By Jessica McBride Special to Published Feb 02, 2015 at 4:26 PM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

Breaking news: Gov. Scott Walker supports making it easier to raise salaries for faculty and tuition.

How interesting that the slash-and-burn Walker budget plan for the University of Wisconsin system isn’t being defined that way. It’s a more accurate description of the plan.

Another headline could be: Walker tells our state’s top scientific researchers to stop bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money to Wisconsin and teach more undergraduates. And he wants to make it easier to raise their salaries besides!

Politics is a game of definition. Walker is well-trained in that. Which narrative prevails matters.

Unfortunately, the UW system's PR response has seemed mired in shared governance (of course, one of Walker’s oldest friends is running university relations; the UW system president’s chief of staff used to work for Alberta Darling).

But the UWM chancellor announced last week that he was forming a committee to decide a communication strategy shortly. The PR term is "rapid response." Remember the old Carville war room? That’s what the UW system needs, stat. When you’re getting whacked in the kneecaps, you don’t convene a committee to develop a response.

The other problem is the silence of top Milwaukee officials, whose town would presumably be harmed by what might be a $20 million cut by July to UW-Milwaukee alone. Eighty percent of UWM’s 160,000 graduates stay in the Wisconsin workforce, and UWM educates the largest number of veterans and has the most diverse student body of all but one other system school (Parkside). But where’s Tom Barrett on this? Gwen Moore? Darling?

Walker’s good at defining issues. But the Walker rationale is absolutely misleading at best. Scratch that. It’s total BS.

(Disclosure: I teach full-time at UWM and have since 2004. I am instructional academic staff, and I don’t make more than the governor or teach only 1.8 classes. My opinions are my own, and I don’t speak for UWM. Oh, and don’t blame me for Walker either. I voted for the pot-advocating Libertarian because Mary Burke was totally unqualified, and I was annoyed at Walker over a host of issues, such as his then-dithering on the Kenosha casino, his office’s circumvention of open records laws and his massive projected budget shortfall, all of which I wrote about. I supported him more his first couple years.)

Let’s dismantle Walker’s phony UW arguments one-by-one. I’d respect the governor more if he’d stop insulting our intelligence and just admit, "Look. You know that I can’t create a headline saying I raised taxes because I want to run for president. Therefore, I can NEVER raise taxes EVER (that’s why I had to borrow all that money for the DOT). If my tax cuts help cause a big budget deficit that I then have to plug with wild-eyed spending cuts, so be it. I can hardly cut Corrections and run for president. And it sounds good to say I’m cutting spending, anyway. Hope you enjoy the couple hundred dollars my tax cuts got you."

Interesting isn’t it that the deficit we were told didn’t really exist is coming at such a cost.

But he can’t say that (it wouldn’t work politically) so he has trotted out instead a line of baloney.

Walker’s political genius is the way he boils down arguments into clear, simple memes that tap into pre-existing emotional narratives. He feels the need to constantly find a foil – to find an "other" – to do it. That’s wrong. But effective.

In contrast, UW’s PR strategy is starting to resemble a 70-page thesis. I’m surprised they haven’t announced that the communication strategy will be determined using regression analysis next. The UW might take heed from the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, who advised, "Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people."

Here are Walker’s top five phony arguments:

He is giving the UW system "flexibility" to offset budget cuts

The UW system is looking around aghast and wondering, "Where’s that flexibility, governor? Because we can’t find it." There is no flexibility because the budget cuts start in July, and Walker froze tuition for the next two years (conveniently until 2017, at which time he hopes he’s president). Walker then tried to argue that the UW system could eliminate shared governance (essentially rule by committee) and offset the cuts that way. What is he talking about? First of all, the Public Authority would have to pass first.

Then, the Board of Regents would have to decide to eliminate shared governance, which would be a monumental battle all its own (although possible under this Board). But there’s no way it would happen by July, and even then it’s far from clear – at all – how shared governance being eliminated would lead to $300 million in savings. It wouldn’t. Unless the newly empowered administration laid people off. But they can do that now. And then Walker is really supporting layoffs. Job losses don’t equal job creation, so he’s not admitting that either.

This is the same as Act 10

Act 10 actually did allow municipalities to offset state aid losses (except for those who had pre-existing contracts anyway). It should have included police and fire. But I supported Act 10 because it did actually give municipalities more flexibility by removing public unions from the table (even FDR was uncertain about their role). Walker opponents are playing into his hands by furthering his rhetoric that Act 10 and the UW system cuts are the same thing.

They aren’t because Walker hasn’t given the UW system any flexibility. If he defines this as Act 10, part deux, he wins the public debate (remember the public’s ruled on Act 10 three times in his favor, and he’s staking his presidential race on it.) The UW system should respond, "Where’re the tools?" The only thing this proposal shares in common with Act 10 is the demonizing of middle-class teachers as greedy haves, which was wrong then and is wrong now. The only way this would be similar to Act 10 would be if Walker had given municipalities (scratch that, an appointed board) the power to jack up salaries in two years to make up for massive state aid cuts now. But Act 10 didn’t do that at all. It did the opposite.

