UW Struggle: Final Update

RockyAusterity’s first requirement is the imagination’s death. The death of ideas and their very possibility. And thus the only line of the current UW “budget” plan I need quote is:

38. Shared governance, general: Specify that, with regard to the responsibilities of the faculty, academic staff, and students of each institution, “subject to” means “subordinate to.”

This has always been about faculty. The level of obsession with faculty, with bringing talented, humble, and hard-working people to heel—the people most responsible for delivering the university’s mission—approaches pathology. Maybe I should post this list again? The one that clearly details how powerless and removed faculty are from being the source of the UW System’s problems? (I could write a whole separate post about how students don’t even seem to exist.)

President Cross, the Board of Regents, and a hostile legislature collaborated to more fully extend Act 10 to the public university system, and they can barely contain their glee. When Regent President Falbo refers to “a new tone” for the UW, he means “shut up faculty.” Falbo, like the legislature, fetishizes authority; their imaginations cannot extend beyond the conceptual framework of “the boss.” Put another way, they cannot imagine democracy. The central purpose of the omnibus bill is to clear the way to fire faculty, at will, with no effort required for cause—our austerian overlords must simply cite program “discountinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection.”

And like Wisconsin’s K-12 teachers, who can be fired based solely on budget projections or anticipated shortfalls, the same tactic will be applied to UW faculty. We have already seen cuts based on a budget that does not yet legally exist. Expect projected cuts and shortfalls to provide future justifications for firing faculty. The bill’s language anchors upon economic causes for dismissal, but that’s merely the garb retribution dons these days. Last year I sat in a school board meeting where the members and Superintendent explained: if there is a projected budget shortfall we can fire you, but when the money comes through late in the process we can re-hire you, or someone else, back at a starting salary. These are human beings, talking about other human beings. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Final Update”

UW Struggle: The Banality of Weasels

Weasel1This has been, to say the least, a disheartening year. Again, public servants—with teachers often at the forefront—have been demonized in the latest round of “grown ups playing public relations.” When budget decisions are finally made in June (maybe), most teachers won’t even be under contract, opting instead to retreat to their accessorized yachts and mansions in various tropical, taxpayer-funded islands. Personally, I and various rappers will retire to my brand-new yacht, which I’ve christened, “Union Thug Without Collective Bargaining Rights of Any Kind.” I live large.

But let me get to the point. For those who catch the reference in my title, I greatly admire Hannah Arendt. Mostly, it’s her guts. More importantly, she demystified for me the figure of the evil genius and the master plan. She focused on the “unthinking,” the middle manager who, beyond a specific competency, might as well have been Mr. Magoo. And thus Wisconsin… where almost no one knows what they are doing, and here lies another desperate/fanciful call for voters to help rectify this. Heeeeeelllllllllllllllllllp!

So, where are we in the great unthinking budget games?

Exhibit A: Let’s start outside of the UW for a moment, where a state legislator has pretty much said we should cut the science bureau of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Why? Climate change of course! Like many other parts of the country, opposition to the reality of climate change, or that humans have direct effects on the environment, passes as “thinking” or a “point of view.” (Here’s my test: “You don’t think humans have a direct effect on the environment? Okay, let me pee in your water and you drink it. Remember, no impact!”) To quote the Senator in question, “I’m critical of science services. I don’t think they’ve used good science. And I’ve got to tell you, they’ve done big-time harm here to my district here in northern Wisconsin.”

Good science! Let me get this straight: if you think scientists are bad at their jobs, you don’t get better scientists, you simply get rid of scientists in total. Actually, I sympathize. For example, when we had a plumbing problem at home, where a pipe broke and spewed waste all over the basement, we weren’t sure if that waste had come from humans or not. After all, it was coming out of a pipe and not someone’s privates. Given that, I fired all plumbers in my mind. We now just live in our own filth and connect to a simpler time. Holy fat frog’s ass. What’s wrong with people? Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Banality of Weasels”

UW Struggle: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Public Authority Edition

funnythingSo much has happened. But if anyone reads one sentence of this post, let it be this: in the process of resisting the UW’s strict top-down authority, people are making a real difference. We’re active. We’re out there. We’re contacting legislators, connecting with the community, attending joint-finance hearings, crafting editorials and open letters, voicing expectations to campus admin, and openly questioning the UW’s central leadership. It’s working (depending on your goals, of course). This is not to say that results will be favorable, but it should serve as a proud reminder of what might be possible beyond the passing of the current budget. This is a long game.

