Truth or Consequences

A University of Wisconsin website describes the Wisconsin Idea as “the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.” The University’s mission statement has long included the following language: “basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

According to AP and several other news outlets, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker–in addition to cutting $300 million from the University’s budget–

 had wanted to insert language in the budget stating the university’s mission was “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” He wanted to remove language saying UW’s mission is to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.” He also wanted to remove the statement “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

When the proposed changes became public, the enormous blowback obviously took the Governor by surprise, and he backed off, initially suggesting the change was “a drafting error” that hadn’t been caught.


The New York Times and other media sources immediately debunked that lame excuse. As a blogger at Daily Kos wrote:

First of all, today I obtained copies of the original records from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau’s drafting office, which show that there was a long chain of correspondence during which the Walker administration actually proposed deleting the Wisconsin Idea. The records also reveal that numerous officials within the administration proofed and approved of deleting the Wisconsin Idea.

Second, this wasn’t “somehow overlooked” by University of Wisconsin officials.  They objected on several occasions to it, but the Walker administration refused to back down.

As the Times noted in a scathing editorial, “It was as if a trade school agenda were substituted for the idea of a university.”

Scott Walker is emblematic of the anti-intellectualism that is so rampant on the American Right. He is one of the (far too many) shallow and ambitious politicians who think education and job training are synonymous, that scholarly research and the “search for truth” are elitist non-essentials, and that humans don’t need to know anything that isn’t immediately useful for obtaining gainful employment. They’d have handed Socrates that cup of hemlock without thinking twice.

After all, if people are allowed to search for truth, they’ll ask inconvenient questions. They’ll challenge the martinets. They might even see themselves as citizens rather than obedient consumers.


  1. Thanks for drawing attention to Gov Howdy. I am pretty sure he does not even have a degree. Just a dope working for the Koch brothers.

  2. I looked up the word “truth” in my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1977), Webster’s New Explorer Student Dictionary (1999) and Webster’s Dictionary for Students (2011); the meaning of the word hasn’t changed, the usage of the word by politicians is obviously unknown and unresearched or they wouldn’t bandy it about so loosly. Too many of them rely on the lack of knowledge, understanding, awareness – and research – by their constituents so they report their version of “truth” as fact and deny any responsibility if discrepancies are pointed out to the public. This is blatant in too many news reports when reporters take the word of public figures at face value. Look at Brian Williams as evidence, why is his lie only coming to light today? Walker’s “drafting error”; uncovered by the NY Times and Daily Kos would have sailed through the Wisconsin legislature had they not published the “truth” as defined by dictionaries through the decades…or has Webster been wrong all these years? Pay back (consequence) is a bitch; isn’t it Walker and Williams?

  3. The worship of wealth is pandemic. Over my lifetime it’s spread from the notion that the security associated with it is a nice addition to life but there are many such additions equally compelling, to it is life. The never ending pursuit of it is the raison d’être.

    Is it a virus? No. It is the victimization of small minds by marketing amplified by the pervasiveness of big media.

    I’ll bet that Gov Scott actually believes that knowledge is of commercial value only. Even his knowledge such as it is seems bound up to the pursuit of wealth without consideration beyond. What a sad pathetic little man.

    But there are so many like pathetic little minds that they’ve gone into business serving each other through the buying and selling of minds. He’s associated with the Koch tribe and has done well in and for that business.

    Their scurrying like squirrels would be as entertaining if they kept to their own devices and left the rest of us alone, but they can’t. They can’t because their pursuit of wealth is inextricably linked to the pursuit of power, absolutely currupting power. No differently than the would be conquering Muhllahs of the Middle East. One cuts throats, the other budgets to the same end. Forcing others to live in their world.

    No thanks. Life as a freeman is so much more interesting and rewarding.

  4. Is it “anti-intellectualism” to believe that higher education should focus on providing people education for jobs that actually exist? I too, like you, love the pursuit of higher education for the knowledge alone. However, Sheila, I think your knowledge of what it’s like to actively seek employment in today’s job market is dated. In today’s job market, you apply on line. You never actually talk to anyone unless you can make the initial cut. They often use computer programs to sort through the hundreds of resumes they get and narrow it down to maybe 10 they interview. If you don’t have the right degree and experience, your resume hits the trash can. If you have more education and experience than they request, you’re considered overqualified and your resume hits the trash can. Yesterday’s IBJ featured a story about the number of students applying to law school plummeting. One kid (I now call people in their 20s “kid”) had taken out $150,000 in debt to go to school. He’s unemployed, hoping for a deputy prosecutor job. (In today’s oversaturated legal market where many law firms have resorted to paying associates commission only with no benefits, a job as deputy prosecutor job is highly sought after.) If he tries to apply for non-legal jobs, he’s going to find his legal background causes him to be considered overqualified and he won’t even make the initial cut. Personally I think a law degree and legal experience is a wonderful background for so many non-legal fields. But you have to deal with the realities of today’s job market that the knowledge provided by that higher education, in my example, law, may disqualify a person from even being considered for a lot of jobs.

  5. Paul raises an interesting question. Is the decline of American fortunes an artifact of global economics, we are victims, or is it self inflicted by a cultural shift from wealth as the result of life well lived to wealth is life well lived.

    All of the ancestors that I had a relationship with lived seemingly satisfying lives containing much less stuff than what I see around me today. That leads me to believe that there is little correlation between stuff and happiness, at least once needs are met.

    While I have been fortunate enough to have always been employed and the talents bestowed on me well compensated, I’m pretty confident that I could and would have found satisfaction and happiness otherwise. At least to a point.

    The resolution of our current crises will come from fewer of us each with lower impact on global resources. Also I believe with those resources will end up more uniformly distributed. The transition to that new reality is underway and we are jointly deciding on the level of trauma during the transition.

