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Scott Walker and Higher Education in the Media

The media and the death of the "Wisconsin Idea."
By Martin Kich

In winter and spring 2014, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker launched a multifaceted attack on higher education in his state.

Walker challenged the “Wisconsin Idea,” a statement on the mission of the state’s postsecondary institutions that has not only long defined their purpose but has also made the state’s system of higher education a model for others across the nation. As codified in state law, the mission of Wisconsin’s public colleges and universities has been to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.” Moreover, “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,” the law states, “is the search for truth.”

The Wisconsin Idea has long stood as a succinct expression of what is meant by a liberal or classical education. In promoting a much more utilitarian view of the primary purpose of higher education, Walker proposed eliminating the words knowledge, truth, and public service from language in the state code and inserting language that emphasizes a commitment to tailoring curricula to meet workforce needs of corporate enterprises. This shift in emphasis would mean that public higher education would be regarded less as a public good and more as a commodity.

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Martin Kich is professor of English at Wright State University’s Lake Campus. He is the president of the Wright State chapter of AAUP, the vice president of the Ohio AAUP conference, and a member of the executive committee of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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