Wineke: Worst education idea ever — make UW a trade school

Wineke: Worst education idea ever — make UW a trade school

As the election returns came in last week and we learned the Republicans strengthened their hold on state government, I began to wonder what new catastrophes the legislators could dream up.

I mean, we’ve already cut funds for public schools by a billion dollars or so, sort of balanced the state budget by making its employees take pay cuts and pretty much destroyed their ability to complain about it in any meaningful way.

Initially, it seemed that the state might concentrate on making people seeking welfare or unemployment compensation to take drug tests. This is another way to provide scapegoats for people frustrated by the economic failures of the Walker administration. Drug tests are a bad idea, but not every bad idea has the potential to destroy the state.

Silly me. I always underestimate these esteemed public servants.

This time Assembly Speaker Robin Vos proposes to dismantle the University of Wisconsin System and turn our world-class universities into trade schools. He proposes the legislature determine what research can be done.

“Of course I want research, but I want research that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” Vos said.

I’m not exactly sure what UW departments Vos wants to defund. In fact, I have no idea what he’s talking about at all. I especially have no idea what research would “focus on growing our economy.”

One would think that such research would emerge from the economics department. But the research I’ve seen on growing economies suggests our best investments are in public education and in infrastructure projects. These have not, to put it gently, been top priorities of our current state government. And it does seem to me that having a world-class university in our city has been a good thing when it comes to attracting new businesses and new jobs.

Maybe Vos is talking only of research funded by state appropriations. In that case, his proposal might not be immediately destructive since state appropriations don’t fund much research. The less money the government gives the UW, the more the legislators seem to want to micromanage the entire institution.

But there is a long-term effect from proposals like the ones Vos makes. They just make Wisconsin seem like a state without a future, a state run by mediocrities for mediocrities.

University scholars study job development. They also study sociology and history and mating habits of whatever. University scholars like to go where their research leads them. That’s why they are university scholars and not corporate technicians.

And Vos isn’t just some hick from the hinterlands. He is the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly. He is a powerful man.

I don’t blame him, nor do I blame Gov. Scott Walker. We citizens elected these guys to public office and we re-elected them. We are the ones responsible for the fact that they will carry on their destructive crusades against common sense.

But turning the UW into a trade school is not a good idea.