Thursday, February 17, 2011

Killing the University, Softly

UW-Madison is a great university. But it faces an attack that will destroy it as a public institution. State support for higher education in Wisconsin has been falling for decades, and Scott Walker and his conservative allies will reduce it even further. Unfortunately, Chancellor Biddy Martin is creating a situation which will doom future state aid, regardless of which party controls the Capitol.

We support public universities because they provide public good. If the average citizen can't see and recognize that good, support will dry up. For the vast majority of people in Wisconsin, the main public good provided by the UW-Madison campus is the opportunity to attend a world-class institution in their own back yard.

Biddy Martin is going to change that. With the best of intentions, she has signaled her willingness to accept a significant state aid cut in return for "flexibility". Flexibility means a huge tuition increase, ten percent fewer Wisconsin students , and dividing UW-Madison from the rest of the UW system

By making far more difficult for the average Wisconsinite to attend UW-Madison, while simultaneously separating Madison from the other campuses, Martin virtually guarantees continuing erosion of public support, and the eventual end of all state funding for the UW campus. It will take years, but as each reduction in state aid results in further tuition increases, and the need to accept even more out-of state (rich) students, the result will be inevitable. UW-Madison will evolve into an elite private university, no longer supported by, or accountable to, the people of Wisconsin, and out of reach of all but the most wealthy.

You might argue that the many other benefits from UW-Madison, including the billions of research dollars that it brings in, will protect it from such a future. You would be mistaken. Most Republicans, at least those in the Capitol, are perfectly happy with the concept of a privatized UW-Madison that serves the needs of business and the wealthy. And Democrats are not going to lift a finger to preserve an institution that their constituents can no longer hope to attend.

For better or worse, the Ivy League may finally invade Madison. The Wisconsin Idea will be the first casualty.

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