Lefty Blogger Josh Marshall: Scott Walker Frightened By ‘Things Like Empirical Thinking and New Ideas’

June 14th, 2015 12:33 PM

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature may soon weaken protections for tenured professors in the state’s university system. Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall believes that Gov. Scott Walker’s enthusiastic support for tenure reform is “driven in part by right-wing ideology and in part by the palpable animus Walker himself holds to people who managed to get an education.”

Marshall asserted that Walker sees tenure reform as an attack on the philosophical strain of liberalism that undergirds “empirical thinking and new ideas,” especially in the scientific realm, and opined that as regards the system’s flagship university in Madison, the effect of the reforms would be “pretty much like just lighting [the campus] on fire.”

From Marshall’s Friday post, headlined “Scott Walker & The Haunting Terror of Knowledge” (bolding added):

[I]f you look closely at what Walker is doing there's no real budgetary imperative behind it. It's just a desire to destroy a great public institution for the sake of doing it, driven in part by right-wing ideology and in part by the palpable animus Walker himself holds to people who managed to get an education.

A big part of what is happening here is that, to people like Walker, Madison is an anchor of Wisconsin liberalism. But not just liberalism in the partisan political sense, also scarier things like empirical thinking and new ideas. And it's not just the humanities. What really comes out in this article is how much of the scythe is aimed at the sciences…

…Research universities throw off huge amounts of economic development and affluence from this kind of basic and applied research…So what occurred to me reading this stuff was that as big a bummer [as] this is for Wisconsin, there's a huge poaching opportunity for pro-science states who want to grab these people up, or just states with political leaders who aren't so afraid of science…

At the end of the day, the people of Wisconsin aren't victims here. They elected Walker and his no less aggressive GOP legislatures. Indeed, they've reelected them, albeit in low turnout off year elections. But the University of Wisconsin is a great public institution. Indeed, it is one of the first models of the American research university…

The country will get along okay without a great University of Wisconsin. But these great universities are public trusts. This really is pretty much like just lighting it on fire.