The University of Wisconsin: now with less truth seeking, more “workforce needs”

February 5, 2015 • 10:00 am

by Greg Mayer

The University of Wisconsin—including the great “public ivy” research campus in Madison, the second doctoral campus in Milwaukee, and eleven comprehensive baccalaureate-masters campuses around the state—has long been inspired by the “Wisconsin Idea“, the notion that higher education exists to serve the public, improve the human condition, and seek the truth. This idea was long ago enshrined by the legislature in the stated mission of the University. But no more. In his latest budget proposal, Governor Scott Walker proposes removing “public service”, improving the “human condition”, and “the search for truth” from the mission of the University, and to make the primary purpose of the University to be meeting “the state’s workforce needs”.

Here’s the proposal from Wisconsin Senate bill 21 (p. 546):

SECTION 1111. 36.01 (2) of the statutes is amended to read:

36.01 (2) The mission of the system is to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing develop in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose. 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.

Here is fearless “sifting and winnowing” in the search for truth proclaimed by the University’s Board of Regents in 1894:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.”

Although it’s enshrined in plaques on each UW campus, this slogan is to be abandoned in favor of what Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago long ago derided:

The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens. …

The present primacy of public relations in the management of universities, the view that they must ingratiate themselves with the public, and in particular with the most wealthy and influential portions of it, the doctrine that a university may properly frame its policies in order to get money and that it may properly teach or study whatever it can get financed — these notions are ruinous to a university in any rational conception of it. [From here and here (also this).]

The proposal even repeals the legislative finding that the University is established in the “public interest”, and replaces it with a grudging acquiescence to a constitutional mandate (p. 545):

SECTION 1110. 36.01 (1) of the statutes is amended to read:

36.01 (1) The legislature finds it in the public interest to provide In recognition of the constitutional obligation to provide by law for the establishment of a state university at or near the seat of state government, and for connecting with the same, from time to time, such colleges in different parts of the state as the interests of education may require, there is hereby created a state system of higher education…

You couldn’t make this stuff up.


94 thoughts on “The University of Wisconsin: now with less truth seeking, more “workforce needs”

  1. “It is to produce responsible citizens. …”

    Hasn’t it long ago failed in that mission, considering that irrational decision-making appears immune to education?

    1. Public schools were originally created to supply industry with workers who could read and do arithmetic.

      I have mixed feelings about this. I like the idea of liberal arts education, but I see lots of young people with degrees and no job prospects.

      My own kids are an interesting case. I did not steer them at all. My son dreamed of being an architect and fought for the right to remain in architecture school, even though the school knew that only a fraction of graduates would be able to work as architects. He did all his drawings in cad, even though the school preferred hand drawings. He was not loved by the school. But once out, he had a resume of cad renderings and was hired by a Manhattan firm.

      He didn’t like it and is now a stay-at home parent. When his younger sister started college, she considered following him. He advised her to major in building construction instead. She did, worked for ten years as a building trades cat herder, and now teaches at CUNY.

      Both kids majored in trades rather than liberal arts, but both are able to live in NYC and participate in that city’s cultural life. Not everybody can make a living seeking truth. Some people like the life of the mind, but have to have day jobs.

      1. Public universities, going back to Harvard and UVa, were founded on the principle of creating educated citizenry for the benefit of the republic (although the former was a little heavy on theology).

        Not everyone needs to be a truth seeker, nobody suggested that. But it is of great public good to have institutions that support those that do seek truth.

        I’m a UW Madison grad, MFA 1990 in studio art. Not a great degree for getting a job, but it translated into a successful career in journalism and then academia. I hate to see what Walker is doing. He is an ignorant man.

          1. I feel for you. I would really dislike living under Walker as a governor.

            I was a little skeptical about Mark Dayton* (really, just how effective and tenacious he would be); but he has vastly exceeded my expectations.

            (*I certainly would not have wanted to have Tom Emmer or Jeff Johnson (who?) instead!)

  2. Wisconsin is a depressing place to live these days. Scott Walker and his Republican supporters have effectively turned the state over to the Koch brothers. We really are being driven down toward Mississippi-of-the-North status, albeit with worse vaccination rates than that least-admired southern state.

    Minnesota looks ever more appealing.

    1. Yes. And Scott Walker is one of the Republican presidential candidates considered less actively insane (and therefore more electable) than the others.

      My son works at UWMadison. I’m been afraid lately to ask him how things are going.

      1. Mine works at UW-Milwaukee. Walker has been damaging the UW system as long as he’s been in office. He’s a college dropout with no respect for higher education and a religious zealot’s desire to destroy it.

