Fun with statistics: Scott Walker Edition

The old adage goes that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. In the wake of yet another “no confidence” vote against Gov. Scott Walker’s handpicked board of cronies regents and his “please don’t hit me, I won’t burn the roast again” system president, Ray Cross, Ol’ Deadeyes came out swinging this week.

In advance of the UW-Milwaukee vote on a no-confidence measure, Walker issued a press release that was packed with numbers and data to show that faculty are out-of-touch crybabies who lack a sense of reality. He then peppered it with a couple great quotes:

“The facts speak for themselves,” Governor Walker said.  “The bottom line is UW System funding stands at an all-time high, spending per student at UW-M is up more than 40 percent since 2002-03, and faculty is spending less time in the classroom.   We want to preserve the world-renowned quality of the UW System while protecting students and taxpayers.”


“Some faculty bodies, including faculty at UW-M today, appear more interested in protecting outdated ‘job for life’ tenure than about helping students get the best education possible,” said Governor Walker.  “The University should not be about protecting the interests of the faculty, but about delivering value and excellence to Wisconsin.”

Walker has two problems here: 1) The numbers only work out in his favor in a few key situations, including places where he cherry picks data, doesn’t reveal where he got his data or generally oversimplifies things and 2) While painting this as a systemwide situation in general, he’s only looking at UWM numbers specifically, thus leading people to the erroneous conclusion that the whole system is exactly like Milwaukee.

Since data is kind of my thing and since I wanted to have a meaty post this week (because, hey, who wants to grade finals when you’re already being told you’re a lazy, useless asshole), let’s unpack the majority of these Walker-isms one at a time.

Student enrollment has dropped nearly four times more than faculty from 2010 to 2014. 

It’s unclear exactly what he was measuring here, whether it was overall headcount or FTE (full-time equivalency), but let’s go with “students enrolled” given his statement. First, how does something drop “nearly” four times? It either drops or it doesn’t. The magnitude of the drop is probably more important than what you’re getting in terms of a drop. Let’s look at the numbers:

2010: 182,090

2011:  181,269

2012:  180,969

2013:  179,828

2014:  180,979


In short, this “enrollment drop” a) has stopped and b) comes out to a 0.6 percent decrease in overall enrollment in the UW System. Here’s a look at FTE numbers:

2010: 156,039

2011:  155,163

2012:  154,843

2013:  153,252

2014:  152,773

Bigger drop. Nearly 2.1 percent over four years.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, a four-year span is a pretty weak sample to examine, for a number of reasons Governor Deadeyes would have figured out if he stuck around long enough to pass statistics. The larger the sample size, the less likely any one item is to lead to an anomaly. The governor used larger spans to help make other points, so let’s pick out those years and do the math here to see how the latest year stacks up against them:

Year           Headcount     % Change      FTE                 % Change

1994:              155,197         +16.6              127,494         +19.8

2000:              160,567         +12.7              135,205         +13

2002:              165,055         +9.6                140,000         +9.1

2004:              166,245         +8.9                142,209         +7.4

If you want to see a real trend, look at these charts, which go back to the 1970s. You’ll learn two important things:




  • Enrollment is still on an overall incline. In fact, the overall UW enrollment number for the 2014 year is the third-highest enrollment year since 1973. If you only count FTE, it’s the sixth-largest over that time.
  • The highest year on record was 2010, the somehow crucial year that Scott Walker chose as a point of comparison.


In terms of UWM, the data does show the drops from 2010 to 2014 again, but the data still holds to the pattern outlined above: The long view shows we’re getting more kids now than years past when the state actually was putting in a much more sizeable chunk of cash. (If you want to have fun, feel free to play with this graph toy to look at all the campuses. If not, you probably have a better life than I do.)


The number of students per faculty member has dropped slightly from 2000 to 2014


Again, relying only on what the governor said, this doesn’t make sense. If we pull the number of faculty (not instructional staff or anyone else) from the same site he did for the two years and the students for those years throughout the system, you get this:


Year                Faculty                        Students                     Ratio

2000               6,103                          160,567                     26.3 to 1


2014               6,384                          180,979                     28.3 to 1



Even if you want to do it FTE, it still doesn’t make sense:

Year                Faculty                        Students                     Ratio

2000               6,103                          135,205                     22.1 to 1


2014               6,384                          152,773                     23.9 to 1



The only way this works is if he’s only talking about UWM, where the ratio went from 35.2 to 1 in 2000 to 34.4 to 1 in 2014. Even so, that’s a ridiculously high ratio of students to faculty when compared with the overall system. So even if their ratio “dropped slightly,” it was from “Unbearably Large” to “Slightly Less Unbearably Large.” UWM’s own self-serving numbers puts this at 18-1 while the AAUP puts it in the 20-something range. It’s unclear where those numbers came from or how he did this, but sufficient to say, not every number points to Walker’s talking point about fewer kids and more bloat in faculty.


