24.3.13

AN ECONOMIST IN MADISON.

The new chancellor of the University of Wisconsin is Becky Blank, with an undergraduate degree from Minnesota and a Ph.D. from MIT.
From 1999 to 2008, she was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, where she also worked as a professor of public policy and of economics. During her eight-year tenure as dean, the public policy school began a bachelor's degree program in public policy and moved into a new $35 million building.

"We really - literally - built the Ford School," Blank told The Michigan Daily in 2007, when she announced she was leaving. "We were responsible for raising the money, constructing the building, getting the right students and faculty and putting the undergraduate program together."

In addition to her work at Northwestern University, Blank taught economics and public affairs at Princeton University and was a visiting professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Journal-Sentinel can't resist some editorializing in the announcement.
She has advised presidents from both political parties, serving as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers first for George H.W. Bush and later for Bill Clinton.

Blank's husband, Hanns Kuttner, is a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, working with the Institute's Future of Innovation Initiative. He also served in the George H.W. Bush administration as a domestic policy staffer for health and social service programs.
There's something jarring in the juxtaposition of "conservative" and "innovation initiative", but I digress.

A Progressive column takes the opportunity of Professor Blank's appointment to distance its progressivism from that of Our President.
Gone are the days when research, teaching, and outreach at UW-Madison were oriented toward improving the health, quality of life, the environment and agriculture for all citizens of the state. Now economic growth and commercialization in the service of “job creators” take pride of place as the institution’s guiding principles, and Blank is well positioned to promote them.

Blank has a strong record of developing and promoting neoliberal economic policies that put so-called free markets and the profits of large corporations ahead of the needs of people, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the Obama administration, and GATT and NAFTA as a member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors during the late 1990s.

News of her appointment was met with bipartisan praise from her current boss, President Barack Obama, and her future one, Governor Scott Walker. Said Obama, “A tireless advocate for American businesses, Becky has helped to increase our competitiveness, support our innovators and entrepreneurs, and bring good-paying jobs back to our shores.” Walker praised her “keen knowledge of economic issues that can help the UW promote great prosperity in the state.”

Agreement between Obama and Walker on her appointment is not surprising. On many education and workforce development issues, the two are in complete agreement. They both promote policies based on the assumption that the primary function of public education is to prepare students for the workforce. They also both use the fictitious “skills gap” – a purported misalignment between the skills required for vacant jobs and the skills possessed by people looking for work – as a justification for an inordinate amount of corporate influence in public policy.
Higher education's political masters are likely to take an instrumental, workforce-development attitude toward the universities. Some of the responsibility, though, rests with higher education, either for making promises of human capital development, or for gutting the liberal arts.  One economist in Bascom Hall, more or less, will not be enough to reverse forty or fifty years of that institutional rot.

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