        1. Yes. You know those pointy-headed, elitist, know-it-all educated people?! We don’t want to be like them, do we?

          Well, denigrating education is the surest way to destroy your culture, so maybe the GOP and the teabaggers will disappear up their own bungholes.

    2. The fascinating thing about one of the Koch Brothers (can’t remember if it was Beavis or Butthead) is that he claims to be progressive in his world-view, though what he expressed in the interview I saw was the usual libertarian freedom to be left alone kind of thing.

      And yet the price he’s willing to pay is billions of dollars boosting the very politicians who are gnawing away at our liberty and ability to compete globally. All for the sake of, it would seem, undermining action on climate change. Astonishing. In the long run, a billion dollars spent on renewable energy would likely have a greater return – but it’s all short-run; I’m sure they know they are only delaying the inevitable.


    3. I am happy to compare the economic status of (evil, “high-tax”) Minnesota with the “low-tax states around the US.

      The whole paradigm that cutting taxes will improve economic outcomes is bankrupt (if you’ll forgive the expression) in just the same way that “trickle down” economics has been shown to be false (for what it was promised to be: Remember “a rising tide lifts all boats”? Not so much).

      Welcome aboard to MN, GB! 🙂

      You do, however, have alcohol sales in grocery stores and alcohol sales on Sunday. Minnesota is a strange (but very nice) place.

      We don’t have the Democratic Party, we have the DFL (Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party).

      We don’t have the Republican Party, we have the Independent Republican Party (IR).

      1. The Sunday liquor restriction is kind of weird. My brother and his family live in Minneapolis so I understand how you need to think ahead if you want a glass of wine (or scotch) on Sunday.

        Still… if anyone seriously needed to understand the consequences of liberal/conservative political philosophy, the experiment has been run. Minnesota chose wisely. Wisconsin chose poorly.

        1. “understand the consequences of liberal/conservative political philosophy, the experiment has been run. Minnesota chose wisely. Wisconsin chose poorly.”

          Fully in agreement.

          I find Walker and his arrogant posing and sneering at state employees and his political opponents to be exceptionally odious. He is a despicable toad. Not that I have a strong opinion on it.

    1. Believe you hit it on the nail. Wisconsin is a troubled place as are more and more states in the Midwest. It’s too bad we do not have a vaccination for stupid because there is a hell of an epidemic.

    2. Or, “Expanding the Confederacy.”

      Don’t forget the increasing cry for a second American Revolution and assertion of Second Amendment Rights to set things straight.

      Presumably, New America will have thrown off the tyranny of knowing stuff not in the Bible and the burden of responsible citizenship participating in a Commonwealth.

  3. There is a growing confusion between what constitutes job training and what constitutes an education; for many, these terms are synonyms. And I think that’s the core problem here.

  4. Hey Walker, if you want to serve workforce needs, have the state pay UW tuition costs and fully fund public high schools. The workforce needs cheaper, better public education.

  5. I can’t help but suspect the broad onslaught on modernity is aimed at moving the so-called “Overton Window” (the actual theoretical one, not the Glen Beck version) so far to the right that reconstruction of the liberal project sounds like socialism to the unwashed. I don’t know that SB 21 will pass, or how much of it will make it onto the books, but the bottom line is once the original idealistic statue is gone it’s never coming back. Any legislator who tried in the future to do so would very quickly be marginalized and labeled a crackpot by the corporate media machine.

    1. Also, the resources required to restore common sense to reproductive health laws – close to 300 abortion-restricting bills, I believe, became state law over the past four or five years – and voting rights are just not there. I have no doubt the energy sector and the politicians in its thrall are fully aware of the value in repairing roads, bridges and the rest of our aging infrastructure – not to mention building new, as China is doing, which is a pipe dream apparently – but for now they are happy to capitalize on the perception that government “doesn’t work,” since the blame and outrage only falls on the opposition. Hmm. All of the credit and none of the blame – why, yes, the religious are a solid GOP constituency. Why do you ask? Are they used to thinking that way about their God or something?

      Likewise with the resultant screwing of the workers, the poors, the disableds, and the olds: their disenfranchisement has yet to amount to a rational movement to improve their lot, despite their amounting to half the US population.

      One has to marvel at the evil genius of it all, and the willingness of the 1% to eat their own seed corn to effect it.

      I remain optimistic that the March of technology augurs well for the human race, but that optimism is feeling ever more like unsubstantiated faith. The 1% might consider history, and remember that the tax rate on the wrong end of the torches and pitchforks is 100% … but they likely have a plan for that eventuality, too. They may yet “go Galt” on the rest of us, and call it liberty.

