I was reading the Wisconsin State Journal this weekend, and a column by Scott Milfred caught my attention. In the column, he argues that Republican legislators must be careful when criticizing the University of Wisconsin because Bucky will bite back.
As proof of such a startling revelation, he cites political contributions by professors to candidates over the last few elections. Unsurprisingly, more than 95 percent of the money contributed by UW professors was given to Democrats. Now, according to Milfred, this is all due to criticism from Republicans like Steve Nass, Frank Lasee and Glenn Grothman.
Not really. While critical comments from Republican lawmakers may indeed anger or annoy professors and UW administrators, I have a very hard time believing that highly educated professionals would be that easily swayed by political rhetoric.
We all know that most of our professors, whether they show it in class or not, are liberal. Is it any wonder that they contribute money to Democrats running for political office?
Despite the fact that Mr. Milfred's column is painfully unoriginal, there is a point that can be made. Republicans have to be careful when criticizing the UW System — but not because it will lead to more money going to Democrats.
For all the problems that we have in the UW System, whether it is wasteful spending on bloated administrative costs, fantasy baseball studies or hiring a crazy person in the form of Kevin Barrett to teach religious studies, there is an awful lot that we as a state need to be proud of at UW.
The UW System is the envy of the nation when it comes to a statewide system of higher education. Our professors, by and large, are among the best in the nation. As a medical research institution, very few universities in the world can even come close to us.
When we do criticize the UW System, it must be done in a way that is focused and disciplined. During the Kevin Barrett fiasco, there was never a shortage of critics who were calling for his firing and the dismissal of top administrators. However, lost amid all the political posturing and rhetoric is the fact that every time Mr. Barrett was mentioned on The O'Reilly Factor or Hannity & Colmes, UW seemed to become a laughingstock.
In our rush to denounce the people responsible for bringing Mr. Barrett to the university, we failed to make the distinction between the world-class group of professors that we have and Mr. Barrett himself. As a result, it looked as though Republicans and conservatives were just looking for an excuse to bash the university.
More recently, we apparently have the problem of too many lawyers in the state of Wisconsin. That was the justification used by Rep. Frank Lasee when he inserted a measure into the state budget that cut funding to the UW Law School. Now, there are probably areas where the Law School wastes money, there are almost always places to cut spending when a large government bureaucracy exists, but to make such a flippant and off-handed justification like that is irresponsible.
Rather than seriously debating the UW System's budget, Republicans were forced to spend time defending the remarks and the cuts. There are very good reasons to slow the increase of spending on the UW, but none of them see the light of day when careless, inflammatory comments are made.
It is not that Republicans don't make valid criticisms of the UW System; it is instead the fact that too often only the outrageous and controversial statements are heard. When justifying less spending than Democrats want on the UW System, it is more important to stay focused on where money is going or how much is being wasted that is important — not grabbing headlines by trying to see who can throw the biggest grenade.
Mike Hahn (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in history and political science.