Professors are lazy and overpaid and should "work harder"

This meme was picked up quickly by talk radio and ricocheted around. It obscured the fact that Walker’s plan would likely lead to higher faculty salaries. Walker wants to transfer authority to raise salaries AND tuition to the Public Authority (in Texas, tuition shot up dramatically after it was removed from legislative oversight). That means an appointed board would get to do those things (after the tuition freeze expires in two years).

It’s amazing to me that people upset about professors’ salaries are praising a plan by Walker likely to increase professors’ salaries. I think people don’t understand who sets professors’ salaries now, by the way. It’s the LEGISLATURE. The Walker plan removes the wrath of the voters from the equation. Usually Republicans don’t like appointed boards setting salaries. It hasn’t worked out so great in the tech schools.

When I first read the talk radio meme decrying the fact that lots of professors earn more than the governor, and some make more than $200,000 and don’t teach much, I was momentarily shocked. It sounded bad. But then I thought: Who are these professors? Why are they paid so much? And I looked up their CVS.

The ones I randomly looked up were, as it turned out, esteemed researchers with page after page of published innovative scientific and economic research and hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions of dollars – in grant money flowing into the university.

When you read some prof’s 20-page CV outlining cutting-edge research in scientific terms you don’t even understand and the massive grant dollars he or she brings in over decades of a much lauded career, it makes you realize how truly offensive and uninformed it is for Walker to tell a person like that to "work harder."

Do you really think a professor bringing that much grant money into a university should teach undergraduates instead? Should a top scientist bringing in tons of grant money make $50,000 a year? Are you kidding me? Such professors would take their gazillions in grant money and their brains to other states. They might anyway, since they – our best and brightest, our HARDEST working – are being attacked by the governor as lazy. I thought that if you got a Ph. D. and became a brilliant researcher and brought tons of money into a major state university, you would be able to climb the pay scale. I didn’t realize the new Republican position was that no one should make over $40,000 a year. The class envy is weird.

Furthermore, the highly paid professors are the aberrations. Studies show that faculty salaries are less than peer institutions – quite less. Instructional academic staff (often with master’s degrees and lengthy professional experience) do a lot of the teaching – and they’re in the classroom generally three, four or even five classes a semester (not the 1.8 Republicans are tossing around) and make more around that $50,000.

Who do you think would get laid off anyway? Do you really think some esteemed economics professor from Madison who is chair of some department, brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money, has been there 30 years, is on a zillion prestigious boards, does cutting-edge research and has full tenure is going to get laid off? Are you kidding me? The academic staff without indefinite status, the fixed termers, the IT folks – these are the ones on the line per policy. And they are already in classrooms – a LOT. And make nowhere near the governor.

That doesn’t mean that there is NO truth in the middle. I am sure that somewhere one could find a professor who spends too much time at a coffee shop. I’ve seen some goofy – and some deeply troubling things – during my time in academe. But I don’t think it’s the norm. I think the norm is that people work hard and contribute. And here’s the kicker: Even if every single faculty member instantly taught another class, it wouldn’t save the UW system $300 million (students would likely take the same number of credit hours; they would just have more offerings) unless it resulted in a bunch of layoffs.

But then, again, Walker is really advocating for layoffs, and he should be honest about that. I wonder if that would really bother him. Frankly, Republicans perceive professors as a bunch of Marxist theorists who think Republicans are morons. That’s way too simplistic, although certainly the UW system needs to be ideologically diverse, and it isn’t always. But my argument for Republicans then is this: Targeting the UW system in this way for that reason is no different than the IRS scandal. And it hurts students.

In fact, the universities might lose money if they stuck the professors who rake in grants into classrooms and gave them less time to rake in grants. Furthermore, most instructional staff received raises of zero, one or two percent in the past years and have paid more for their pensions and health care because of the Act 10 era stuff. I still earn less at UWM than I made 11 years ago as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Public Authority would be this benevolent force controlled by pro university forces

If you believe that and work for the UW system, you might as well be a chicken trusting Colonel Sanders. The Board of Regents is almost entirely Walker appointed. It’s a political board. It’s a fair bet the Board would wipe away the no longer enshrined in state law principles of shared governance and tenure. Maybe there was a reason Walker didn’t want that Student Regent who’d signed the recall. Think about it. There’s a reason the power would be invested in the Walker-appointed Regents, not at the institutional level as it is in Virginia’s version of this.

The system needs to start cutting waste because it has a massive slush fund

They make it sound like the Deans are Lord of the Rings hobbits with stashes of gold coins squirreled away in a mountain somewhere on Bascom Hall. The so-called slush fund was actually largely committed monies for building projects and the like. All universities are not the same; some universities now have deficits. There was a very austere budget last time, and state aid to the university system has plummeted. It represents a systematic disinvestment in higher education. Furthermore, the UW system has been hit with budget cuts four times in the last five budgets.

The bottom line is this: Walker’s reasons for the UW system budget cut are completely phony.

Other states in the Midwest are making up for recession-era cuts by reinvesting in higher education. Walker is investing in tax cut headlines. That doesn’t mean there is nowhere to cut in a budget this size. Give me the budget, and I bet I could whack a million out of it. But $300 million? No way. This will do far more harm than good.

Jessica McBride Special to

Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.

She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.

Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.

Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.