If you've been paying attention to the news of academia lately, you can't have help but think that a handful of state governors (most of whom, not coincidentally, are potential or declared presidential candidates) are actively competing to see who can dismantle their state's higher education system most quickly and thoroughly. I'm fortunate that I'm teaching in a state that, while hit hard by the economic downturn (no raises or COLAs for 6 years; furloughs, mass lecturer layoffs), is climbing out of the abyss and currently has a governor who is throwing resources at public education at all levels. But we're kind of the exception.
Close to my heart is Wisconsin. I spent a truly wonderful year at UW in Madison, back when this blog started. I might have been able to finish my book without the resources and scholarly collaboration that that year provided, but it never would have been as good a book as it turned out to be. While there, I got to know the fantastic folks of Wisconsin, learned about the state's tradition of quietly progressive politics, and I even got to meet Russ Feingold. I learned the possibly apocryphal fact that the ass of the badger seated atop the head of "Forward," the female personification of the Badger State spirit, is the highest point in the state.
Something totally cool about higher ed in Wisconsin: the "Wisconsin Idea": a progressive-era ideal that the state should be the laboratory for democracy. When it comes to higher ed, they put it simply: "The boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state." And the protection of tenure was actually written into state law. Holy moly: now that's a commitment to partnership.
I kept following Wisconsin after I left, and grew progressively more dismayed. Feingold was voted out as senator and Walker was voted in as governor. He quickly moved to crush the unions, despite weeks of heroic protests and sit-ins -- a fact that he actually plays up in his "I may or may not be running for president" stump speeches. Early this year, he attempted to remove a key phrase from the Wisconsin Idea: "Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth." The university was for "workforce development," not "truth."
TL;DR: your teachers don't need to be accredited; your university profs can be fired at any moment; the "search for truth" can go fuck itself.
Oh, Forward. If only I had the power to animate you and your badger, so you could climb down from that dome. You look like you could kick some ass.
- The state of tenure/faculty governance: what's decided and what's still up in the air (Via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
- A nice op-ed/call for solidarity (from al-Jazeera America)
- A piece that takes into account the fact that, as Contingent Cassandra points out, our universities have already half-dismantled tenure by their reliance on criminally underpaid adjunct labor (ironically, from HuffPo, which tends to pay their columnists in "exposure.")