine, both of whom are Republican and campaigned on "fiscal responsibility," but have yet to hear back.

Even the Republicans in the legislature are not happy with having to support an unsupportable cut (plus borrowing $1.3 billion for roads instead of raising the gas and/or vehicle taxes), only to be left holding the bag when Walker leaves to campaign for President in earnest. 

"The boundaries of the University shall be the boundaries of the state." The Wisconsin Idea is over 100 years old, and with this budget, the Republican governor has declared war on the search for truth, and the idea that affordable access to higher education serves to improve the human condition. I'm a humanist, so praying for help doesn't really work for me. I'm just going to get up and go teach my classes as long as I have them. So it goes.


  1. Ugh. Just Ugh. I'm so sorry, B.C. I think many of us who teach in state systems can say "there but for the grace of God" --- and/or the current direction of the ever-shifting political winds -- "go I." And/or one can call Wisconsin the canary in the coal mine. The whole idea of greater institutional "autonomy" in exchange for less state funding (already a foregone conclusion) is definitely in the air in my state as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if that somehow translated into less protection for tenure/shared governance (not that we had a lot anyway; "right to work" states tend to be that way).

    For whatever it's worth, I'm seeing a good deal of outrage from fellow academics on my facebook feed. Some of them have some sort of Wisconsin affiliation (usually undergrad or grad degree), but not all do.

    Best wishes for hanging in there, and/or successfully getting out. I keep hoping maybe he's gone so far that the backlash will eventually get him, but I'm not holding my breath.

  2. I feel for you, Chrome. I have friends in the Wisconsin system and others who went there.

    Guys like Walker declared war on the search for truth and on any sort of common public good a long time ago. This is just one of the current battlegrounds. I remember seeing a cartoon a while back of a guy peering out of a fallout shelter and asking "Are the Assholes still in charge?" Apparently they are. What bugs me is that a large chunk of the general public (read: voters) actually support this kind of thing. Gotta get some *work* outta those lazy perfessers! Common good be damned.


  3. It makes me sad. I really enjoyed my phone interview (I have not gotten a call back yet) with a school in the UW system. I know I would love living there...

    I am sick of the lack of value politicians place on education!

  4. Charlie Pierce ranted:

    The forces for which Scott Walker is only the most recently popular front man are threatened by education, and by knowledge, so they use all the power they have to frighten people about new ways of looking at things, about fresh knowledge, about the process of education itself. They force a kind of mental surrender of the rights of the people to create and sustain a self-governing political commonwealth by convincing those people that anything done together, through the mechanisms of self-government, is a threat to personal, private liberties. You can see it in what Walker's trying to do to the University of Wisconsin, and you can see it to a smaller degree in the way that potential Republican presidential candidates have bamfoozled themselves on the subject of childhood vaccinations.

    Complete Pierce here:

    - Old Fart (UW) Prof

  5. Criminal, really, that some of the best state systems in the US are being trashed. Some of the best science in my field comes out of UW-Madison and its affiliates... I shudder to think of the scientific advances and knowledge lost (which, perversely cruel, we'll never know we ever lost...).

  6. Whenever I see "Eau Claire," I always think of some stud having sex with his girlfriend in the library stacks while moaning, "Oh, Claire.... Oh, Claire!"

  7. [also insert some thoughtful comment about politics and education here]

  8. Both my wife I and I applied for jobs in Wisconsin but turned down the offer/didn't get the job; praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster's noodly appendages that we didn't end up there.

  9. I was hoping you'd post here, Chrome. I don't mind coming out now even if I deny it later: This is my school. I mean, it was where I got my PhD, so it isn't my school anymore, but I am just sick to think of all the amazing experiences I had at UW. I lived in Madison for so long. Watching everything go down in the past four years has been heartbreaking.

    All my academic friends living there are looking for a way out. The older academics are crunching numbers to retire. All of these quality professors will be replaced with adjuncts, of this I am sure. UW-Madison's incredible achievements will be wiped out in a single generation and Wisconsin will suffer because of it. It is not common for a state school to be mentioned in the same breath as Ivies, but Wisconsin often was.


    Heart breaking.