Your daily dose of Walker Derangement Syndrome comes courtesy of Steve Rundio, the editor of the Tomah newspapers.Rundio worries at some length that Governor Scott Walker’s plans for higher education put in doubt such invaluable cultural events as the production of "Guys and Dolls" by students at University of Wisconsin-Baraboo. Once upon a time, Rundio was in the chorus of one production, and it apparently left a deep and lasting impression.
I was the emcee of the Hot Box Cafe, sang "Luck Be a Lady" as part of the chorus and delivered the drunkenly slurred line, "What vulgar jewelry!"
Now he worries that our mean-spirited governor may put in jeopardy arts and theater programs of the sort that animated the youth of the Tomah editor.
Will UW-Baraboo students get that same opportunity 10, 20 or 30 years from now. After hearing Gov. Scott Walker, I’m not so sure.
What frightens Rundio? He quotes from a speech the governor gave to a California audience last November:
"We shouldn't be paying for butts in seats; [Walker said] we should be paying for outcomes. In higher education, that means not only degrees but our young people getting degrees in the jobs that are actually open and needed today, not just the jobs the universities want to give us."
Rundio interprets this as Walker’s desire to make the university serve "the needs of the business community."But given the fact that 53% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or working in a job that doesn't require a bachelor's degree, Walker’s point would seem to be more about serving the needs of students. You don't need to denigrate the contributions of musical theatre to recognize that we have a problem here. A recent AP study that found that recent graduates are now more likely to work as "waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined."Rundio worries lest Walker reduce universities to places where students are trained to make "widgets," but seems less concerned that colleges are training them to be barristas with $100,000 student loans.Jordan Weissman, writing in the Atlantic, notes that this is a problem for several reasons:
First, a degree is more expensive than ever, and students are piling on debt to finance their educations. It's much harder to pay back loans while working for tips at Buffalo Wild Wings than when you have a decent office job. Second, when college graduates take a low-paid, low-skill job, they're probably displacing a less educated worker, For every underemployed college degree holder, there's a decent chance someone with just a high school diploma is out of work entirely.
One the most important variables in whether a college graduate gets a job is what they studied in school. Students with degrees in technical fields were far more likely to be hired than graduates in the arts and humanities."You know that old saw about how college is just about getting a fancy piece of paper?" Weissman writes, "Not true. For an education to be worth anything these days, it needs to impart skills. When there were fewer graduates, a generic college degree used to be a valuable credential. Now that the market is flooded, diplomas count less, and specific skills count more."Rather than talking about "college for all," Weissman suggests, "we need to be talking about 'skills for all’ instead. Which brings us back to Scott Walker and the worried Tomah editor.Rundio thinks that all of this talk about "skills" and "jobs" and "outcomes" poses a challenge to the idyllic life of the mind he found back in the day at UW-BarabooRather than cultivating the life of the mind, Rundio charges that Walker is intent on turning universities into places that focus "how fast the next widget is made." (As an aside, this seems to be his idea of what private sector business involves.)
He wants to financially reward UW campuses that deliver the training goods ("outcomes," as he calls them). It creates a disincentive to fund music, drama, literature, sociology, philosophy, etc., particularly at a small campus like UW-Baraboo — or Wisconsin State Business Training Institute-Baraboo Affiliate, as it might be named by 2030.
And there would be no "Guys and Dolls." No "Luck, be a lady." Just widgets.On one level this is a continuation of a long running debate over the future of liberal education. On another it is just silly.Just to establish my own bona fides, I wrote a book nearly a quarter of a century ago (ProfScam) that targeted academia’s indifference to undergraduate education and teaching. That book was a strong endorsement of liberal arts education and criticized academia for its neglect as bastardization of teaching and the humanities. My point then was that student outcomes simply didn’t matter for most institutions of higher learning. The academy has heroically resisted change, hiding behind tenure and obscurantism, but the rise of the higher education "bubble" has again highlighted the disconnectWalker is not the only policymaker asking whether students are getting value in return for a very expensive education.In this sense, Walker’s point is inarguable: At some level, higher education should be aligned with the real world. Yes, there's still room for "Guys and Dolls," and "Cabaret," and 'Oklahoma," but not every student can afford to run up a six figure debt for a major in Early French Deconstructionist Criticism or plunge into the job market with a major in African Lesbian Literature. Not everyone can be a columnist for the Tomah newspapers.Some graduates need to have actual skills. What a scary thought.