Wis. Budget Proposal Reignites Debate Over Private, Public Sector
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Tonight in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker will formally unveil a budget focusing on that state's well-regarded public university system. Walker's proposing record cuts to the University of Wisconsin. To cope, he suggests faculty might teach more classes. As Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports, the governor has reignited a public versus private sector debate in the state.
SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Scott Walker has signed hundreds of bills into law since he became governor, but there is one particular law - one act that's so controversial here, it's referred to only by its number - Wisconsin Act 10. People know it as the governor's signature collective bargaining law. They remember the protests and political chaos that preceded his successful effort to all but eliminate collective bargaining for most public employee unions. So it turned some heads last week when Walker unveiled his University of Wisconsin budget and made a calm, nonchalant comparison to the controversial union law.
GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: In many ways, will be very much like an Act 10 for the UW.
JOHNSON: Scott Walker's budget would cut the University's state funding by 13 percent and freeze tuition - a one-two-punch that campus leaders say amounts to the biggest cut in UW history. Wisconsin Public Radio also gets some of its funding through the university system. But the governor is stressing another part of his budget that would give the university more freedom to decide how to spend its money and ask its faculty to work more.
WALKER: Things are simple as, in the future, by not having limitations and things like shared governance, they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester.
JOHNSON: It didn't take long for Walker's comments to grab the attention of faculty and staff, especially on the UW's flagship campus in Madison. UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says everyone on her faculty is expected not only to teach but to do significant research.
REBECCA BLANK: To focus as the governor has, basically, on hours in the classroom is to both misunderstand teaching and the large amount of time you spend outside the classroom and to very much misunderstand a research university.
JOHNSON: Blank served as President Obama's deputy commerce secretary. As an economist, she says she has to look at the market for higher education. If Governor Walker gets his way with this budget, she says many who teach at the UW will walk out the door.
BLANK: I will be raided by every one of my competitors, both public and private. And those faculty will leave.
JOHNSON: Walker's not the only Republican rethinking the role of faculty in Wisconsin. Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, also wants university faculty to teach more.
REPRESENTATIVE ROBIN VOS: Of course, I want research. But I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on, you know, ancient mating habits of whatever.
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JOHNSON: On their way into a recent University of Wisconsin hockey game in Madison, many UW students expressed concern about Walker's plan. Law student Alex Phillips says he's unimpressed with the governor's tuition freeze, saying it's just setting the table for a massive tuition increase two years from now. Phillips argues that one reason Wisconsin is facing a budget deficit is that Walker cut taxes.
ALEX PHILLIPS: Obviously, he's made some choices in the past that reflect his values towards taxes, and now he's choosing students to pay for it.
JOHNSON: Other University of Wisconsin students are more ambivalent - certainly in no hurry to march on the capitol like many did four years ago. It's faculty and even retired faculty who are the most shocked by the proposal. Kelly Clifton was a professor of oncology at the UW for more than 30 years.
KELLY CLIFTON: The man does not understand what he's playing with - that he thinks that all they have to do is read a book and go out and talk to the students. And that's not the way it works.
JOHNSON: Scott Walker did not graduate from college - a point made often by his critics in this college town. It has not hurt him in Wisconsin, where Walker seems to be picking up where he left off, using a budget deficit to pave the way for a new battle with public sector workers. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.