Scott Walker, one of the Republicans considering to run for president in 2016, earned his bona-fides earlier in his career by taking on public sector unions. Now he has embarked on another high-profile fight with a state-funded constituency: university professors. The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Walker, a Republican, has proposed a two-year tuition freeze and a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System’s budget—about a 13% drop next year from current funding levels. Under the plan, Mr. Walker would shift control of the university system from the state to a new independent authority. He has also said that he thinks faculty needs to work harder.
We have warned for some time that the modern American univeristy system is more vulnerable than many professors like to think, and that the way public universities organize themselves is going to come under much tougher scrutiny in the coming years.There is still a lot of respect in the country for the hard sciences and the people who teach them, but with the partial exception of economists and business school professors, much of the public has been losing its veneration for social science professors and humanities professors for some time.A major restructuring of the university system is likely to come, with the weak spot being the publicly funded university system. Politics will have something to do with it; studies show that university faculty are one of the most Democratic groups in the country. With a large majority of states now under GOP control both in the legislatures and the governors’ mansions, it’s going to be hard for tenured faculty and high level administrators to get a sympathetic hearing for their pleas.What we are likely to see is a steady and long term pressure against the ‘research university’ model outside of the natural sciences, with politicians (often supported by voters who want cheaper tuition) pushing to increase teaching loads. Teachers would be paid to teach, not to write critical gender study analyses for peer reviewed publications of little interest to the average voter.As the educational reform movement goes on and includes more states, look for state governments to break the accreditation monopolies, setting up or recognizing rival accrediting agencies to break the hold of ‘old model’ professors and administrators on the bodies that determine what schools are entitled to give out recognized diplomas and qualify for certain types of funding.Faculty at well-funded or endowed private universities have less to worry about in the short term. But over the medium to long term, it is likely that government financial aid can and perhaps will be used as a tool to force them to cut tuition and change their operating model. Only the wealthiest and most elite will be able to go on as before—but even they will be affected as changes in the academic labor market force changes in the organization and funding of PhD programs.If Walker’s proposals catch fire among other Republicans, regardless of how his presidential campaign fares, we are likely to see a move to reform higher ed gain a lot of ground very quickly.