Sunday, March 1, 2015

Walker budget removes "Wisconsin" from the UW

With the release of the plain-English version of the Wisconsin state budget by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, we've been getting new information on the depths of this new Walker budget. And if you dig inside to the University of Wisconsin System's part of the budget, in addition to the $300 million in cuts to System funding and the spinning off of the System into an independent authority, there is an obvious theme, which is this- the UW System's mission of outreach to the rest of the state is being taken out.

What grabbed a lot of the media's attention over the last two days is the passage in the LFB's analysis that mention the removal of a requirement to report sexual assault statistics on campus to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (page 50 on the PDF). Now, the Walker Administration and some newspapers have tried to walk back the story, as a UW System spokesman claims the System was the organization that asked for the provision, claiming it to be redundant since the feds already require such reporting.

But our media shouldn't let the Walker folks off the hook on this issue, and not just because the UW spokesman claiming the removal was the System's idea was a guy appointed by Walker last month, and wasn't an active part of these budget discussions. Because there is an overriding theme of Scott Walker's budget when it comes to the UW System - that the college system isn't supposed to serve the common good, outside of the campus's boundaries. I'll give you three examples (and there are many more).
Delete current law establishing, requiring the Board to establish, or requiring the Board to maintain the following institutes and centers: (a) the institute for excellence in urban education at UW-Milwaukee, which engages in research, public service, and educational activities pertaining to issues in urban public education; (b) the solid and hazardous waste education center in the UW-Extension, which promotes pollution prevention through an education and technical assistance program; (c) the area health education center at UW-Madison to support community-based primary care training programs; (d) the center for environmental education within the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, which assists in the development, dissemination, implementation, and evaluation of environmental education programs for elementary and secondary school teachers and pupils; and (e) the center for urban land economics research in the UW-Madison School of Business, which conducts research and undertakes educational, public outreach, and grant activities related to real estate and urban land economics. In addition, delete the requirement that the Department of Safety and Professional Services pay $10 of each real estate broker license renewal fee to the UW System to support the center for urban land economics and research....

Delete the requirement that the Board offer, establish, or maintain the following UW-Extension programs: (a) a local planning program to educate local policymakers; (b) a program of education and technical assistance related to recycling market development; (c) programs to educate consumers about biotechnology processes and products and risk assessment techniques; and (d) a higher education location program (UW HELP) to provide information on undergraduate admission requirements, degree programs, enrollment, student financial aid, student housing, and admission forms....

Delete current law requiring the Board to establish or maintain all of the following related to its research and public service missions: (a) agricultural demonstration stations; (b) a state soils and plant analysis laboratory in connection with the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and UW-Extension; (c) a pharmaceutical experiment station in the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy; and (d) an herbarium at UW-Madison.
Delete provisions requiring the Board to authorize research, experiments, or studies related to the following: (a) experimental work in agriculture; (b) bovine brucellosis; (c) Dutch Elm disease; (d) the feasibility of reintroducing elk into the northern part of the state; and (e) the Fond du Lac Avenue corridor in Milwaukee.
James Rowen also has more on the removal of this outreach mission, including the removal of protections of the Donner Woods sanctuary in Milwaukee. And while I understand that the Board of Regents of the proposed System Authority could keep all or most of these outreach missions around, the removal of these required programs and reserach and the lack of legislative oversight sets a dangerous precedent. What's stopped a Walker-stacked Board of Regents from getting rid of some of these duties, and instead pawning it off to well-connected private interests?

And it goes to a deeper point that started when we found out that the Walker Administration removed the Wisconsin Idea from the UW's mission statement in the original state budget (a deletion that has not been formally amended as of this writing, by the way). Note what Walker said to reporters the day the story broke, before he and his team had to walk back such an absurd and petty action.
Walker adds to the opening line, on the mission of the UW System, “to meet the state’s workforce needs.”

“The focus would be honed in, in particular to look at making sure that we prepare individuals in this state . . . for the jobs and opportunities that are available in the state,” Walker said during a stop in DePere on Wednesday.
Now do you see how this ties together? They want the UW System to be a glorified technical school that produces workers for corporations, and not as a source of public good that provides research that improves people's lives. Because if the UW System were to serve the public and have certain lands set aside, it would get in the way of maximizing the profitability of such a service, and having them reach conclusions that warn against the damage that might result from maximizing profits or bespoiling the land. And that is a threat in Walker World, which wants to funnel as much money and power as possible to the rich and well-connected, at the expense of every other person and natural resource of the state.

It sure makes you wonder, if the System Authority is set up without all of these requirements of public service to the state, how long before we have the Koch School of Land Management Brawndo School of Medicine?

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