If you haven’t read Noel Radomski’s chronology of the PA proposal, do so. (I have coffee, I’ll wait.) What does this reveal? UW admin is interested in shared governance as a talking point, not a method of operation. As Karen Herzog’s profile of President Cross documents, Cross has a preference for performing public work in private and the results have been disastrous, rhetorically and substantively. Going by even the most basic definition, people expect leadership to be direct and provide clear vision. This is not happening in the UW (for the duration of this post, this means central admin). In fact, we are modeling for our students, and our state, the very things we identify as being exclusionary, oppressive, and unimaginative. This is heartbreaking.

So, what is the funny thing that happened on the way to the public authority? We made a discovery: a good part of the problem is us. We must fix it. In other words, when we are being told to accept without question that our funding model is broken, it is actually our leadership model that appears broken. Isn’t it clear that a central UW admin doesn’t serve the system well? Do we need a single system, close-to-the-vest President to be our voice in public (and private) forums? Is it actually working against our interests to not have a diversity of voices present at all times? Is this model misrepresenting who we actually are? Instead of a president, would we be better served with empowered chancellors who are directly engaged with their communities and local legislators?

I’m not sure, but here’s where my thinking is about what’s failing: Continue reading “UW Struggle: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Public Authority Edition”

UW Struggle: Okie Dokie I Reckon Yessum Update

Don_Knotts_Barney_and_the_bullet_Andy_Griffith_ShowI’ll keep this brief. Like my career, apparently.

The Journal Sentinel published a long profile of UW System Ray Cross. I don’t know much about him personally, so I was happy for it. That being said, I’ve thought a lot about some things Cross says in the profile, especially this tidbit:

Cross said he doesn’t ascribe motives or assume ill intent when working with lawmakers.

“I don’t believe there’s a legislator in the Capitol who wants to hurt this institution. Nor do I believe that we understand that. The university often interprets actions as harmful because something’s ‘due to us.'”

Rhetorically, this is typical of Cross, who did the same thing the one time I spoke with him personally. He has no problem ascribing motives, or a single belief, to a massive institution while simultaneously doing gymnastics to reinforce the supposed diversity of another. In doing so, he also refers to the supposedly myopic system he governs as “we” while separating himself from that we—it is him, after all, that stands apart and recognizes this shortcoming.

This is pure fiction. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Okie Dokie I Reckon Yessum Update”

UW Struggle: Sales Tax Redux (“Help!” Edition)

Fact: 1 in 4 Beatles is the Taxman
Fact: 1 in 4 Beatles is the Taxman

Like many, one of the concerns I have about shifting the UW to a funding mechanism based on sales tax is the disproportionate effect it has on lower earners.

Now, I directly asked my Chancellor at Friday’s town hall meeting, “How do you personally feel about shifting to a funding stream that is based on sales tax?”

His response, almost verbatim, That’s not true. The money is appropriated from a variety of different taxes. Then he turned to another question.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing my Chancellor. I just want a definitive answer on this (and thus, we’re back to criticizing System). In short, help! Does anyone know the answer? If so, why is this something that is presented as simple (“The system will be based on sales tax revenue”) until you ask about it (“It will pull from a variety of tax sources”)?

Why do I want to know? I have moral questions about who such taxes would burden with the responsibility for funding a UW system that would likely become less available to the non elite. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Sales Tax Redux (“Help!” Edition)”

UW Struggle Update: Do Not Be Managed Into That Good Night

So much has happened this past week, sometimes hopeful, sometimes despair inducing, and given the nature of the information flow it is all pretty much impossible to summarize. A few observations:

The Chatter

powered-by-fairy-dustSince the release of Governor Walker’s budget, enough time has passed for a range of voices to emerge: Chancellors, students, faculty, staff, regents, alumni, community members, articles, open letters, and newspaper editorials represent a good portion of the volume. Let’s pretend that all of those voices make up a solar system with the UW itself being the central star. Let’s say the leverage a specific voice carries determines the size of that planet. Let’s say that the passion with which you speak about and defend the UW System positions you closer to the warmth that is the sun. Is there any question that Ray Cross, one of the largest planets in this system, appears to be the furthest away from the sun? Continue reading “UW Struggle Update: Do Not Be Managed Into That Good Night”

UW Struggle: George Michael Freedom Edition

(Musical accompaniment at bottom of page)

Today was the big day for UW leadership before the state’s Joint Finance Committee, and to be honest, a twitter-bot could have produced more original material. This isn’t a conversation (see: ‘Right-to-Work’ hearings); it’s rhetorical leftovers from a triumphantly terrible dinner. To recap the livestream:

Public authority efficiencies flexibilities public authority accountable to the non-paying taxpayer efficiencies accountability shoot me now.


