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Walker: Never Mind, Truth Is Important

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday night hastily walked back a plan to redefine the mission of the University of Wisconsin (UW) to focus more on jobs and less on the “search for truth.”

In Walker’s 2015 budget proposal, big changes to UW’s budget and governance were accompanied by major changes to the school’s mission statement and statement of purpose, which restated its primary goal as “meet[ing] the state’s workforce needs” while deleting components that emphasized public service, extending knowledge, and truth-searching.

The changes were especially controversial because they would gut the “Wisconsin Idea,” an educational principle which emphasizes a school’s role to further the public good and improve lives beyond the classroom. The concept originated in Wisconsin over a century ago and has been adopted around the country.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick blamed the controversy on a “drafting error.”

“The final version of the budget will include the Wisconsin Idea,” she said in a statement.

It’s not clear whether the administrations’s claim that it’s all a big misunderstanding holds water, however. Before the statement was released, Walker had defended the revised mission statement during an appearance in DePere, Wisconsin.

“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, according to the Wisconsin Radio Network.

Walker released a longer statement on Thursday to explain how the changed mission statement wound up in the document. In it, the governor said that that he wanted language about workforce development added to the mission statement, but that lower-level staff misunderstood his request as an order to also eliminate most of the existing language.

“Clearly, changing the Wisconsin Idea serves no purpose,” said Walker. “That is why I made it clear on Wednesday that we would not change it in the budget.  It is not a change of heart. It was a simple miscommunication during the natural back and forth of this process.”

Walker’s rapid reversal may also have been motivated by a backlash far stronger than the governor’s office was anticipating. In addition to strong denunciations from UW professors and administrators, several Republicans also attacked the proposed changes. Robin Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, said it was unthinkable to try changing UW’s mission on the sly.

“If there’s going to be a rewrite of the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin, there must be a robust public discussion before any changes are made,” Vos said in a statement. Another state Republican, Dave Murphy, said that UW’s mission “is meant to train thinkers not only workers.”

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