Scott Walker and the University of Wisconsin

Scott Walker is in the news for wanting to cut the budget of the University of Wisconsin by 2.5 percent and/or tweak the mission statement to include vocational readiness (nytimes).

A vocational mission for the university doesn’t make a lot of sense in a state where child support is typically a flat 17 percent of the defendant’s pre-tax income, without any limit. A person who wants to have the spending power of, e.g., a veterinarian, doesn’t need to go to the University of Wisconsin’s vet school. He or she can simply have sex with three veterinarians (married or single, drunk or sober), obtain custody of the resulting children, and then collect roughly one third of each vet’s after-tax income (17 percent pre-tax being approximately 33 percent after tax). Wisconsonians can go to college and work to do things that they love and find personally rewarding; if they want cash they can get it more straightforwardly and securely from having children.

What about the cuts? Is 2.5 percent really that bad? Since universities don’t strive for operating efficiency and since they are big employers, subject to an ever-increasing array of costs, absent structural changes the university probably needs at least 4 percent more each year just to stay even. So a 2.5 percent cut is likely a 6.5 percent cut compared to what the university had been planning. Could the university absorb these cuts and still operate in the traditional “stick speaking human in the front of a classroom full of listening humans” manner? Sure. In the book Higher Education? the authors back out the numbers and find that colleges are paying professors between $ 242 and $ 820 per teaching/office hour. You can’t spit in the street in Madison without hitting a PhD, many of whom would be delighted to work as adjuncts for a lot less than that. The simplest ways for the university to respond to budget cuts would be (1) eliminate tenure so that it doesn’t have to pay a lot of professors that it doesn’t actually want, and (2) offer to pay anyone qualified a straight $ 50/hour to teach classes. They could then look at cutting back on some of the administrative positions that they’ve added over the past few decades.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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