On this very blog in May, I wrote a glowing post about outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, in which I praised his commitment to ideological diversity during his tenure. While I stand by everything I wrote at the time, I now fear for Wiley\’s well being, as it appears he may have been hit in the head by a blunt object since then.
This week in Madison Magazine, Wiley unleashes a ridiculously unhinged, factually challenged screed against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state\’s largest business organization. The entire vitriolic commentary smacks of typical academic elitism – if you disagree with him, you are either evil or stupid. But in effect, it trots out the same talking points any lazy liberal would use to take aim at the business community. Unfortunately, a freshman political science student at UW-Madison could do a better job of researching the facts.
To their credit, WMC has merely shrugged off Wiley\’s ridiculous attack. But such an inaccurate use of the facts from a person who should know better deserves a more thorough response.
First, Wiley trots out the old canard that the UW System is underfunded:
With almost no exceptions, everyone agreed that we can\’t grow our future economy without significant new investments in education–or at least a restoration of some of the last fifteen years worth of cuts.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the total UW budget was $2.5 billion in 1996-97. By 2006-07, just 10 years later, the total system budget had ballooned to $4.3 billion, an average increase of 5.7% per year over a decade. Of that budget, state general purpose revenue increased every year from 1996-97 ($844 million) to 2002-03 ($1.08 billion), until Governor Jim Doyle proposed cutting $250 million from the system over a two-year period. (Shame on WMC for getting Doyle elected.) By 2006-07, state aid had increased to 1.04 billion per year, with the Legislature granting campuses the authority to levy $909 million in tuition – more than twice the $400 million they collected in 1996-97.
Wiley goes on to blame WMC for the \”toxic\” political environment in Wisconsin, as if there has never been tension between those who want to raise taxes and lower them. Apparently, campaigning for lower taxes is a completely new phenomenon in Wisconsin, thanks to the business lobby, trying to represent the interest of their members. (A concept that is alien, apparently, to the teachers\’ union, trial lawyer lobby, casino interests… you get the picture.)
Even more odd is Wiley\’s attempt to blame WMC for a slew of legislative initiatives:
For the last fifteen years of Wisconsin\’s declining fortunes, the candidates WMC has supported for elective office have been the very ones who, when elected, have concentrated their efforts on opposing stem cell research and domestic partner benefits, pushing a cleverly named but economically devastating \”taxpayer bill of rights,\” fussing over the definition of \”marriage,\” hauling universities before staged hearings to defend our efforts to prepare ethnic minority students for the workforce, railing against the personal views of otherwise obscure instructors, resisting any form of gun control, proposing mandatory arming of teachers, demanding the illegal summary firing of named state employees and proposing the elimination of the state\’s only public law school.
Set aside, for the moment, the issues of \”the definition of marriage\” (which passed a public vote with 60%) and the \”economically devastating\” attempt to limit the growth of government. He blames WMC for helping elect representatives who were critical of the UW for hiring 9-11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett to teach a course on Islam. He is, of course, talking about State Representative Steve Nass, who represents a 70% Republican district, and who has likely only received minimal campaign help from WMC. Likewise for State Representative Frank Lasee, who proposed eliminating the UW-Madison law school – a terrible idea, but another legislator who probably hasn\’t ever received any real help from WMC. In fact, the more moderate the legislator is, the more likely they are to have WMC help them – since they are more likely in a competitive district.
And I challenge Wiley to come up with a single legislator who opposes \”any form of gun control,\” or who supports \”mandatory arming of teachers.\” These examples are completely fabricated.
So Wiley\’s calculus works like this: WMC generally supports conservative candidates, who vow to keep taxes down. That means they are on the hook for every Republican bill that might be introduced, whether it passes or not, whether it\’s nutty or not, or whether or not it only exists in Wiley\’s imagination.
Wiley then moves on to the favorite talking point of liberals in Wisconsin – that somehow, every dollar we spend on prisons in Wisconsin takes away funds from the UW System. He says:
Can anyone explain or justify the fact that, according to 2007 Census figures, Wisconsin has 22,966 people incarcerated when our sister state of Minnesota has only 8,757? Are Wisconsin citizens that much more criminally inclined? What does Minnesota know that we don\’t? How much money could we save if Wisconsin judges had greater latitude for exercising sentencing judgment, or if we adopted control and monitoring measures other than expensive incarceration (about $30,000 per prisoner per year)? We\’re talking many hundreds of millions of dollars in savings if the governor and the legislature could work together to tackle these badly needed reforms.
I\’d be happy to explain the disparity between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chancellor. First, Minnesota uses parole – we do not. Second, Minnesota\’s prison system is entirely different than Wisconsin\’s – most offenders are imprisoned at the local level, not the state level – so their numbers are much lower for state prisons.
Furthermore, drawing a comparison between providing funding for a prisoner and a UW student is a bogus exercise. Yes – we spend more for a prisoner – for instance, someone who may have stabbed someone else to death. We\’re paying to keep the public safe by keeping this guy locked up. To say that money is morally equivalent to making sure some marginal student at UW-Stout doesn\’t have to work a few extra hours at Taco Bell to help pay tuition is misguided. All Wiley has to do is start naming the people he thinks should be let out of prison, and we can start the debate.
Wiley\’s solutions to the toxic political environment? Simple – make the legislature part-time and eliminate most of the local governments in the state. Oh, and set up a \”blue ribbon\” bi-partisan panel to suggest changes. Man, if only someone had thought of that stuff sooner. Sadly, trees had to die to print out those earth-moving recommendations, none of which has any chance of passing.
Yet, apparently those changes are what are necessary to keep Wisconsin from – and I hope you\’re sitting down – becoming a \”permanent third-world state.\” Honestly, if any political science student at UW-Madison used that kind of hyperbole in one of their research papers, they should be forced to re-take the course (unless it was taught by Kevin Barrett.)
Let\’s review – only spending $4.3 billion per year on the UW System is going to make us a \”third-world\” state. As if, suddenly, you\’ll have to sit at your work computer covered in flies, with a distended belly. On the plus side, it may mean Wisconsin has some better Olympic long distance runners.
There\’s a lot more stuff in there, but there are really only so many hours in the day. It\’s just too bad that John Wiley has only recently discovered that the UW-Madison has been a thorn in the side of the Legislature for over a century. Somehow, I think we\’ll survive.