A nonprofit watchdog group filed a lawsuit in a Wisconsin circuit court against Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday, alleging that he is refusing to make public documents relating to an effort by his office to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin that is embedded in state law.
Earlier this year, Walker submitted a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the “Wisconsin Idea” and embedded in the state code — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”
The change is not insignificant; the traditional mission speaks to a role for the university system of broadly educating young people to be active, productive citizens in the U.S. democracy, while Walker’s suggested change would bend the school’s mission towards becoming a training ground for American workers.
Walker didn’t mention the suggested change in a speech he gave about the budget, but it was discovered by the nonprofit Washington -based Center for Media and Democracy and widely publicized. Walker quickly backtracked and said it was a “drafting error.”
The Center for Media and Democracy filed a Freedom of Information Act request to Walker’s administration requesting documents about the “drafting error” and how the language to change the university’s mission wound up in the budget document. The center says it received some documents but not all; Walker’s office saying that the withheld papers are protected by something called the “deliberative process privilege,” which the center says is not recognized under Wisconsin’s public records law. That’s why it filed the lawsuit in circuit court against Walker and his office.
“CMD believes there is significant public interest in how this attack on Wisconsin traditions was developed, and that blowing a new hole in the public records law to keep that a secret would do grave damage to Wisconsin’s traditions of clean and open government,” Brendan Fischer , the center’s general counsel, said in a statement.
Here’s the lawsuit: