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.