A series of actions taken by Governor Scott Walker, the Wisconsin state legislature, and the University of Wisconsin system board of regents over the past few years represent a concerted attack on the university as a public good.
Taken together, the actions constitute a brazen partisan assault on the Wisconsin Idea, the century-old notion that public higher education is a common good. In 2011, legislation curtailed the system faculty’s rights to negotiate collectively. In 2015, the legislature severely weakened tenure, shared governance, and due process—and, by extension, academic freedom.
This fall, another series of attacks is underway. Without meaningful faculty input, the board recently approved an anti-free-speech proposal allowing for the expulsion of students for “disrupting the free speech of others.” It announced a plan to merge the system’s two- and four-year institutions. And it changed the procedures governing searches for chancellors and presidents. Right now, there is a bill before the state legislature that would abolish a partnership that allowed university employees to work and train students at Planned Parenthood.