UW Struggle: George Michael Freedom Edition

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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.

Freedom
Freedom!

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.

In all seriousness, if we are to move to a Public Authority—after thoroughly researching the pros and cons—when should we propose to drop Central Admin in the process? Can we explore why that might be better for campuses who have good ideas regularly flushed down the jakes in Madison? Do we really need a battalion of Chancellors reporting to a single President’s vision when reversing that flow of ideas might prove more fruitful?

Also absent from much of the discussion is, well, facts. It’s good to know that the authority will save 15 to 20 million in its first year, but where are the projected numbers of what the sales/use tax revenue will be? This is where people are understandably nervous; I know I am. Is the following scenario really that unimaginable?

Well, it turns out that tax revenues are down because no one besides the wealthy have any money, so basically we have another huge cut. Also, you know how tenure isn’t state statute anymore…efficiencies! And the state is going to nix all this anyway and leave out a bunch a stuff that used to be in code. Thank you for all that you do!

Again, is that really far fetched? In this state, right now? I want the system to save 15 to 20 million. I want to remove onerous oversight. But what about everything else that amounts to about 99% of the proposal?

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I’d also like to call for a moratorium on the awful rhetorical practice of converting human beings into metaphors that elide their humanity. It’s offensive. It corrodes our mission’s heart. It’s cowardly.

From the testimony of UW-Eau Claire’s Chancellor Schmidt:

Our Provost, Patricia Kleine, uses a metaphor I’ve borrowed: we need to empty our university basket of all its contents and decide what we will put back in, not just rearrange the contents.

We’re doing exactly that at UW-Eau Claire. We are accelerating the change efforts I began when I arrived. We are engaging the entire campus to reimagine, redesign and rebuild a university that is even more responsive and effective.

Re-arranging items in the basket won’t do. Because 90 percent of our general operations fund budget goes to employee salaries and benefits, positions will be eliminated. This reality means we must fundamentally change the way we operate as a university.

People are not eggs. Your employees’ livelihoods are not baskets. I think what you meant to say was, “I like to run through scenarios where we fire everyone except me and then decide who we’re really going to throw overboard while celebrating under the pirate banner of ‘Change Efforts!'”

Maybe UW-Eau Claire is expertly run (a number of rankings suggests it is), and there have been rumblings that significant layoffs are coming there. Still, let’s talk about human beings as human beings. This dehumanizing rhetoric is now rampant throughout the system, the town halls, the meetings, the articles, the emails, the updates. I see these every day. People are not efficiencies. Or flexibilities. Or eggs. Or cats in need of herding. They are people, people who bring more life and light to the UW’s true mission in a nano-second than “Yes boss, I’m not afraid to hurt people!” tough talk ever will. Just stop it. Please.

Until next time…Peace and Soul.