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Look around you, Wisconsin.

There are tributes to former governors and legislative leaders throughout the state. Parks, buildings and programs are named for them.

A park bears Gaylord Nelson's name, as does UW-Madison's Institute for Environmental Studies. He and Warren Knowles — one Democrat, the other Republican — have the state's Stewardship Fund named for them.

A state building is named for Republican Tommy Thompson. UW-Madison's School of Public Affairs is named for Robert M. La Follette. Kohler, Dreyfus, Lucey and Earl all have their names attached to significant accomplishments.

Each of these governors in his own way — some conservatively, some liberally — did his best to build up Wisconsin, a state with a world-renowned university, solid public schools, an enviable park system and a national reputation as a public policy innovator.

But how, do you suppose, we'll remember Scott Walker and his band of legislative bullies who have spent their time in office tearing down rather than building up?

Will they build a monument on Bascom Hill to honor Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to mark them as giving the first shove to send the university down the slippery slope to mediocrity?

Probably not, but they should.

Despite the Board of Regents' and UW Foundation CEO Mike Knetter's attempts to sugarcoat the legislative Joint Finance Committee's decision to reduce the school's budget by "just" $250 million, remove tenure from state statutes, and diminish the faculty's right of shared governance, the impact is already being felt. Several in-demand faculty stars are already being wooed by universities that want not only their expertise, but the research dollars they attract. School of Medicine professor David Vanness called it "the beginning of the end of the university system in Wisconsin."

Republican legislators, including finance Co-chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren, alibied that Wisconsin is the only state where tenure is guaranteed in state law and, therefore, putting the regents in control was simply what others are doing. UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank insisted the school can guarantee tenure just as the statutes did.

But that misses the point. Wisconsin, historically a middle-of-the-pack state economically and in population, has built one of world's best institutions of higher learning because it stood out from the pack in a number of areas, including protecting faculty from the changing currents of politics and letting them participate in important decisions.

If that's no longer the case, why stay here for what typically are lower paychecks?

As former Chancellor John Wiley put it in a column for the State Journal: "The latest huge budget cut (the fifth in the last six biennia), together with extraordinarily ill-conceived changes in our governance structure, may well mark the start of an irrecoverable decline. It’s much easier to remain on top than it is to climb back after sliding down a steep hill. And the hill is steep, indeed."

We'll remember this cabal that has worked at tearing down Wisconsin for years to come, but not with monuments.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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