“Scott Walker and Higher Education in the Media”


In “Scott Walker and Higher Education in the Media,” the article that I have contributed to the January-February issue of Academe, I have tried to show that it matters how professional journalists frame attacks on higher education, especially when the attacks are ideologically driven. I have focused on Scott Walker’s attempts to “reform” higher education in Wisconsin not just because of their timeliness but also because of their severity. I have tried to survey the coverage of his proposals in the national and Wisconsin media, building to a concluding consideration of the extent to which his higher-education proposals were linked in the media coverage to his presidential ambitions. More specifically, I have analyzed articles that have appeared in publications ranging from the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education to the Capital Times published in Madison.

All of the articles in Academe are available in print and online to members of AAUP. Although some articles are also available online to non-members, this article is one of the articles in this issue that are currently available only to members.

Here are several paragraphs from the article:

“Writing for the September 2, 2015, Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Kelderman explores ‘Where Scott Walker Got His Utilitarian View of Higher Education—and Why It Matters.’ Kelderman’s article opens by linking Walker’s attitudes toward higher education directly to his truncated university education: ‘In the spring of 1990, Scott Walker, then a senior at Marquette University, decided to leave college before finishing his degree. A job in finance had opened up at the American Red Cross in Milwaukee, and Mr. Walker . . . leapt at the opportunity. “Certainly, I wanted an education for more than a job,” he has since said, “but my primary purpose was to get a job.” It’s impossible not to consider that statement when regarding the governor’s recent gambits in higher-education policy.’ Most of Kelderman’s article focuses on Walker’s far-right ideology. He notes that Walker’s presidential ambitions have almost certainly influenced the timing of his attacks on higher education, and he observes that, although Walker has been one of the strongest proponents of a utilitarian view of higher education among the candidates for the GOP nomination, his views are broadly shared among those candidates. Kelderman quotes Peter A. Lawler, described as a ‘conservative scholar’ at Berry College, ‘who says the governor’s treatment of higher education as a career-preparation service is a bipartisan problem, based on the exaggerated ideas that colleges are inefficient and that the liberal arts are not valuable on the job market.’ Lawler notes that the Department of Education is also attacking the ‘personal element of education.’

“Kelderman suggests that Walker’s actions and strategies have been modeled closely on those of the political figure whom he has openly idolized, Ronald Reagan, juxtaposing illustrative statements by both men: ‘In 1967, Reagan, who was then governor of California, rationalized budget cuts in higher education by saying that taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing “intellectual curiosity.” Governor Walker has suggested that ‘maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work.”’ Kelderman quotes Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, who cites Walker’s remarks ‘about faculty members’ not working hard enough as a familiar trope to garner support from conservatives’: ‘I think he’s interested in higher education from an ideological aspect: cutting tenure, making life miserable for liberals in Madison.’

“Kelderman also tackles the paradox that Walker’s recurring tactic has been to catch his political opponents by surprise, even though the positions that he has adopted have been articulated publicly and delineated quite thoroughly by conservative think tanks in Wisconsin. He emphasizes that all of Walker’s tactics seem designed to increase polarization, to present all issues as make-or-break, either-or choices facing the state’s political class and voters. Kelderman notes that Walker has benefited from the fact that he has run for election and reelection in off-year cycles, when voter turnout has been lighter than in the years in which there have been presidential elections. . . . “



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