Schumann discusses the ongoing concerns from UW faculty with the diminishing of tenure, the fact that appointees of college dropout Walker make up 16 of the 19 members of the UW Board of Regents, as well as other anti-UW moves by the Walker/WisGOP regime. This includes the state spending fewer dollars today on the UW System than it did when the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began 5 years ago, and Schumann points out that the lack of support from the Legislature and Board of Regents makes Madison and other UW schools have to pay more to hold onto the talent they have.
So, what’s the problem here? Is spending money to retain brainpower a bad thing? Obviously not. However, as long as tenure remains so weak in Wisconsin, the regents will have to keep doling out cash to stave off poachers if they want to remain a top research university.For example, UW-Madison has had to pay $9 million in addition salaries and benefits for faculty and staff to prevent quality from being poached away by other schools, and taking the $18 million in federal grants that faculty and staff have generated with it.
But how they’ll recruit new superstars to a university that can’t promise proper tenure to anyone remains a mystery. Make no mistake: If anyone thinks that these professors’ jobs are anything but gilded hollow husks of their former selves, they are deluded. (For their part, even many of the faculty who decided to stay told the [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel they were “still nervous about the flagship university’s future.”)
Schumann goes on to note the bigger concern that comes with budget cuts and politicization of what types of research a university should look into- heading down the road to the “Brawndo School of Medicine."
But the situation in Wisconsin is worse than your garden-variety corporatization. You might assume it’s no big deal for superstar researchers to be competed for, hired, and fired like executives—and for everyone else to “just get a better job” if they don’t like what they’ve got. That might be how it works at your job, if you are lucky enough to have one. I understand this impulse to look around at your own likely weak labor protections, and wonder why those obnoxious hoity-toity professors think they deserve better than you….We need to have academics at our public universities be rewarded, not just with proper pay and respect for the job they do, but also in having the freedom to study issues that may lead to inconvenient truths. But this goes along with the ALEC/Koch plan to reduce the concept of any kind of public good, and have a corporate-approved agenda that may not teach students very much about how things really work, but it will increase the influence of corporate doctrines, which is all those oligarchs really care about.
Wisconsin professors simply do not want research limited by the whims of 18 people appointed by a governor with an openly stated anti-education agenda. And you shouldn’t, either. Think university research doesn’t affect you? You’re wrong. Hundreds of technological and social advances that you depend upon have been made thanks to the research of some brainiac at some university somewhere: what kind of cities to plan; how (and where) to alleviate poverty and hunger; what kind of diseases to treat; what kind of drugs to invent (or make obsolete); what kind of bridges and roads to build (and where). If professors are not protected from disagreeing with the agenda of their “bosses”—whether that be Dow Chemical, Gov. Walker, or President Trump—the consequences will go far beyond one person’s paycheck.
For years, higher-ed watchers have been warning against the corporatization of the American university. Students as “customers.” Amenities over academics. Loan debt of $250,000 for a transcript full of courses whose A’s no longer mean anything. For the most part, these warnings have been met by dismissal, scorn, or glee. Will anything change now? What’s happening in Wisconsin is a worst-case scenario come to life, and $9 million will do nothing to stop the demise of the integrity of research produced there—and everywhere else, too, if we don’t start electing lawmakers who actually value research.
This denigration of Wisconsin’s great higher education system is why I will be tempted give a giant “FUCK YOU” to any ALEC-owned WisGOP politician this week who tweets out “Go Badgers” before Friday’s game with Notre Dame, because it is that Wrecking Crew that knocked UW-Madison out of the top 10 of another key ranking, the top public schools in America. And while Bucky’s hoops success gives some nice short-term goodwill (and a helluva thrill last night), it won’t do nearly as much for helping Wisconsin and society as the research, information, and technological advances that come out of the university that they represent. This is something they think in reverse in SEC-land and other backwards places in America, where universities are viewed as conduits for athletic programs, while academics is slighted and sold out to the higest bidders. It makes me very angry to see my alma mater trending in the same Idiocratic direction.
It's also a big reason why I bought tickets to see the new documentary "Starving the Beast" at the Wisconsin Film Festival next month. UW-Madison is one of several schools profiled as it takes a look at how ALEC, the Kochs, Wall Street bankers and other corporate interests are conspiring to degrade public education, and make the next generation beholden to their interests. It's an issue that needs to be hit, and hit hard, because in Wisconsin and in many other states, the promise of affordable, quality college education is quickly being taken away.