Rudnik > Scott Walker’s Education Problem

| July 29, 2015

No it’s not his lack of a college degree; it’s his lack of understanding what a degree signifies.

Walker Scott

Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Arguably the most important tome in both moral and political philosophy, Plato’s “The Republic” bequeaths to us the equally ubiquitous allegory of the cave. Plato uses this metaphor to underscore the centrality of education to improving the human condition. In the allegory, Plato conjures images of men who are consigned to spend their lives in the narrow confines of a dim, despondent cave. Plato argues that without education, man will never leave the metaphorical cave and look upon the bright daybreak of sunlight—of true enlightenment.

This notion of leaving “the cave” rests at the very core of a liberal education. Universities are institutions wedded to incessant questioning; places where tough questions are asked, and by the asking, tough answers are learned.

In the past several weeks, questions have been raised surrounding Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker’s educational background. In a crowded Republican field, Walker is the only candidate who does not possess a college degree. Indeed, Walker enrolled at Marquette University, studied political science but never completed his bachelor’s degree.

This, however, is not Walker’s education problem; in fact, I’d wager that Walker’s lack of a college degree would bode well in his chances among today’s Republican primary voters. Even more, if primary or general election opponents challenged Walker’s educational background, it would likely backfire for a simple reason: such a strategy reeks of elitist, establishment overtones as roughly 70 percent of Americans do not even possess a bachelor’s degree.

Walker’s true education problem resides in his ongoing war on higher education as Wisconsin governor—and what it says about his own worldview. While Walker has attacked the collective bargaining system at Wisconsin public colleges, targeted political opponents who serve as faculty at state institutions, and cut funding for the University of Wisconsin system, his greatest, most illuminating battle can be found in his failed attempt at revising the “Wisconsin Idea.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “the Wisconsin Idea states that the mission of the UW system is to solve problems and improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. The core principle is that ‘the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.’” In his latest budget, Walker sought to change the mission statement of the UW system to “meet the state’s workforce needs,” not improve lives.

This is perhaps Walker’s most telling battle in reshaping state higher education. Without mincing words, proponents of emphasizing the more technical, workforce component of higher education fundamentally misunderstand why our public institutions of learning exist. Universities serve humanity and improve our lives in two ways: their scholars educate students in highly specialized, advanced areas of study, and produce research that improves our lives.

Michael Fleet, a professor who taught Governor Walker, reflected on Walker’s time at Marquette and noted, “He wasn’t engaged. It was like he came in with a script.” Here, we find the root of Walker’s scholastic apathy, Walker never learned the true meaning of a liberal education: the ability to question even one’s closest held beliefs. Walker repeated the conservative ideological “talking points” of the day. He never considered another perspective than his own.

In this light, we better understand the totality of Walker’s higher educational woes. He is fearful, distrustful of a place he understands so little about. That’s the thing about being unable to consider another perspective: it can create a sense of fear, even suspicion. Stated simply, Walker has never fully left the guarded, limiting world of “the cave.” He’s never broken his own shackles that bind him to the taciturn stone wall.

If anything, Walker affirms that while a degree itself is a simple piece of parchment to be hung on a wall, what it signals is something much deeper. Walker’s actions, stemming from his earliest years at Marquette, remind us of how little he values honest and earnest questioning. Above all, it demonstrates just how seductive and blissful one can find the benighted shadows on the cave wall, rather than the bright sunlight of a true liberal education.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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2 Comments on "Rudnik > Scott Walker’s Education Problem"

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  1. billeeg says:

    Nickee babee,,,having a College Degree means nothing, hell , you can order one on Inet… Todays Degrees means, You were Stupid enuf to buy into the Gov lies and now you are deeply “In Debt”. I will take a person with life experience anyday over Education. Scott Walker may be like me , Nick , I have forgot more, than “You” will ever know.

  2. Tyler says:

    I think this needed another draft……………Great editing job bros!