Scott Walker’s rise fueled by confrontations with liberal institutions – by Naureen Khan August 21, 2015 5:00AM ET

Critics say GOP hopeful has made legislative moves in Wisconsin in service of his presidential ambitions

MADISON, Wis. — On the pristinely manicured grounds of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a guiding principle has informed the instruction of hundreds of thousands of students for over a century.

The Wisconsin idea, a lofty principle first articulated in 1904 by a former university president and later incorporated into the university’s mission statement, holds that the purpose of the university is to improve the lives of people in the state through public service and the continual search for knowledge in the classroom and beyond.

But earlier this year, as Republican Gov. Scott Walker was preparing to launch his presidential campaign, the Wisconsin idea and the whole of University of Wisconsin system found itself in his crosshairs.

In addition to a proposed cut of $300 million and the weakening of tenure protections for professors then enshrined in state statute, early drafts of the state budget nixed the Wisconsin idea and held instead that the mission of the state’s public higher education system was to “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

Facing a fierce and immediate backlash that crossed party lines, Walker backed away from the change, attributing it to a “drafting error” and miscommunication among his staffers. Emails later obtained by The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel showed  that university administrators had registered their objections to the alteration and been rebuffed.

In the final budget, which was passed a day before Walker launched his presidential campaign in July, the Wisconsin idea was restored. Still, $250 million in cuts remained, and tenure protections were stricken from state law and turned over to the purview of the Board of Regents, appointed by the governor.

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