I confess to liking, in a George Michael sort of way, much of the “freedom!” described, and wonder why this great ambrosia of liberty cannot be legislated by a state still willing to fund its university system.

I have definitely encountered impediments to innovation while working in the system, and that impediment has always been (not ironically) Central, which, sadly, would still remain if we moved to a Public Authority structure. Here are two examples, ripped from the drama of life:

Vignette A:

Me: Do we really need to use Extension for Competency-based programming? We can do it so much faster and better ourselves.

Central: Fuck you very much.

Vignette B:

Me: D2L eats a big bag of dicks. Can we run our online classes through an open platform or, you know, the real web?

Central: No. We need to pay D2L all the monies, and help the unethical cesspool known as Turnitin make an enormous parasitic profit in the process. Also, fuck you very much.

I have no doubt whatsoever that our new-found 1776 system of education will result in Central stepping right off the road to freedomvation. Continue reading “UW Struggle: George Michael Freedom Edition”

UW Struggle: Zero Dark Cheese Curds

Image: Viktor Koen
Image: Viktor Koen

Yes, I’m tempted to open this dispatch with my feelings about my Governor comparing teachers, firefighters, nurses, students, retirees, and children to terrorists, but my sleeper-cell family is, well, still sleeping, and I only have so much time before I have to cheeseboard a few of my detainees. (“Terrorism is hard! Tell me where your season tickets are!”)

Lost in this jaw-dropping look into the delusion that people like Governor Walker inhabit (perpetual victimhood, ignoring real concerns somehow equates to strength), is this tidbit that has me thinking quite a bit about the UW:

Earlier, Walker told the crowd the secret to winning at the ballot box is fighting until victory is achieved, not compromising.

“You know how we did it?” Walker said of his political and policy victories in Wisconsin, a state that has been voting Democratic for president since the 1980s. “We did it without compromising. (Emphasis mine)

No compromise. Yet, the UW budget cuts versus the move to a public authority is being passed off as a…compromise. One of these things is not like the other.

Where was this tattered narrative of exchange first tailored? It didn’t materialize in every single article of first-wave reporting by accident, did it? I would love some clarity because it would go a long way to answering my recurring question about whether or not the UW has a true advocate. If the Governor’s calling card is extremism (the very definition of unwillingness to compromise), then who is behind casting the current UW narrative as one of compromise? Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. Governor Walker, like he did with Act 10, frames unilateral action as cooperation, and this case is no different. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Zero Dark Cheese Curds”

UW Struggle: Tough Choices Edition, Plus Goodies!

SmallEdamCheeseGreetings from Wisconsin! Land of tough choices, tough cheeses, and freedom from the tyranny of decent benefits and job security! (You’re only as good as the ease with which you can be fired flexibled and efficiented.)

Above the Fold: Tough Choices!

UW President Ray Cross stormed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page to double down on moving the system into a public authority, indicating that we will need “to make difficult decisions about what [the public authority] will look like,” paired with a lot of other language about the huge budget reduction we face right now.

I need two coaches!

Well scratch my jock, these tough choices include raising the pay of UW Madison assistant football coaches less than we’d actually like! How are we going to stay competitive in the Big 37? This is difficult, but with strength and grit hopefully we’ll make it through. Whistle rationing starts now! But if I can (sort of) quote my Governor, “Why don’t coaches coach more?” Come on Coach Chryst! Take on some extra players! Get Barry out of the sauna!

Note: I count 97 players on the current roster. With one head coach and nine assistants, that’s less that 10 players per coach. Let me introduce you to faculty who teach classes twice the size of your team, with no assistants. Coach more! This is the 21st century global first down! Nimble! And on a personal note, if your tight ends coach makes $125,000 a year, then I am a tenured professor who doesn’t even rate a single butt cheek. Thanks. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Tough Choices Edition, Plus Goodies!”

UW Struggle Update: Morality Check

GBDisclaimer: I am an idealist. This makes me quaint. I imagine others feel similarly when the ideals you hold close to your beating heart are not given serious consideration from serious people who only take seriously the various permutations of money and business and the empty signifier that is “accountability.”

Another tongue twister: I am embarrassed for myself that I am too embarrassed to ask, in public forums, about the morality of Ray Cross’ and Governor Walker’s plans for the UW System. My Chancellor, who I like, has said on numerous occasions that he supports our move to a public authority because he has experience with such systems and that the UW is too complex to be run by legislators who are not necessarily experts in higher education. I sympathize, but do all public authority models have to look like what we’re proposing? Continue reading “UW Struggle Update: Morality Check”