    Regardless of our decision I firmly believe that the new world once reached will be more, not less satisfying than today. We could choose an extremely rough passage (Paul seems to be feeling the storm even now) but I believe in a promised land.

    We are slaves to media masters now. Freedom will be oh so sweet.

  6. During the President’s speech at Ivy Tech on Friday, I was, once again, struck by the fact that employers are continuously bemoaning the fact that they cannot find people skilled enough to hire. “Over-qualified” is a flimsy excuse for not wanting to pay anyone for the skills they DO bring to the job.

    Two points to consider:
    1) Would it not be smarter to bring people who clearly have more rather than less to the job? Creative, critical thinking has been the impetus for growth and progress, especially in business, for a long time.
    2) If an employer needs particular skills, manual or otherwise, for a job, then they should invest in the training needed themselves. If the job requires specialized skills, the employer should have “skin in the game” to prepare the needed employees for that special need. Why should the public (taxpayers) have to subsidize an employer’s specific employment needs, often after providing tax deferments or write-offs as well as infrastructure improvements?

    Education has been defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

    IMO, public education is not job training. It is providing the citizens of our city, state and country with knowledge, basic skills for living and the ability to pursue happiness in whatever guise that may be.

  7. The rise of HR departments have done more to damage society’s employment opportunities than anything I can think of. When my father’s generation hit the workforce after WWII, managers did their own hiring, and everyone knew what skills they could expect from someone who had served in the military. When managers did their own hiring, they could see the potential in people whose credentials didn’t necessarily match up. Now, in the search for credentials and total lack of imagination of the part of HR departments, we find high unemployment among the ranks of the veterans, businesses complain that they can’t find workers, and potentially good employees can’t find work.

    Further, Scott Walker’s language that the universities serve to fill the state’s workforce needs only articulates the forces already at work on the university system. Universities have been pressured to change from a place where people are being taught to think to being a credentialing mill for worker bees. Walker’s vision of the university system is not the future, it is now.

  8. I’ll admit the phrase “to meet the state’s workforce needs” sounds like something I’d expect to find in a state community college’s mission statement, very similar to the KY Community & Technical College System, which prepares post-secondary students for workforce needs and a very, very small number of students for 2 years of college education that will transfer to a 4-year university. The link to the KCTCS mission statement follows:

    Intellectually I suppose I ascent to being termed a member of the workforce, for US Census and other Federal data-gathering bodies, but emotionally, personally I always considered myself a professional which, I know, makes me sound arrogant, uppity, and haughty. State workforce needs carries an image of persons trained to punch a time clock at a factory, having scheduled breaks dictated by law right down to the number of minutes between breaks and the exact number of the individual breaks. For me, that was ‘workforce’, not professional.

    Paul is correct in saying universities across the nation are putting our more lawyers than are needed, leaving many young freshly-minted lawyers with few prospects for practicing their profession and with large student loans. On the other hand, the medical professions (i.e., physicians, dentists, registered nurses) and especially the allied health professions (i.e., registered dental hygienists, registered dietitians, registered medical technologists, registered occupational therapists, registered physical therapists, radiographers, respiratory therapists, and licensed speech language pathologists) provide large numbers of professional opportunities for being employed in their particular area of expertise. Actually 60% of the current healthcare profession is composed of allied health professionals, and most of the allied health professions require an undergrad degree and many require a Master’s degree or even a doctoral degree.

    If any Governor wishes to meet his/her State ‘workforce’ needs, then focus on the community colleges or the non-profit trade schools where students can earn certificates or Associate’s degrees in a variety of trades where they can become: plumbers, HVAC installers/technicians, electricians, EMT’s, CAD technicians, computer/electronic technicians, mechanics, etc.

  9. Therefore, when you come across someone majoring in English, Philosophy, or History encourage that person and help them find ways to enter into the work force. Vow never to say, “what can you do with that sort of degree?” other than to answer it yourself by saying, “anything you want!” We desperately need their skills.

  10. It’s hard to believe that most families would assume 6 figure debt for college educations that yield little to no employment benefit.

    Paul raises an interesting point about college grads who are over-qualified for Indiana’s job market. Sheila – was it you who published a statistic saying that Indiana ranks 50th in recruiting and RETAINING college grads?

    Can we assume that more college grads would stay in Indiana if there were employers willing to hire them at salaries capable of paying off those college loans?

  11. Paul’s comment about too many law degrees can be modified if an attorney combines his/her law degree with another field where there will be a demand: law and library, law and medicine (can be nursing), law and psychology, law and advanced chemistry. The answer seems to be in the cognates.

    Speaking of viewing universities as job training sites, in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education is a gutsy article entitled, “Why Liberal Education Has Never Recovered”. The author maintains that the day the purpose of education changed was on Feb. 28, 1967, when Gov. Reagan said, “There are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without for a year or two.” He stated at a press conference that taxpayers should not be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity”. A truly anti-intellectual giant of our time. When they dig up our civilization, they will see the lasting influence of Ronald Reagan.

  12. There was a similar incident in Indiana last fall, though it got little media attention. The Commission on Higher Education issued a new policy directing faculty at the regional campuses to limit their research to “local and regional needs.” It was widely interpreted as transforming those regional campuses — among the few affordable 4-year institutions remaining — to taxpayer-funded job training centers for big local employers. As in Wisconsin, the administration then “clarified” their position and claimed they were misunderstood.

  13. Employers used to train their employees, and if there was a lot of training involved, unions played a significant role. The slow death of unions, combined with a business economy that is judged on the value to tomorrow’s options, rather than next year’s income, makes anybody who isn’t brining money in today too expensive.

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