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Scott Walker Says Universities Are About ‘Workforce Needs,’ NOT Truth

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has raised some eyebrows with his latest state budget proposal, by changing the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement to emphasize the job market rather than “the search for truth.”

Walker’s proposal, released yesterday, would adjust the university’s mission statement as follows (Bold text marks an addition, while dashed text marks removals):

The mission of the system is to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing develop in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.

Another part of Walker’s proposal adjusts to the statement of purpose for the university, altering it to emphasize that the public university system is a constitutional obligation rather than merely something the legislature finds in the public interest.

The adjustments are a big shift for the so-called “Wisconsin Idea,” a vision of higher education that views the university’s purpose as the overall public good. Walker’s alternative vision is of a University of Wisconsin that is focused less on improving the human condition and more on churning out skilled workers for the state’s economy.

The planned change has never been mentioned by Walker in any prior speeches or announcements, so it caught the state’s educators by surprise, and so far, the Walker administration has not offered further explanation of its intent. Notably, Walker himself does not hold a college degree, as he dropped out of Marquette University shortly before graduation to start a job in marketing with the American Red Cross. Focusing primarily on the economic aspects of college may be a reflection of Walker’s own philosophy.

These changes to the school’s mission are coupled with other major changes Walker hopes to implement, including a $300 million budget cut for the university along with new rules granting it substantially increased autonomy from state control.

Walker’s proposed change is likely to worsen his already contentious relationship with the state’s higher education establishment. Last week, he outraged professors by suggesting they needed to start “teaching more classes and doing more work” in order to cope with his planned budget cuts. Some professors have already suggested that changing the mission statement is even worse than any adjustments to the school’s budget.  (RELATED: Walker: University Profs Need To Work Harder) 

“I’m nearly speechless,” geography professor Mark Schwartz told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “The budget cuts are one thing. This aims at the heart of the Wisconsin Idea and smashes it.”

The University of Wisconsin has already released a statement attacking Walker’s plan, with president Ray Cross saying the Wisconsin Idea “is the reason the UW system exists.”

“Wisconsin must not abandon this core principle and value. We will work to preserve the Wisconsin Idea in every form,” said Cross.

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