For those students prefer to tune into Netflix more than campus current events, right now there’s a search and screen going on for the University of Wisconsin’s next chancellor. 

While there have been concerns raised over the process, such as the fact the university is throwing money at a private consulting firm instead of using its own resources (professors, researchers, etc.), these concerns pale in comparison to how many factors the Search and Screen Committee must consider. Given the current political climate that seems to be hostile toward “wasting” state money on education, whoever is chosen to replace our tepid Chancellor David Ward must be one hell of a capable leader for the UW System’s flagship school. 

That being said, “a business-minded applicant” absolutely should not be a predominant factor

Our next chancellor should, of course, understand the finances that come with the territory, and be able to factor in the fiscal tenability of the university. We don’t want a financial illiterate at the helm, but at the same time, we should not have a chancellor who makes the university’s earnings priority number one. 

Liberal arts education doesn’t exist for profit. It exists for scholarship: knowledge for knowledge’s sake. UW is not a business operation, and thus should not be viewed as such. 

The push coming from the business community for a business-minded chancellor is based on the premise UW isn’t doing enough to create jobs, and taking a business minded approach to an educational institute would fix this. But last time I checked, the whole “Wisconsin is open for business” approach coming from our Capitol isn’t resulting in all that much growth for Wisconsinites. 

While the reasons the business-minded approach doesn’t work for overall growth are too complex to go into here, they’re based in the reality that supply side, pro-business, whatever-nomenclature-you-wish-to-use-for-it, economics only causes growth for the upper slice of the economy – with virtually none of the benefits “trickling down” to the middle and lower classes. 

The Capital Times notes UW seems to lag behind other universities in terms of start-ups, though that lag is slightly less compared to other Big Ten schools. Naturally, this is something the business community is quick to point to in order to use UW as a scapegoat for why Wisconsin’s economy is doing bad, despite the fact we’ve already carried a disproportionate amount of the blame via funding cuts for a recession caused by – who, again? – oh yeah, an unregulated business and finance sector. 

But perhaps the discrepancy is symptomatic of something desirable. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we don’t blindly follow the herd. “Let’s do things the way Purdue does them,” said no Badger ever. 

Perhaps it has more to do with Madison students, researchers and professors appreciating academic excellence, or, put differently, the importance of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Maybe we like critical thinking for the sake of better understanding ourselves and the world around us, and getting intangible value from our lives instead of maximizing how many cars we own. 

The generation of current students is in a precarious place. We grew up being taught college is a must from a generation for which it was affordable. Thirty years ago you could get undergraduate and law degrees and graduate with zero debt, having paid it all off by interning at a law firm during law school. Now, you would likely graduate with the amount of debt you would generate by buying a house. 

What changed? The “businessification” of education. For example, schools now construct new buildings to increase their net worth, in order to raise their price tag and increase their ranking. Who cares about the quality of education when you can make money from it? 

Instead of making education affordable and virtually free like, you know, all other civilized countries, it’s become prohibitively expensive here. And thanks to a culture that says we must go to college in order to be successful, we’re stuck in a place prior generations haven’t been. 

But yes, please, let’s continue that business-minded trend and let profit run our educations. Let’s simultaneously complain China will outpace our economy and forget to mention they’ve been increasing the proportion of government budget for education while we’ve been decreasing it . 

A university needs to remain financially afloat, and I have no doubt Madison will do just that. How much a liberal arts, research-strong university contributes to the economy should never be question number one. 

Sorry, but my UW degree is not “open for business.” And I hope our next chancellor feels the same way. 

Reginald Young ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in legal studies and Scandinavian studies.