University of Wisconsin takes off its cap

MADISON, Wis. – What a rat race! No, I don’t mean the auto industry or Silicon Valley, or even the vicious corporate American scene (well at least not corporate America in the traditional sense). I mean academia. Yes, academia, which was once aloof of commercialism and capitalism’s other “niceties.” Academia, which now has been folded deeply into the money-grubbing system in a big way so that colleges and universities, like any other business, are savagely competing against one another; all the while they engage themselves in a balancing act with their budgets.

Here’s the latest. The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will decide this June how much to increase tuition for the fall semester. For a number of years there was a tuition cap in place, which maxes out the increase at 5.5 percent. But we hear that the state’s infamous Gov. Scott Walker, bless his heart, favors removing the cap, letting, I imagine, Adam Smith’s invisible hand iron out the wrinkles of the ensuing supply and demand turmoil.

And so we once again have that wholesome phenomenon, competition, arise with a vengeance as an onslaught of conflicting interests seek to annihilate one another. Let’s see: do we give the professors what they want in order to woo them to stay right where they are since, after all, they are 18 percent below the national average in pay; or do we cater to the people those very professors ostensibly are dedicating their lives to, those tired and often poor, huddled masses who yearn to enter the “golden door” and breathe in American intellectualism, i.e. the wretched students?

Obviously if we take the cap off and increase the professor’s salaries with no restriction, as we had done in 2003, this will lead to thousands of high school graduates being unable to enter the state university system, their state system, for wont of money. Who cares if they are academically sound or not, in the end academic prowess will be a moot point, as they are unable to afford going to college whether they are academically sound or not.

And it will lead to thousands of students already in college, who will not be able to finish. (I know the governor never finished college, but why make it so difficult for those who want to go-and finish?)

So what happens to the University of Wisconsin system? Why it becomes more and more elite. Isn’t that what the Governor Walker wants? Only wealthy, maybe very wealthy, mommies and daddies will be able to send their children to college, as the rest of us meander off to community colleges, trade schools, or simply to work.

Of course the banks will get into the fray and make student loans easier and easier to get, thus leading unwary students down a spiral of increasing debt, from which they will never extricate themselves. Idealism will be stolen from them as they become beholden to the system many are highly critical of. But forced to “play the game,” they shut up and bear it as the cycle of abuse continues for yet another round.

Even though everyone knows the students really have no voice in the matter, and the UW Board of Regents will probably do just as the governor wants them to do, they will nonetheless be cajoled as follows: “I know it’s expensive, but you do want to keep the best professors at our university, don’t you? We will never be able to keep them unless we pay them well. And how can we do that unless we raise tuition?”

Since the students and their parents have been imbibing capitalism’s elixir for their entire lives, they will simply nod and look for a place to borrow the money.

No one will question that “best” isn’t always correlated with “how much;” no one will believe that a professor of merit isn’t overly concerned with squeezing as much money from the system as possible; and no one will make the obvious connection that less opportunity among our poor not only is unjust, but breeds discontent, anger, and crime, which will end up costing our society much more in the end.

But I must say, I am not surprised by what side of the issue Walker came down on. My cap’s off to you, Gov. Walker, for being consistent-and predictable.

Is it 2014 yet?

Photo: Students relax on the University of Wisconsin campus. Flickr (CC)


Michael Synowicz
Michael Synowicz

Michael Synowicz is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the College of Lake County and at Harper College in Illinois. He is an active member of the AFT union there. He serves on the board of directors at People's Books Co-op in Milwaukee, where he also volunteers. He worked as an activist for two organizations in Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Working America. At the Citizen Action he canvassed for universal health care; at Working America (an affiliate of the AFL-CIO) he canvassed to get Barack Obama elected. He has written three novels with a philosophical bent and a number of philosophical pieces. He is currently working on a book entitled "We the Milwaukee Progressives," where he is profiling a number of Milwaukee's unsung heroes in the progressive movement. He also served as a board member of a free health clinic, the Bread of Healing Clinic, where he wrote patient stories for their website.