Scott Walker has a problem that is perhaps his biggest obstacle to ascending to national office. To put it plainly, he's just not the cooperating type.
This was on display when he unilaterally decided to strip collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin workers and also when he rejected attempts by Wisconsin Democrats to compromise. Even Walker himself admits that he has a tough time working with the other side, and by “tough time” he means he never does it.
But this seems to have changed with his new budget announcement. In this budget was a $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin. This was expected from a governor who has proven his contempt for public education time and time again. But what’s different this time is the fact that he also proposed to give the University of Wisconsin system more autonomy and reduce legislative oversight of how it raises and spends money. Walker and his supporters are hailing this move as a compromise to show that he can be an effective executive and balance the interests of different groups of people.
I’m not completely sure what prompted him to “compromise,” but I'm pretty sure the numbers 20 and 16 have a lot to do with it. He's been trying to position himself on the presidential track since the day after he won reelection in November. He's done this by attempting frame himself as a more pragmatic governor. You can look at his refusal to get behind right to work legislation as further proof of this.
But one huge problem with him giving the university autonomy is that it indirectly affects the very people who have fervently supported him. The tuition freeze was a huge selling point for Walker, and it's a main reason why so many people love him. But Walker has not moved to expand the tuition freeze past 2017. That fact, combined with more autonomy for the university, will undoubtedly mean at this point that tuition will skyrocket in the coming years.
With $300 million less to work with, the university has to recoup those losses somewhere. As soon as the freeze ends in 2017 and university officials have the avenue to make their own decisions without legislative interference, it's pretty clear that they'll raise tuition.
Ultimately, the cuts are a political move by Walker to bump his conservative cred and make the university play the villain. This is clear from his rhetoric scolding university professors for not working hard enough.
His plans are going to shaft both the university and the people of Wisconsin. The university's tuition for out-of-state students is a bargain. In the most recent comparisons of tuition rates for out-of state-students done by the university, the institution costs about $14,000 less than the most expensive school (the University of Michigan).
The low cost and the quality of the University of Wisconsin make it very attractive to both in-state and out-of-state students. Walker's plans will eventually take away that advantage, robbing the university of both quality students and potential research dollars, crippling the university.
People need to realize that what Walker is doing is not really a substantive compromise. Now that he's won reelection, the affairs of the state of Wisconsin seem to have taken a backseat to Walker's political aspirations, meaning that Walker has effectively turned his back not only on Democrats in this state, but also the conservative middle-class families that have supported him since his county executive days. He's using Wisconsin as a toy he can tinker with to try to improve his image nationally. The only real compromise here is that this state has to compromise the quality of its universities in exchange for Walker getting a presidential run.
Miles Brown is a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.