The University of Wisconsin recently launched what is being marketed as the "Badger Promise". The program will provide first generation transfer students from the 2-year UW colleges free tuition to complete a four-year degree. The program itself is a good one in spirit. The problem is the worldview the marketing message represents, and that it undermines the very foundation of the University of Wisconsin - the "Wisconsin Idea."
The Wisconsin Idea holds at its core the progressive value of empathy - a deep moral responsibility to care for others. Our great public university is one of the ways "we the people" provide all the people of the state with what is necessary to pursue freedom and a prosperous life. Consider these important principles behind the Wisconsin Idea, and the University's service to the people, on behalf of "we the people":
"...to the government in the forms of serving in office, offering advice about public policy, providing information and exercising technical skill, and to the citizens in the forms of doing research directed at solving problems that are important to the state and conducting outreach activities...and to ensure well-constructed legislation aimed at benefiting the greatest number of people"
"Benefiting the greatest number of people." Not just the people who can afford a good life, but the greatest number of people. What better way for all of us as Wisconsinites to show that we care for others, than to provide a great university to serve everyone in the state?
Unfortunately, the marketing and message behind the "Badger Promise" evokes the exact opposite worldview of the university. Here's the message, as seen on the UW Colleges Twitter feed:
"We're in the business of creating...graduates." Sound familiar? It's very similar, and evokes the same conservative economic worldview as the powerful "job creation" message. What does this say about the university in the conservative worldview?
This "...in the business of creating graduates" message evokes the idea that the university is a business, and the people who graduate in four years are disciplined. Therefore they, and the companies they work for will be successful and profitable. Those who don't finish in four years are not disciplined, and will deserve their failure.
The Badger Promise message and worldview is about PERSONAL success, discipline, and reward in the market, and the university as a tool for corporate success and profit. It undermines the very values behind the Wisconsin Idea.
The Wisconsin Idea has been the foundational vision for the state and university, and the people they serve. It has also represented the best of how we care about the freedom and quality of life for everyone in the state. There is no better time for those values than now.