UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition

chuck_barris
h/t to Alan Talaga for making a Gong Show reference on Twitter

What if I told you that someone with responsibility literally brought a red button to a meeting? What if I told you that this person, while his subordinates were making test-run presentations, would push the button and the words ‘no whining!’ would be ejaculated as a sound effect? Again: this is not a metaphor. This is real.

So I’ll ask: Who is this person? What do you imagine the setting to be? Are we talking about adults? Younger people? A gimmicky corporate setting? Friday night neon bowling?

No. That would be the President of the UW System and the subordinates would be our campus Chancellors, who were asked to describe the campus effects of another quarter of a billion dollar cut to state support. They were instructed not to whine (as faculty have been told to not be emotional), and upon further review, the presentations themselves were cancelled. I know what you’re thinking: this can’t be true, no way, this is the president of a university system, we knew you were close and you’ve finally lost it!   I know; that’s what I thought as well. Here is the incident in question detailed by Nico Savidge:

“[The presentations] should be factual, not whiny,” Cross wrote in his message.

Cross insisted on this point — he said in the interview he brought a red button to the meeting to be used if he felt a chancellor was complaining too much in a presentation. When he pressed the button, a sound effect shouted, “No whining!” (emphasis mine, because wow)

What, were hand buzzers and bottles of seltzer spray unavailable? You couldn’t find someone on a unicycle to ride up and poke them in the eyes? Look, I miss Benny Hill too, but I have access to YouTube.

Still, this can’t be true. So I asked Nico on Twitter to confirm—Nico was tweeting a lot about the Final Four, thus I assumed he was brained by an errant chicken wing when the North Carolina Won’t Make Donuts for Gay Heels (see Glazed 3:15) went down at the last moment—he assured me that his mental state was not the problem:

With that established, here’s a full gloss of President Cross’s iPod mix:

Can you imagine, just for a moment, being a Chancellor of a university—a position with an enormous amount of responsibility to an incredibly wide range of stakeholders—and have someone interrupt you with a ‘No Whining!’ sound effect while you are trying to describe how many staff members you’ve had to lay off and what programs you’ll be cutting, with no end in sight? Would you have an existential moment of crisis where your inner voice conceded, “Oh my god, I’m an adult”? Well, I guess the ‘flexibility’ everyone wants for Chancellors doesn’t apply to their actually speaking without permission and an approved message.

For the record, I really respect my Chancellor and want him to be able to speak freely and honestly about his responsibilities. He is far too classy to ever complain about such a stunt, but I have no class, and thus at the first press of the button I would have immediately gone over the table and engaged in the full Indiana. What is the full Indiana? Behold:

Unfortunately, none of this is a joke.

Right now, the Board of Regents is meeting on my campus, pleasantly hosted by a great number of people they just stripped earned job protections away from. They will have the best parking spots and eat for free. A large portion of the Cloud Commons, where just two night ago students had to wait in line past 9 p.m. to cast their votes, will be blocked off and reserved for this meeting—the Regents will wait for nothing.

What is today’s meeting all about? The continuance of the big lie(s). Right now, a few of those include:

  1. The most important strategy for our future budgets is tone policing. Nico Savidge reported that the presentations were cancelled “after consulting with some Regents and considering, among other factors, the System’s next two-year budget.” False. Reducing money for all things public is a feature, not a bug, and more cuts are coming no matter what we say or do. Don’t believe me? I suggest you begin making regular stops over at Jake’s place, where he dives into the deep, deep numbers, like this coming disaster: “If the tax-season months of March and April don’t have a bounce-back and stay below trend, it will be likely that the 2016-17 fiscal year budget will have to be repaired…even with $726 million in unspecified lapses built into that budget.”
  2. We have “comparable” and “often better” tenure policies than our peers. This lie has been repeated so often that it’s moving past “big.” We don’t have tenure anymore. We wear a button that says “tenure” until that button is taken away, for any reason you can imagine. That’s been the point all along. That’s also why, whether we whine or not, whether we are emotional or not, more cuts are coming. The reason you strip away everyone’s job security, other than welcoming them to the 21st century, is to begin removing those people. That removal will be dressed up in the language of “necessity” and “tough choices,” i.e. budget cuts. But I get it: the illusion of prestige will be necessary for some to come to work.

But somehow this is all a joke or a gag, worthy of a buzzer; was someone actually tasked with securing a “no whining” button? I can’t help but think what this models for our students and communities, and whether or not anyone cares anymore. We did, after all, just elect a supreme court justice whose main workplace skill/qualification is intolerance. The Rebecca Bradley apologists sang a constant chorus that is relevant to this blog post: those were just college rantings, who wants to be held responsible for their silly college-age thoughts? We grow out of that.

The implication: what college students say should not be taken seriously. But not only is it our job and responsibility to take them seriously, it is our mission.

What students think and feel matters today and it will matter tomorrow. When students interrupted the previous Board of Regents meeting with a chant of protest, the Regent who was speaking at the time rolled his eyes. I was watching the livefeed. He rolled his eyes at students who dared to speak out of turn. When the meeting resumed, the Regents gave themselves yet another round of applause for their hard work, which amounts to a speck of dust when compared with the tenure dossiers of the faculty they swiftly moved to devalue.

So what are we being taught by our central leadership?

Speaking honestly about the effects of another round of brutal cuts is whining. Fighting to preserve job protections, which are an earned property right, is being emotional. (What, after all, is a life’s work worth anyway?) And if you’re a student, or worse, a graduate who has significant debt…learn to be responsible! And these complaints about race and gender issues…silly young coddled college kids.

What is the value of a coordinated message that pretends that everything is okay? At what point is it just blatantly dishonest and who, outside of the UW, will point that out?

I’m not asking for miracles because I’m a realist and I know what is coming. Still, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our system President to take us seriously, to not belittle the beleaguered, to not scold the scapegoated, and to consider, just once, standing with UW employees even if it means stepping out from behind the great “thank you” emblazoned on our flimsy, rhetorical shield.

A friend of mine posted the following photo the other day from her campus. But there’s nothing to see here, so let’s not whine about it.

Sign

 

One thought on “UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition

  1. Well said, well written. The president of the once great UW system is a bully and demeans anyone who dare speak on it’s behalf. Sad times. I am aware of many MORE stories like this.

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