Tuesday, December 12, 2006

When Oversight Becomes Antagonism

Incoming Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) recently made his committee chair assignments for the coming session.

There are a number of concerning assignments, such as placing Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) -- who helped tank the ethics reform bill last session -- in charge of the Judiciary & Ethics committee (though, in fairness, you'd be hardpressed to find a GOPer in the Assembly who did support the ethics bill...at least behind closed doors).

But the appointment that's getting the most attention thus far is Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) as chair of the Colleges & Universities committee. Nass is defending his appointment by saying that being a UW critic is his job as a member of the legislature, which is supposed to provide oversight of state agencies.

He's right, of course. Oversight is necessary and important.

But what makes the appointment of Nass so concerning isn't oversight, but his antagonism toward the UW and its current leadership. This is a point that Dave Diamond noted in a couple of posts yesterday (here and here).

In an August op-ed, Nass even went so far as to essentially state that the current UW leadership -- who he will now need to work with frequently and closely -- should be fired. Other proposals by Nass go beyond mere oversight and into the micromanagement of UW policies ranging from admissions to personnel.

As Dave Diamond noted back in August about Nass' opposition to holistic admissions:
The trouble with Nass is that he believes UW officials can operate the university without being at all responsive to the outside world. To him, it's not a problem if Fortune 500 companies won't recruit at UW-Madison; preparing students for a global economy isn't worth it if it means importing that hippie "diversity" nonsense. It's OK if retention and graduation rates sag, so long as we don't abandon test scores as the almighty determinant of a person's worth.
In short, while it's certainly appropriate for the legislature and the governor to provide oversight of the UW System, taking policies out of context (such as out-of-state tuition reductions) and getting bogged down in incessant specific criticisms of the system's daily undertakings (such as the hiring of one instructor for one class) ultimately transforms oversight into antagonism, which leads to an unproductive outcome for everyone involved -- most notably the state of Wisconsin.

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