Friday, March 11, 2016

Wisconsin GOP, Board of Regents promote "Idiocracy, UW style"

In between the headlines of more lagging job growth and an underqualified Supreme Court Justice who can't stay faithful to either judicial ethics, common decency or her marital vows, there was another big story out of Madison this week. And it was another example of how the state of Wisconsin seems to be regressing by the day.

The UW Board of Regents approved new measures yesterday which greatly diminished faculty tenure protections, and allowed for Regents to decide to terminate staff and/or programs that they deemed lesser priorities. Don Moynihan is a UW Professor and Chair of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, and he was tweet-reporting the UW Board of Regents meeting where the “new tenure” policies were set up. Among the justifications for this new system was this blabbering from two (Scott Walker-appointed) Regents

The insinuation that professors and researchers are “widgets” is a vile view of workers, and the comment of “markets are cruel” somehow ignores that well-qualified faculty members can also take advantage of supply and demand for what they provide. More concerning is that these statements indicate a fundamental lack of understanding out in right-wing world of what it takes to compete at the higher levels of the workforce. Human capital is a scarce resource that must be treated with the utmost respect, and cultivated to improve the chances of succeeding. Maybe this is a concept that eludes the typically mediocre Republican, but people with TALENT can often choose to take that talent somewhere else where they feel they can be paid and treated better.

But doesn’t that sum up the entire failed philosophy of Wisconsin economic policy in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, as indicated by our “last in the Midwest” standing for jobs over the last 4 years? Instead of investing in resources that improves the talent base and encouraging 21st Century social policies that increase the quality of life to attract more talent to come here, the Fitzwalkerstanis have run the other way.

1. They have diminished the value of a faculty position at the UW by taking away the protection of tenure. They also diminished the ability of the UW to pay their instructors and researchers market value by cutting state aid- the one funding area that is most likely to determine how much a UW faculty/staff member can be paid.

2. They have demonized public employees and diminished their take-home pay through the “divide and conquer” tactics associated with Act 10 and other policies. This is true not just for UW faculty, but the tens of thousands of other people who have worked for the UW System over the last 5 years.

3. They have defunded Wisconsin’s K-12 public education and diminished the societal value and take-home pay of teachers at that level. The result has been cuts to school staffing, teaching shortages resulting from a lack of candidates wanting to work in such a backwards state, and increases in property taxes as a result of school referenda that was passed just to keep schools operating as they were and to prevent the buildings from falling down.

This devaluing of education ties in with this week’s unearthing of “Justice” Rebecca Bradley’s bigoted screeching in the Marquette Tribune during her college days in the 1990s. Because one can see where today’s versions of Rebecca Bradley could come whining to AM radio and Media TraKKKers and other right-wing lie machines complaining about “liberal indoctrination” because some professor said something challenged her beliefs and hurt her precious feelings. Now with tenure diminished, it is more likely that the Bradley-like partisan whining won’t be laughed out of the room, but instead could lead to otherwise-qualified, thoughtful professors to be chilled and shut down.

This is especially a concern given the policies against the UW System in recent years, where an intimidated campus administration (who needs funding in the worst way after the recent cuts) won’t want to be part of a controversy that causes the Steve nASSes of the world to rail against them and cut them some more in the next budget. But then again, this is all part of the long-range plan of the right wing- to make public colleges dependent on non-tax funding, and in addition to the likely tuition increases and lack of quality that would result, Madison native John Nichols tweeted out another reason why this is such a dangerous prospect.

It seems notable that Mike Judge’s 2006 movie Idiocracy has become a touchstone in this election year. This has been shown in the rise of reality TV star Donald Trump (as foretold by Terry Crews’ portrayal of President Camacho in 2505) and the general vapidness of election coverage and low demands from voters that is causing serious damage to this country. But what’s also noteworthy about that great film is how every aspect of life seems to be sponsored by some corporation (note the sponsorships at President Camacho's State of the Union speech), and how it contributes to the dumbing down of society. This is especially true in the case of the sports drink Brawndo, who is allowed to take over federal agencies when the country goes broke.

Which results in scientific knowledge being perverted into corporate-approved propaganda, with predictably bad results. So when someone comes from 500 years in the past, and tells them that using a sports drink instead of water for crops is helping cause a drought, he is met with some skepticism from the president’s cabinet.

Boy, if those cabinet members don’t sound like the mentally blocked types that fell for WisGOP propaganda the last 5 years… (“but I saved $5 on my property taxes," “businesses need tax breaks so they’ll give us better jobs,” etc.)

And we're seeing a version of the Brawndo takeover happening in college campuses, as illustrated near the end of Jane Mayer’s excellent book Dark Money. Mayer describes how the Koch Brothers and other right-wing interests have been increasingly stepping into the void, and setting up their own propaganda shops in cash-starved colleges and universities to replace the free exchange of ideas and facts. It's not hard to see where that could happen at the UW System as money gets tighter, and they become more desperate to take donations, which could be targeted towards certain right-wing initiatives (or to turn research away from inconvenient truths such as climate change or labor rights).

This would also go along with the SOP of the right-wingers in charge today in Wisconsin. These people do not care about developing and attracting talent to improve our state’s economic competitiveness, but instead only care about scams that grab as much profit and power for themselves and their corporate allies. A strong UW that produces independent research and critical thinkers is a threat to those power and money-grubbing interests, and therefore they are willfully weakening by using a zero-sum, profit-driven mentality that doesn’t translate to public goods such as education, research, and quality of life.

So unless you want to see Wisconsin continue on its path to a degraded Idiocracy, the only way to get out of this mess and restore our UW System to greatness is to get rid of the idiots and vandals who caused it. That includes Scott Walker, the Wisconsin GOP, the hacks they have appointed to screw up the UW, and mental regressives like Rebecca Bradley. These people won’t fix the problems they have caused, and you’re a SUCKER if you think they’re even bothered by the damage they've done to the economic advantages this state used to have.


  1. I've earned tenure in the UW twice, and now it's gone. My dept is also searching to replace people who fled for far better offers, and each candidate I've talked to asked, "How long until I'm back on the market?" Our offers are laughable now; for the first time ever we had candidates decline campus visits. And with the loss of tenure, I'll be shutting down my blog which has been chronicling all of this, because it's been openly critical of Cross and legislators. I'm at a small campus, so no donor comes in and saves the day--with two kids and both earning adults in our home working as UW employees, it's pretty clear the knives are sharpening. A lot of despair in our household right now. And I'll add this--never, ever in a university have I seen faculty/staff so thoroughly abandoned by their leadership. He spoke against amendments or sat silent. Zero advocacy. Never once in his whole time as President has he stood up for us.

    1. The "abandoning by leadership" point is a great one. Cross is clearly a puppet for the right-wing wackjobs running the state, as is Walker's buddy Jim Villa (who I think is still pulling 6 figures from the System despite serving as an advisor to Walker's presidential campaign), and the Alberta Darling staffer that just got $95,000 to be a charter schools czar out of the UW System offices.

      You don't owe these guys anything, since they didn't have your back. And you're absolutely correct that the non-Madison schools will get the bigger brunt of this, because they don't have the research and donor base that Madison does. Which is kind of a big deal since the vast majority of UW System students don't go to Madtown, but instead the smaller schools that are much more reliant on state aid.

      But hey, the Phoenix made March Madness, so it's all good now, right?

    2. Go Phoenix! I have two daughters, so I've always been a huge supporter of the women's team (and they are just the smartest, nicest students you'll ever have), but I'm really happy for the men's team, as they've provided a nice dose of morale at a very tough time. They're obviously going to the Final Four.