Spending per student increased more than 40 percent from 2002-03 to 2015-16.


Right! But not the way Walker wants you to think. This idea makes it sound like the state keeps dumping money on students across the board. However this isn’t what the STATE spent on STUDENTS, but rather what STUDENTS spent ON COLLEGE. In short, look at this nifty graph:






That’s right. Almost EVERYTHING went up in terms of spending and funding, from scholarships to tuition to donation money and more. State spending, on the other hand, took a nose dive ever since… wait for it… right about the time SCOTT WALKER TOOK OFFICE.



Faculty average student group contact hours, hours spent in classroom instruction, have dropped 20 percent from 2000 to 2013.


The UWM numbers bear this out, but the AAUP response makes a good point: The university shifted to a Research I institution, which requires far more research from the professors and thus less classroom time. RIs are more prestigious and often come with a 2/2 load. Places that are purely teaching based can go upwards of a 4/4 or 5/5 load, depending on needs. Thus the drop from 7.9 hours on average to 6.1 totally makes sense.


To have a better sense of things, it’s more instructive to look at the numbers for the cluster of comprehensives (the majority of your UW schools that turn out four-year degrees) to see what happened there.


2000:              11.9

2013:              11.6


There’s virtually no change in that, even though more of the universities have been pushed to be in the “research added” category, where more scholarship is expected of them.


Perhaps an even more important thing is that we HAVE TO get people past this idea that the only thing you measure is time spent in the classroom. That would be akin to saying, “Firefighters don’t deserve to get paid what they do because they’re only fighting fires a couple hours per week.” Or “Police don’t deserve their money because they didn’t solve a murder today.” (I’m not equating danger of job here to faculty.) Add in the prep time, the grading, the individual meetings, the student group advising, the student course advising, the research, the meetings, the course building, the accreditation crap and everything else and you start to get a better idea of what we do in a day/week/month. There’s always an email to answer, a paper to grade, a kid to help, a situation to fix and a colleague to assist. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t working or thinking about work. I also have no memory of any day where I went in, taught a course and left, doing nothing else work-related that whole day.


Focusing only on the time spent in classrooms is disingenuous at best and a purposeful con at worst.


Full professor salaries averaged $101,700 in 2013-14 school year. Average annual pay for all workers in Milwaukee County was $49,539 in 2014.


Again, we have no idea where exactly these numbers came from and Walker hasn’t been forthcoming about that either. It’s always easiest to spin a narrative that contains numbers when other people can’t see how you ended up with those numbers. Walker pulled a similar trick when he first started killing unions in the state with his claim of “thousands” of emails pouring in that supported his moves during the Act 10 fiasco. When the AP and State Journal sued to get them released, it turned out his numbers were total bullshit.


Also, we even GRANT him that these numbers are accurate, keep in mind this is only full professors, or people with the highest rank on campus. It’s, again, unclear if he’s going after UWM or the whole system, but consider this: At the four next-largest campuses (after UWM), here are the number of full professors who supposedly make AT LEAST that amount that Walker touts as an average:


24 at UWO

7 at UWGB

29 at UWL

24 at UWW


And in case you were wondering, almost all of those are in business or nursing, two fields that are in the highest demand for faculty.


Let’s look at a few other fields and specialties:


The highest paid full history professor at Whitewater makes $75,386.

The highest one at Oshkosh? $71,606


The top of the mark at UW-LaCrosse’s English department’s full professors gets $74,192. The best-paid professor in Theater at UW-Green Bay makes $71,611.


No professor of journalism at UWO makes even 90 percent of that alleged average. Same thing at UW-Eau Claire.


When it comes to associate and assistant professors, things are less rosy, with many of them being hired at around that Milwaukee County Average he’s touting. (Our previous two hires were brought in with doctorates and received less than $50K each.) It’s also kind of unclear who counted in his “Milwaukee County Workers” argument. It’s unclear if the kid cutting grass in the park for the summer is lumped in here or if it’s office staff, garbage collectors or what.


And for what it’s worth, Scott Walker makes $147,328, which doesn’t account for his free housing, free vehicles, free bodyguards and more. All that without ever having graduated college.


Pretty good work if you can get it.

4 thoughts on “Fun with statistics: Scott Walker Edition

  1. I’m not a statistician, but when I see several different time frames used for comparison to today, it appears to be cherry picking whatever data will validate whatever conclusion is desired.
    That, and he’s an asshole.

  2. “because, hey, who wants to grade finals when you’re already being told you’re a lazy, useless asshole”

    I thought you were a productive asshole. #ducking

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