Walker Takes on the Professoriate

Want to get elected president? If you went to middle school, you know how it’s done: Find an unpopular group and attack them. Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to pave his path to the Oval Office by attacking lazy good-for-nothing university professors. It might backfire. Walker’s plan has a long and spotty record among conservative politicians and activists. But in general, it’s a safe bet that Walker won’t lose conservative support by standing up to the professoriate.

Get to work, nerds!

Get to work, nerds!

In his new budget proposal, Governor Walker made huge cuts to the University of Wisconsin. The university could make up the shortfall, Walker suggested, by having faculty teach more classes. In short, Walker told reporters, this was nothing more than the core conservative principle of efficiency. The cuts will make the university

do things that they traditionally have not done. Like I said, things like maybe looking at the use of faculty and staff a bit more efficiently like others have done in government in the last four years at both the state and local level.

Naturally, Walker’s proposal has raised hackles among Wisconsin’s academics. History professor John Sharpless argued that he works at least as hard as anyone else. And after all that, Sharpless complained, he will retire with a smaller salary than a Madison bus driver. Walker’s implication that faculty are a bunch of “fat cats who are getting rich off the taxpayer,” Sharpless said, amounted to nothing more than a “crock of cow poop.”

Poop aside, Walker’s attack on the professoriate joins a long tradition among conservative politicians. As I recount in my new book, throughout the twentieth century conservative leaders blamed a leftist academic elite for America’s cultural decline.

In the 1930s, for example, conservative anti-communist leader Hamilton Fish insisted that faculty at leading colleges had become public enemy number one. The faculties at schools such as Wisconsin, Fish charged, had been packed with “socialists, near Communists and Communists.”

University professors make an easy target. As we’ve explored in these pages, many conservatives assume that academic types are overwhelmingly liberal. Governor Walker may be banking on the fact that any attack on college professors will be seen as a win for conservatism.