An Open Letter to the Faculty and Staff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dear Faculty and Staff:

With all the wisdom of an outsider who just does not get it and all the naivete of an academic who wants to play with the big boys, Biddy Martin has sold the family jewels for the word ‘flexibility’. The only flexibility Governor Walker is interested in is his own. The new budget bill allows him to sell off state land and power plants without any oversight by anyone. Such autocracy is unheard of except in totalitarian nations, and we know how well the intelligentsia fairs under such regimes. A Governor who seeks unbounded powers like that is going to give a liberal university ‘flexibility.’ Really? We have already seen how Governor Walker reacts to others’ ideas and to those who disagree with him. Is it that easy to suppose he is being above board in separating Madison from the rest of us? Is there any reason this man and the Republicans who dance to his pipe should be trusted in any regard?

When the new budget bill inevitably becomes law and the Madison campus begins the task of setting itself apart from the System, public higher education in Wisconsin will begin a quick decline into third-rate-ness. Not to mention the betrayal of the Wisconsin idea, the land-grant tradition that sought to make higher education in Wisconsin accessible and economically feasible for Wisconsin families. The System universities will be under attack; funding will continue to decline, and, I predict, massive closings will ensue. The System universities and 2-year programs are expensive, and Walker Republicans don’t want to pay for them. (Actually, these Republicans don’t want to pay for anything that doesn’t reward them or their financiers.) It’s that simple. But the Walker Republicans will argue that saving Wisconsin’s Madison and Milwaukee campuses is proof that their goal is excellence in education. Isn’t their financial approach to public elementary, middle, and high schools evidence enough that education means absolutely nothing to Walker and his posse?

Don’t be fooled. Walker’s plan calls for a 21-person Board of Trustees, eleven of which will be appointed by Governor Walker himself. The future of UW-Madison will be more flexible, in Biddy Martin’s word, no doubt in that its new Walker-appointed Board of Trustees will have all the flexibility to destroy the very notion of a liberal university dedicated to the “sifting and winnowing” of ideas. Do you really think stem-cell research will survive long under that regime? Do you really think young, liberal historians, liberal political scientists, liberal sociologists and mainstream anthropologists (who teach, yikes, evolution) will get tenure? Do you think economists who teach theories critical to unbounded capitalism will thrive under a Walker Board of Trustees? Do you really want to be part of a university faculty that holds Creationism as a rigorous scientific explanation of the past? Do you really think gay and lesbian studies have a future in Walker’s University of Wisconsin-Madison?

Think about Princeton University’s century-old Near Eastern Studies Department. It was a highly-respected academic program until the mid 90s when Princeton accepted an endowed chair, named after Ataturk, paid for by the Turkish Government. In the new chair, Princeton placed a well-known Armenian-Genocide denier. Turkey was well pleased, and the program, today, has become a laughing stock. (Go here.)

Right now, under the system with the Board of Regents, UW-Madison may not have the ‘flexibility’ Biddy Martin wants, but it does have academic freedom. If you allow academic freedom to die in Madison, you will have become the victims of your own self-imposed myopia. Your desire for ‘flexibility’ has allowed you to be seduced into accepting Walker’s Trojan horse. Your research, your Ph.D’s, your nuanced ideas will mean nothing.

I ask you to loudly protest this attack on higher education.

If you’re still in doubt, read this.

This article is reprinted with permission from Patrick McGuire’s blog   Patrick McGuire is a senior lecturer in the English Department of UW-Parkside.

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