  6. Crooks and Liars reports that Walker failed in this:

    “The backlash was fast and furious and much more than what Walker expected, so much so that he appeared to back pedal from his proposal, calling it a “drafting error”.”

    I’m not hoding my breath. If I ever wanted to enjoy reading someone’s obituary (other than my sister’s), it would be Walker’s.

    1. It had already been known that when Scott Walker was to present his budget proposal, he would recommend cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system. He needed to do this to help cover the $2.2 billion shortfall he created.

      Shades of Kansas, which also inexplicably re-elected their governor.

    2. If I ever wanted to enjoy reading someone’s obituary (other than my sister’s), it would be Walker’s.

      Wow. I envy your capacity for bile! I can’t muster that much hate, and would shy from expressing it if I could. I have to settle for vicarious death-wishing!

      1. It is in the spirit of Clarence Darrow:

        “All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”

        — Clarence Darrow

        As for the situation with my sister, it goes to the time that she scheduled out mother’s funeral at a time when I was hospitalized instead of waiting a couple days until I could attend.

        1. Ugh. Now I’m looking forward to reading her obituary*, too!

          * – I don’t really mean that of course. Just trying the Darrow on for size.

          Full disclosure: I do have a mental list of people whose deaths I would not mourn one bit, and as the names have been crossed off there may even be a hint of joy but not a trace of guilt. It occurs to me that, since wishes have no impact on the real world, wishing someone dead is no less harmful than my passive list (which let’s be honest amounts to an unexpressed wish).

          Maybe I would find it cathartic to indulge. I feel inspired.

          You probably didn’t expect to change someone’s world-view with your little comment, but look what happens. And I had no choice but to react the way I have!

          1. Would it help your anticipation if you knew that she used her power of attorney to sign our parents’ house over to her ownership and she sold over 2,000 of my books that were stored in the attic? I won’t say any more here – not the place for it – but as with many families, there is a long, long list of grievances.

            I have a “reading list” of obituaries, and most of its occupants are teapublican politicians. I guest post on a bl*g called Mad Mike’s America, and use my reading list – and my sister – as a kind of running joke.

            1. Great! And, while upsetting, your story is all too familiar. Like you said, every family’s got their share of whatever you call that. Psychos? A-holes? It’s a bummer, and a double bummer that the death of parents and grandparents bring out peoples’ worst – like there isn’t already enough to be upset and stressed about.

            2. This gets harder as I get older. When I was a young whippersnapper, there would be politicians and TV people who I knew that at least I should eventually be rid of since I’d outlive them. Now no small number of them are younger than I am. Rats.

        1. That is a good one. I especially like the fact that he used “whence” instead of “from whence” (which is redundant).

        2. Context for Rev. Falwell: He used his broadcast to extoll the benefits of racial segregation and how the Brown V Board of Education decision was against God’s will.

      1. If I remember correctly, E.A. is practically a neighbor of mine. We’d probably recognized each other on the street.

        1. We’re across the river from you on Frederick Avenue, near Newberry Blvd. I was in grad school at UWM from ’75 to ’81. My wife and I met as TAs together. I have deep ties with the place, friends work there, as does my son. My dad was a professor there for many decades. It is criminal what the Republicans are doing to the system.

          1. Wow, you really do have very strong ties to Milwaukee! I’m sure it’s horribly frustrating to have Walker as governor. He’s such an arrogant little shit.

  7. The people of Wisconsin certainly had their 2nd chance to correct their first voting error and instead made the boner again. It was the pivotal move to bad times for that state. Meanwhile over here in Iowa we have Gov. Braindead who will apparently remain governor until he is dead.

    1. Excellently worded response.

      If anyone notices what I say here, they’ll know that for various reasons I subject myself to at least two hours of Fox News a day. Scott Walker is a real Republican darling, who in their eyes has “future president” written all over him.

      I haven’t liked him since they first brought him to my attention. Apart from the obvious policy flaws, I have seen too much pandering to believe he’s got the strength of character they believe he has. I see in him the same pattern as politicians whose careers end in a major scandal. He is untrustworthy beyond just his political affiliation imo.

      I find it telling that searching for the truth is a value he wants to remove from higher education.

      1. I subject myself to at least two hours of Fox News a day.

        Isn’t that the same as two hours of a dentist drilling your teeth without novacane?

        60 seconds of Faux Noise is more than I can take.

