Friday, June 5, 2015

Politics and the University of Wisconsin

Like a lot of conservatives, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker sees university faculties as his enemies. In fact this is largely true -- professors are overwhelmingly liberal or leftist, and many of them see spreading their political views as a mission more important than scholarship. But while most conservative politicians have been content to nibble away at university funding and otherwise ignore the professors, Scott Walker is taking the fight to his foes. His new budget removes tenure protections from state law and orders the Board of Regents -- 16 of the 18 regents are appointed by the governor -- to come up with a new system. He says that the point is to put university governance in the hands of the regents rather than the legislature, and that he has no idea what the board will propose. As one Republican state senator explained:
We are directing the Board of Regents to develop a policy, just as there is in so many states. It’s just a matter of recognizing the ability for chancellors and campuses to administer and manage their operations.
Don't believe it. If I know Scott Walker, he has already made it clear to the board members he appoints what they will have to do to keep their jobs, and that is remove all obstacles to reforming the university along the lines of an economic engine and career nursery.

Because, see, conservatives have a problem with universities, which is that although they are bastions of leftism they are also economically and socially vital. They prepare the people of the state for lucrative careers, and their research drives technological change. Plus their football and basketball teams have huge followings of voters. So every conservative governor wonders, how can I keep the things about universities I want while restraining or getting rid of leftists who use their state-sponsored jobs to attack me? Walker's approach has two parts, limiting tenure and limiting the control of professors over what and how they teach:
Along with tenure, “shared governance” has been a central feature of academic life in universities generally, giving faculty members the primary responsibility for decisions about matters like curriculum, choice of subject matter, instructional methods, faculty status and research. Under the proposed changes in Wisconsin, faculty members would still advise leaders on academic and educational activities, and on personnel matters, but that advice would be “subordinate” to the powers of the board, president and chancellors.
In China the government calls this “seizing control of the lectern.”

American professors need to wake up. The cozy arrangements they have long enjoyed -- tenure, limited teaching loads, salaries protected from the free market, freedom to teach what and how they want -- are disappearing. So far this has largely happened by increased hiring of adjuncts, and the shrinking number of tenured professorships have remained plum jobs. That is going to change, too. Except at a handful of wealthy private schools, professors are going to lose autonomy, earn less, and be subject to rigorous goal-oriented management focused on how many students they train and how much funding they bring in. Departments that don't measure up are already disappearing, and this is going to accelerate.

All of these changes are happening because the professors have lost the support of the voters. Well, actually they may never have had the support of the voters, but they had the support of a big swathe of the elite, including many conservative politicians. That is changing. Your populist, Tea Party-allied Republican sees nothing good in English or Anthropology departments, and doesn't see why he should vote money to support them. Even most Democratic voters don't care, so they pay no political price for whacking away at academia.

Over the long term, the conditions and pay of professors are going to decline until there are no longer people willing to take the jobs. That's how the free market works for people who lack political and institutional power. If professors want the university as they know it to survive, they need to convince the voters that it is worth paying for, and that their work is vital to university life.


G. Verloren said...

So if this succeeds and liberal education in America gets trashed, isn't the obvious result going to be an exodus to other countries? Are we going to return to the days of yore when the only way to get a proper education was to be wealthy enough to be able to study abroad?

Is it ironic that groups like the "Tea Party" seem to be unwittingly driving America back towards its status as a colonial backwater?

Valkrye said...

So, all my worse fears have finally been confirmed. I have long suspected I dwell in the land of the Philistines, but reading this pretty well seals the lid on it. Where does anyone who believes in true education of the mind and spirit , intellectual enlightenment and knowledge for it's own sake (!!) , go to escape this world which seems to have no desire but to conform to corporate thinking, where everything is measured by it's monetary value, care nothing for independent thought but simply fall into line with the rest of the zombie consumer mind. I suppose , where they have always gone, into a hole or a cave with like-minded others , with their books and ideas and forget about trying to raise and elevate the masses or have any governments possessing leaders with real vision . What a deeply flawed and backward species most of humankind seems to be. It frankly astonishes and astounds me that people like Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and others (far too many to list) could be considered for one second by anyone with two brain cells , worthy or qualified as leaders of any kind~ except to lead a parade of fools and fools who also happen to be totally lacking the empathy gene as well as rational thought just for starters.