March 6, 2003
When the president of the University of Wisconsin System suggests that the state should consider privatizing the UW, it is hard not to think of Paul Revere’s ride: “Wake up, wake up the privatizers are coming!”
In a guest column in the Wisconsin State Journal, Terry MacTaggart gave his views on how the UW can improve by loosening the reins of state control over the university. In his words, we need to “free up the system and the universities to achieve results.” He offers greater accountability to the state in return for independence. He warns, with all the fervor of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that “Entrenched state bureaucracies resist loss of control and predict dire consequences from devolving authority.” Whoa Nelly!
In an interview, MacTaggart identified his mission as follows: “We describe what we’re trying to do as ‘entrepreneurial universities/efficient’ system.” Ah, now I get it. He goes on, “The primary benefits of the free market are the ability to increase quality, attract more able leadership, and render better results.” Sure. I think that means pay the “officers” of the “new independent university with state support but no state control” more money.
Then he suggests that the new flexibility permits the campuses to “create alliances with interest groups that will support their agenda.” When he says "interest groups," he really means big businesses like ConAgra, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Kraft foods.
MacTaggart, who spoke at the UW Memorial Union, would have us believe that the public should have no say in how its university is managed. Businessmen will take that awesome responsibility away from them and produce better “entrepreneurs.” How will the Philosophy Department or students of political science fare under this “new” flexible approach? Who needs them? As for tuition? Well, we really need to take care of the wealthy because they will lead the corporations who will run the universities and name the governor. All in the name of efficiency.
Yikes! Look out. They are coming.
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