The Republican agenda for next year also includes several changes for the University of Wisconsin, according to Vos. He said that he wants to ensure that faculty spend more time teaching, and that research is geared toward helping the state’s economy.
“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
In outlining his party’s agenda for the next four years, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Popcorn) took a shot at the way in which things operate in those ivory towers someone built all over the state. Apparently, to Vos’ way of thinking, if it’s not creating jobs, building economic infrastructure or making money, why the hell would you bother to research it?
People often ask me about tenure and why tenure has value. The general sense is that we basically spend seven years doing stuff and we then get a job for life, which allows us to become lazy fuckers. In some cases, unfortunately more than a few, that ends up being true. However, Rep. Jiffy Pop’s statement here will be Exhibit 1A for me to explain the value of tenure to anyone who asks.
Tenure provides us with a shield against outside influence as we conduct scholarship. The whole idea is that we have demonstrated our value as teachers and scholars so that we can be trusted to examine issues that aren’t necessarily things other people would see as valuable. In short, to prevent people who spent their life in clouds of “real artificial butter powder” from telling us, “You must study X.” In addition, it allows us to add to the sum of human knowledge in a way we see fit without having to think about how it’s going to lead to increased tax revenue.
Truth be told, I hate some of the research out there in my field and I have a hard time justifying it to people who ask. I often refer to this as the “Left-handed Guys Named Ted” phenomenon, where we basically apply a theory to such a small or ridiculous population that we’re essentially looking at almost nothing. However, in most cases, that research is rare and it also doesn’t lead to heavy amounts of cash input or output.
Still, this is part of a growing trend of “common-folk legislators” pointing to things scholars are doing and finding ways to ridicule them to score points with constituents who lack the ability or desire to see the bigger picture. The famous study that has become code for “stupid eggheads wasting your tax dollars” is the “shrimp on a treadmill” study. Sen. Tom Coburn singled this out as a $3 million waste of money because, after all, who the fuck cares about the speed and endurance of a shrimp on a treadmill?
Turns out, biologist Lou Burnett was studying the way water quality impacts animals and their overall performance in their environments. In a broader way of understanding this, you could argue that this would impact several dozen industries that could use this information to make money on the deal. Or, you could argue that issues like water quality and our fragile ecosystem are a benefit to all people, regardless of cost or financial output.
Or you could just say, “Fuck off, Tom. I’m busy here doing actual work.”
And maybe Burnett and several other scientists in this article can point to the importance of their scholarship in some way that will back these money hawks off the plate a little. I think that stuff like cancer research and STDs are probably easy enough to explain in terms of money spent and money gained, if people actually want to hear it. In most cases, what the hear are “MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ARE SPENT STUDYING GAY PENISES!!!!” Having to defend things people see this way is never a good use of time, however, I’m worried about some of the other disciplines out there that don’t have such a direct line to the bank.
Feminism scholars? “Nice tits. Show me the money!”
History scholars? “Shit already happened. Show me the moneeeeeeyyyy!”
Art scholars? “I can buy a painting at Sears for $40. The fuck are you studying? SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!”
When Assembly Speaker Orville Redenbacher puts something like this out there, it sends some chills through the halls of education. How do we make money on the deal? This shouldn’t be the primary goal of scholarship because even if you can’t see how it’s doing something good now, that doesn’t follow it won’t do something good later. In addition, knowledge in and of itself has value. Dare I say that Vos had professors at UW-Whitewater who did research that didn’t lead to the creation of giant Turkey Hut restaurants or something that powered our finances. The guy majored in PR and Poli Sci, two fields in which scholarship is almost certain to lead to a zero direct-line impact on growing the Wisconsin economy.
Hell, even Jonas Salk didn’t turn his major discovery into an economic A-Bomb. If he had, we probably would have a lot of gimpy poor kids and Salk could have made it rain at every Pittsburgh strip club around in 1957.
The man who helped Salk earn his doctorate was Thomas Francis Jr., a virus researcher at the University of Michigan. Francis was the first American to isolate the virus that causes the flu in humans.
I wonder what people thought about that discovery when Francis made it. A lot of people probably didn’t understand what this meant or why it was important. It didn’t make a car go faster or an economy get bigger. It didn’t help us defeat the Japs or the Krauts. Yet today, everyone knows about microscopic causes of illness, health/safety issues with cleanliness and the importance of combatting viruses. In addition, this research HAS led to a giant impact on the economy through research into other viruses, medicines to help people who contract viruses and even those shitty medical ads.
If Vos had to deal with Thomas’ grant requests today, he might have defunded the poor bastard because, after all, who gives a shit about this little bit of crud you found through a microscope? At least we can all get a good laugh out of watching a shrimp run on a treadmill.