Cardinal View: Wisconsin Idea in peril without dialogue
University must give faculty platforms to interact with state communities in order to realize the Wisconsin Idea
The Wisconsin Idea is a core piece of the UW-Madison experience. It is as familiar to students as Jump Around, Babcock ice cream and trudging up Bascom Hill. It is impossible to spend four years at UW-Madison and not hear about it in a class, political debate or a TV ad.
For those of you who don’t know, the Wisconsin Idea posits that the influence of the university should touch every corner of the state. It is something that is a point of pride for the university and makes it stand out among its peers.
But not everyone loves the Wisconsin Idea. Not every community wants to be touched by the university’s reach. And not every Wisconsinite understands — or wants to understand — the work that its faculty do.
Professors, both at UW-Madison and across the UW System, do important work that affects the state’s citizens on a daily basis, whether citizens know it or not. They will often work more than 40 hours a week to do so, mentoring students and applying for grants on top of normal teaching and research responsibilities.
But from Act 10, signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, to a record $250 million budget cut in 2015, to recent changes in tenure protections, faculty members argue that their work is not appreciated by legislators.
This assault on university staff recently continued with a provision in the latest state budget that would require faculty self-report how many hours they teach. The proposal largely flew under the radar, but Walker has implied in the past that faculty could help ease budget constraints by teaching more classes.
Accountability and transparency are good things. But it is not as if faculty are not already being held accountable for what they do with their time — professors say that they must already report their hours. And especially at an institution like UW-Madison, where research, clinical work and mentoring are all vital, non-teaching roles, zeroing in on teaching seems to miss many key ways that faculty contribute to the university.