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Issue of the Week: Is Wisconsin’s Flagship Research University For Sale to the Highest Bidder?

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

Jan. 20, 2010
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The University of Wisconsin-Madison Political Science Department entered into a dubious contract to do the polling research for the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI).  UW is receiving thousands of dollars from WPRI to cover a portion of political science professor Ken Goldstein’s salary in return for his doing polling under the prestigious imprimatur of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now it comes out that the Golden Rule—he who has the gold makes the rules—is unfortunately alive and well at UW-Madison.

Documents obtained by One Wisconsin Now through the state’s open records law show that George Lightbourn, a former top official in the Thompson-McCallum administration and now president of the WPRI, was not happy with the statewide polling results which showed that more people opposed the private school voucher program than supported it. In Milwaukee County, however, there was majority support for the private school voucher plan.

E-mails show that Lightbourn was able to persuade Goldstein to present his data in such a way as to please the members of the WPRI board. He wanted the regional question, Milwaukee County’s response, to be used rather than the statewide question because the statewide result was not in favor of the private school voucher plan.

Lightbourn sends Goldstein an e-mail asking him to include materials in the poll top lines that support WPRI’s stance on the private school voucher program. (Top lines are a list of each question asked and the responses to each poll question.)

Lightbourn’s e-mail: “Yes, but I don’t want the top line going out without it and was hoping we could incorporate this with the question. Otherwise, someone with ill intentions could use our release inappropriately.”

Goldstein’s e-mail back: “i understand, but i think it looks strange to put in the regional breakdown in the toplines just on that one question. We have the comparisons in the powerpoints…you can make the regional document i sent a little prettier and post as a seperate (sic) thing, but i think the toplines should be the toplines for the state.”

Lightbourn’s e-mail back:  “I’m not concerned about journalists.  I’m concerned about the Scott (sic) Ross types who would enjoy being able to portray WPRI’s own data as showing lack of support for choice. I know it’s a pain in the ass but I’ve been burned a couple of times and I don’t need to be the one holding the gas can.”

Three days later, when the poll results were released by both WPRI and UW without the statewide results for the private school voucher, Lightbourn thanks Goldstein.

Lightbourn: “Thanks for the added info. over the weekend.  It helped immensely with my correspondence with my board and other consumers of the WPRI material.”

So now we have a top-level university willing to present their data with political considerations in mind and a “policy research institute” who only presents “research” that supports their right-wing biases. 

Hero of the Week

Megan Vander Wyst

Each week, the Shepherd Express identifies an individual or a group who generously provides time and talent to improve the lives and living conditions of others. Megan Vander Wyst, 22, embodies volunteerism at its finest. A full-time student at Cardinal Stritch University, Vander Wyst donates her spare time to volunteer in multiple capacities at the United Community Center (UCC), which provides programs and services to Milwaukee’s Hispanic community and near South Side residents. Vander Wyst volunteers at the UCC’s Adult Day Center, helping adults dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related issues. She also offers companionship and help with daily activities at the UCC Senior Center, and interns at Latino Arts Inc., aiding the many cultural events staged at the UCC. For her tireless efforts to enrich the lives of others, the Shepherd makes Vander Wyst our Hero of the Week. Those who wish to assist the UCC’s mission are urged to visit its Web site at www.unitedcc.org.

Jerk of the Week

Congressman Paul Ryan

Congressman Paul Ryan has become a staple of the right-wing Tea Party circuit by appealing to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. Yes, Ryan is a likable, affable person, but his policy positions have become even more extreme than the usual Republican economists. Last week he gave a speech at the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan that would make even conservative economists like Alan Greenspan cringe. Ryan calls his efforts to fight the current health care reform bill “an ideological crusade” and labels the reform bill “the Democratic leaders’ crusade against the American idea.” So what would Congressman Ryan do?

Paul Ryan’s health care plan, H.R. 2520, would turn over more of the life-and-death health care decisions to bureaucrats in for-profit health insurance companies. Ryan’s bill would give insurance companies more freedom to discriminate against Americans on the basis of health status, age, gender and pre-existing conditions. It would also tax employer-paid health insurance plans, which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, would cause millions of working Americans to lose their health insurance.

Paul, our question is: Do you represent the people of the 1st Congressional District or the health insurance industry that has contributed more than $500,000 to your campaign committee?


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