Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a controversial figure. During his tenure as the chief executive of the state, he’s become notable for his enthusiastic efforts to destroy the power of public labor unions by requiring them to recertify annually and taking away the power of those unions to bargain collectively over pensions and health care.

But recently he went ever further in his efforts to roll back progressive achievements in his state. According to a piece by Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones:

[Walker] …has to find the right balance between the bullheaded “Hulk Smash Democrats” persona designed to appeal to tea partiers and the more mild-mannered Midwestern executive persona designed to appeal to moderates and big-money donors. The latest example of his difficulties with this balancing act comes from a laughable attempt to change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin.

He would like, first, to add that “The mission of the system is to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs.” And then he would like to delete the following, bold, items from the mission of the state higher education system:

….to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing develop in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.


There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the employment needs of his state. Indeed, American state universities have always been closely focused on employment needs. But this is something else.

The hell with that search for truth thing, that’s merely some mamby-pamby liberal BS, I guess.

Also removed here, in a gesture that should strike observers as particularly disturbing, is the notion of public service as part of the purpose of a college education system.

Here at the Monthly, we maintain that public service is one of the most important components of higher education in America. We perform our annual college ranking based on the importance of public service and what colleges and their graduates “give back” to the country.

Part of the idea of the universities existing for public service actually comes from the state. The Wisconsin Idea is the Progressive Era principle “that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. It spans UW-Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service.” This helped define the mission of other universities and influence decades of legislation at the state and federal levels.

This mission edit isn’t actually going to happen this time. After the Wisconsin press got ahold of his plans the governor walked the proposal back, maintaining that,

“To me, in the end it was a confusion out there,” Walker said of the controversy. “It was a mistake that someone made. Someone assumed one thing when the idea was we weren’t going to add anything more (to the budget), they assumed that that meant we were going to keep a blank, simple mission statement. That’s why I immediately said yesterday in a tweet, ‘It’s no big deal.’ “

Or, basically, he wanted to change the mission, higher education officials and the people of his state hated the idea, and so now he won’t be able to make those changes.

But this is a man with intense political ambitions, and it appears this was what he (or “someone”) really wanted to do, remove public service and the search for truth from the purpose of higher education.

We’ve been warned, America.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer