Op-Ed by Steve Horn, Madison, Wisconsin -- This is a story about Scott Walker and Biddy Martin's efforts to dismantle the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To complete the corporatization of the public's university is an important piece of what is happening both in Madison and nationwide. This story must be told before it is too late to save the university that belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and while democratic momentum is still on our side at the University, in Madison, and in the state of Wisconsin. Although seemingly specific to the UW, this is a case study about the future of public college education nationwide.
Biddy Martin's PR Campaign to Soften People Up for Corporatization
Since fall of 2010, Biddy Martin, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been repeating talking points about the need for "increased flexibility from the state of Wisconsin" for the University. What she calls the "New Badger Partnership" is a facade for the looming vast privatization of UW-Madison.
The rhetorical appeal Martin makes is that she wants the University to be more "independent" and stand on its own two feet. The two main favorite catchphrases Martin uses, over and over again, have been "increased flexibility" and "eliminating bureaucracy."
In reality, it's not about that at all.
Incrementally, UW, like many other large public research universities, such as University of California-Berkeley, are receiving less and less public funding from their respective states. With this trend has come increased privatization, which inevitably leads to the corporatization of public higher education.
As is fairly common knowledge, tuition at private colleges like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Drake and scores of others are very expensive compared with state universities. Basic logic says that with privatization, the same thing would happen to the University of Wisconsin. Tuition would go through the roof exponentially and immediately.
After UC-Berkeley chose a similar model, tuition skyrocketed an unbelievable 32 percent between the 2009-2010 school year and the 2010-2011 school year. All hell broke loose on that campus in response to these huge increases, which mean students either won't be able to afford college, or will leave school with crushing debt.
Such debt makes pursuing work in the public interest, government or not-for-profits, much more difficult, if not impossible. It also increases pressure to join the military to defray costs. And, it creates a desperate pool of applicants for corporate jobs of almost any kind.
Furthermore, there's a reason why Wisconsin students choose a University where the tuition is nearly one-fourth the price of its private counterpart, Marquette University. For now, relatively speaking, it's still a bargain by comparison.
That can and will change rapidly under this new "Partnership."
Biddy Martin Gets Caught Cutting a Backroom Deal with Walker
It must have been a harsh slap in the face for Biddy Martin to read on Wednesday, February 16 that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had done a serious investigation into what she has been up to behind the veneer of her rhetoric about the Partnership. In a story titled, "Walker to gut MPS, break up UW, education leaders say," reporter Sharif Durhams unveiled a memo he obtained dated Jan. 7, 2011 from Chancellor Biddy Martin to Governor Scott Walker's office.
The memo is innocuously titled, "UW-Madison Structure Modeled After a Public Authority." It calls for not only for "greater flexibility" from the state, but also a total separation from the UW System itself for UW-Madison, effectively making it a private university.
According to the report, the plan was basically a fast-tracked, backroom deal written into Walker's Two-Year Budget Bill that is set to be presented on March 1, although Martin had never told the public the Partnership would actually be part of Walker's budget bill.
It appears she was hoping she could pull a fast one on current and prospective students, as well as the citizens of Wisconsin at large, by sneaking it in under the radar and placing it directly into the budget bill. But to no avail, Martin was caught red-handed.
With that comes more dreadful news: "UW could be forced to raise tuition by 20 percent over the next two years if the state cuts $50 million from the university's budget -- one scenario laid out in a memo from ... Martin to ... Walker's administration," reported Madison Capital Times' Deborah Ziff on February 18.
Walker and Martin Are on the Same Team
Martin and Walker are working together to price lower and middle-class students out of an opportunity to afford a UW-Madison education. Martin has continued to make the argument that higher tuition will create a need for more financial aid, and therefore "sticker shock" must be avoided by Wisconsin's citizenry. But the reality is not in line with this argument.
It is the total opposite.
The Menace of the Walker-Martin Privatization (Corporatization) Plan
Let's be clear about what it would really mean.
A university that is privatized is also run like a business. The first thing businesses do is cut that which they deem to be "inefficient," or does not bring in a profit. This means things like the social sciences and the humanities, for example.
It would also mean many jobs lost, as well as the gutting of the university of its central hub of critical thinking -- the liberal arts.
Additionally, research will become increasingly paid for and bought off in the sciences by outside corporate bidders and by ideological warriors in the social sciences. In other words, UW will quickly become University, Inc. One could, in addition, argue that it will become increasingly militarized if trends continue.
Politically controversial professors will also be deemed a nuisance to the corporate university and be dismissed. This is tragic, for the role of the academic is ruthless pursuit of the truth, which at its core, is a subversive mission. Thus, the very essence of academic freedom as we know it hangs in the balance.
A comparable example is the University of California, which in 2009 suffered a similar crisis and was abandoned by the state it has served since 1849. The tragically long list of items cut from the University can be seen here.
Professor Wendy Brown of University of California-Berkeley explained the "dark side" of corporatization of higher education in a talk that she gave in September, 2009 when UC was under a similar threat. Those who care about UW-Madison can watch this video of her talk. The nightmare she warned against is coming to UW-Madison now.
Professor Henry Giroux also has written about the topic quite poignantly in many articles and books. Similarly, Professor Ellen Shrecker documents the effects in her latest book, titled The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University.
So while students line up and fight against union-busting and the overall assault on workers in the state of Wisconsin by Walker, Martin has chosen to side with him, rather than fight the good fight and demand more funding for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In doing so, she has made a tragic mistake. She has betrayed students, and betrayed the people of Wisconsin. And she has betrayed a university that has long existed as a public land grant institution, and has been the state's flagship university since 1848.
Our History and Our Future Is at Stake -- Don't Trust Martin's Propaganda Campaign
Nothing less than both our history and our future are at stake here.
As Alice Honeywell wrote in "La Follette and His Legacy," "The university, as a land-grant college, originally had been conceived as a service center for the state, but Robert M. La Follette and his successors set a precedent that ensured effective communication between the 'twin domes of law and learning' on opposite ends of State Street in the capital city."
On one end of the famous State Street sits the University's Bascom Hill, and on the opposite end, the Wisconsin State Capitol. In his speech at the May 2010 graduation ceremonies, current U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, articulated the the connection between the two ends of State Street, setting it within the paradigm of the famous Wisconsin Idea. He said,
The Wisconsin Idea holds that university scholars should work with government officials to both solve current problems and anticipate future ones. From opposite ends of State Street, the State Capital and the University--the twin domes of law and learning--are to communicate and assist each other.
Unfortunately, as has been revealed this week, both ends of State Street are developing a plan that would kill the concept of the Wisconsin Idea with a broad sweep.
On the other end is UW's Chancellor, Biddy Martin, who is known by most students for her cameo role in the popular song, "Teach me How to Bucky,", a spin-off of a song titled, "Teach Me How to Dougie." The students' knowledge about Martin (meaning on her proposals and stances on policy) beyond this cameo appearance is slim to none.
Walker and Martin are on the same team in their desire to siphon the university out of the UW System and give the keys to corporations.
The central battleground for democracy is currently located in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of Wisconsin citizens have chosen not to back down from what looked like a looming death knell for workers' rights in this state. The next wave of this struggle will likely be students fighting for the life of our university, joined by workers and outraged citizens from across the state.
Biddy Martin should either defend the idea of a public university, or she should resign.