Richard Grusin on the End of UW
Although all of the details are not filled in, it looks like Scott Walker’s bold presidential campaign move for 2016 will be the transformation of the university system from a state agency dependent on taxpayer funding to a quasi-independent “public-service corporation,” thus legalizing in practice what has already been happening in theory, the corporatization of the University of Wisconsin System. By granting the System autonomy and freedom to make its own administrative/business decisions and therefore, or so the neoliberalism of the ALEC playbook goes, Walker and his Republican allies will enable the System to find “efficiencies” and raise revenues that will compensate for the cuts in state funding, which according to an announcement on January 27, will return to their 1998 levels with a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System in the upcoming biennial. In addition to these devastating cuts, the first year of which for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee would be equivalent to the entire budget of the Lubar School of Business, the danger of this transformation to semi-private corporation is that System employees and faculty would lose their statutory protections (things like tenure, faculty governance, job security, and academic freedom are currently protected by state statutes) in favor of the contractual protections offered by the Board of Regents, who will now have almost complete authority over the UW System.
The problem with this change, of course, is that 16 of the 18 Regents are political appointees (appointed by the governor)—two ex-officio and 14 on staggered seven-year terms—as opposed to being elected, say, as they are (on a campus-by-campus basis) in Michigan, where I formerly taught. That means, four years into the Walker administration, that more than half of the governor-appointed Regents are Walker appointees; before the end of Scott Walker’s second term all of them will be. So by the end of this next biennial budget (2017), tenure and faculty governance, as well as such decisions like the appropriate number of campuses needed for the System, will be at the whims of a board made up entirely of Scott Walker appointees. The political brilliance of this move (make no mistake, Walker and his handlers are brilliant electoral politicians) is that if and when these protections are stripped in the next couple of years, the blame will not go to the Governor or the legislature but to the Walker-appointed Board of Regents, who will claim to have acted responsibly and in the system’s interests to make changes to deal with the terrible crisis caused by the Republican tax cuts. When tuition is raised and campuses closed, it will not be the state government that did it, but those egg-headed academics and their Board of Regents.
Lots more important context at the link.