        1. I can’t stand it either but you should listen once in a while. Otherwise you risk just doing your reinforcing of your views without actually knowing what you are against. It’s people listening to only the views that they already agree with that cause much problems in the political world.

  8. The drill presses , drop-hammers and welding torches are scheduled to be installed in what remains of the philosophy department by the end of the month.

    the University is supposed to be small metal bracket and hinge independent by 2020.

    1. …welding torches…

      That is so high tech. They need to use a coal stove.


      Until the end of the 19th century, the only welding process was forge welding, which blacksmiths had used for centuries to join iron and steel by heating and hammering.

      Hence the expression: go pound sand. 🙂

    2. I am a bit curious why labor is idealized in the abstract but despised in the particular.

      Why is making things repugnant?

      I do understand that assembly line work is unpleasant, but most of life for most humans has been even more unpleasant.

      I’m betting that most of the people posting here have computers and smart phones assembled in China under the most appalling conditions.

      1. I think there is honor in making a living, no matter how it is made. Not every person has the intellectual wherewithal to become PCC or even do the kind of office work I do. But my neighbor is a carpenter and when my fence needed repair, I’m way too stupid to do that. He helped me. I’m not better than he is, I’m just differently skilled.

        Our society has demeaned hard work and celebrated the easy life for a long time though. I don’t believe it’s a recent phenomenon. Unions had to fight for everything they got, often with their own blood and Upton Sinclair wrote more than a century ago about appalling working conditions.

        1. I understand the desire to improve working conditions. What I don’t understand is the classism implied in some of these posts.

          The life of man is brutal and short. This has been ameliorated by the combination of thinking and working. Most of our luxury — including the ability to chat online — is due to technology and mass production. In fact, most of the research tools valued by pure scientists are available and affordable because of technology and mass production.

          Assembly line work can be hell, and I have no problem with trying to improve working conditions, but I do not like the implication that there is no value in working for industry. I also am reluctant to advise young people to undertake massive debt without prospects for a job that can allow them to repay it.

  9. First they destroy the universities, then they burn books. After that, they burn people. I simply cannot understand this fear and hatred of knowledge.

  10. “The mission of the system is to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs,”

    Translation: train the lower classes to do work that will support the lifestyles of the ultra-rich. “We need you to change the tires on our motor homes and service our private jets.”

  11. Walker is owned by the Koch brothers and does their bidding, simple as that. Has anyone seen the interview with Martha Raddatz about how he would deal with ISIS? He’s a very dangerous fool, and many American’s are just foolish enough to think he has “big and bold ideas”. You want to see a dying American middle class get the proverbial stake in the heart- then elect Walker as President.

    1. In my comments and postings, I frequently refer to him as “Scott Walker: A wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.” I live in a very liberal neighborhood (my voting ward has never recorded more than 158 votes for a Republican candidate with one exception).In the last election, a neighborhood group distributed “Kick The Kochsucker Out” signs.

  12. I’m all for providing the necessary skills to make it in the workforce, but to go so far as to emphasize “the needs of the state’s workforce” and actually purge the mission of loftier goals just sounds Orwellian, or Gorgonian if you will.

    1. He’s setting up one in opposition to the other, which is wrong-headed and stupid. A healthy economy needs both, and for each to appreciate the other.

  13. At least he is honest about what he is doing. A similar sentiment is present if not as overt in many university ‘reforms’ internationally

  14. In a poll of Republicans here in Iowa Walker came in a narrow first for favorite, but first place it was. Today I see the Republicans boosting Senator Joni Ernst (R-MN)(who has been on the job all of a few weeks) for president. Her campaign was built of castrating hogs and being so poor she had to wear bread bags on her feet to keep her shoes dry. She went to Washington “to cut pork.” A fine companion for Walker.

  15. I am not averse to the change as I work in the private sector myself. I’m sure mutual-fund-kids can still find schools for non-marketable degrees (art history, humanities,etc.) since they won’t need gainful employment ever, and for others that want to work only within the confines of the ivory tower of academia, but for the majority of college kids, a “workforce” degree is much better. Heck, I say we just convert most universities into “vocational schools”.

    1. Why not just convert people into Borg-like drones (we could change the designation from “University” or “College” to “Assimilation Center”)? I thought people are supposed to have the freedom to choose, even if their choices are ones we do not agree with. What the wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch industries is suggesting is a training network for serfs.

  16. Slimy little Scotty Walker has surged in the polls to front runner for the GOP presidential nomination–taking on those eggheads at the UofW can’t but help burnish his street creds in the fact-free universe of the conservative base. Crack the whip on those lazy professors so they can turn out more cogs for the military-industrial complex!

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