UW Struggle: “Faculty!” Say What? Edition

In order to understand this post, you must accept the fact that faculty are always the problem. No matter what is happening in the UW, just yell “Faculty!” loudly enough and newspaper editorials will begin falling from the trees like decaying leaves.

Also, remember: if a place like UW Madison is worried about recruitment and retention, that must be because of things that naughty “Faculty!” have said, not say, the actual political, budgetary, and anti-educational climate of the state as a whole. Nothing to see here but… “Faculty!”

For example, here is live footage of Chancellor Rebecca Blank on October 29th speaking to UW Central:

The very next day, here is the live feed of her meeting at Central: Continue reading “UW Struggle: “Faculty!” Say What? Edition”

UW Struggle: Hark, the Little People Sing


Talk about timing. As I head to UW Milwaukee to connect with some awesome people that I’ve been dying to meet, this dose of “Well, no shit, Watson” dropped today in the Cap Times.

In short, as Rebecca Blank’s email confirms, we whining, complaining, alarmist, privileged, spoiled, lazy, out-of-touch ragamuffin rapscallions were right all along. Over and over and over again. Your winnings, sir.

So, at long last we can finally send an apology to Richard Grusin’s office instead of the campus police. Maybe this Halloween, Sara Goldrick-Rab will get the treat of apology instead of an enduring witch hunt. Yep, sometimes the little people are right. Sometimes the people working on the two-year campuses actually know something. Sometimes the people working in smaller, four-year outposts have actually been eating their vegetables.

What is Rebecca Blank worried about? The status of tenure!? Morale!? Keeping your talented faculty!? Unpossible I tell you! Unpossible! Who could have ever believed these things to be true… except just about everyone without power and influence.

That said, I will not pretend that the state’s various newspapers will write long pieces with titles such as “Faculty Concerns Verified” or “In Spite of Using them for Incessant Clickbait, Faculty and Staff Actually Know Something About Their Workplace” or “Stop, Collaborate and Listen, Ice is Back with a Brand New Invention.”

Nope, expect a further train of “You’re Not the Boss, Tony Danza is, so Shut Up.”

Have a good day!

UW Struggle: What’s Old is New

Rocky4As I sit down to write this quick post, my wife is driving to her unit-level review for the rank of Full Professor. This meeting should be entirely celebratory. The gods and heroes demand it.

As someone who has seen her entire career unfold up-close, I can say with ample support that the UW is lucky to have her, our campus is lucky to have her, and she has worked tirelessly for 15 years to get to this point. Yes, if she worked in a different state at a different campus she would make 20K more per year (which adds up to about 300K in lost revenue and counting) but UW Green Bay is a special place. This is not hyperbole. The students, staff, faculty, and alumni are a treasure. I consider myself lucky to work there as well, not because “I’m just happy to have a job,” but because of the place and spirit and intention that extends all the way back to the university’s founding by a bunch of crazy people with a crazy dream.

She’s probably just driving over the Leo Frigo Bridge right now, and her meeting begins in 10 minutes. And so my message to the Board of Regents, Wisconsin legislators, and UW Central and President Ray Cross is, I wish that she could walk into this moment of tremendous accomplishment and leave with more than self-satisfaction. Continue reading “UW Struggle: What’s Old is New”

UW Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)

Don’t become The Cheesechurian Candidate!

As all nine readers of this blog know (Hi mom! Love you!), I recently wrote about my fears and objections about allowing concealed weapons into campus buildings in the UW System. Understanding exactly what I was getting into, I took in all of the reactions without offering responses of my own—basically, I allowed myself to be rhetorically captive.

Why? Because for people like me—especially in my professional life—social/new media is perilous on-the-job training. Like so many who completed their graduate work before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress, a certain fluency and accountability is expected  when working in new(er) and emerging media. It’s complicated. It’s risky. People lose their jobs for missteps. My primary professional goal is to be a good teacher, and part of the job involves exposing myself to mistakes, failure, embarrassment, harassment, risk, etc, so that my students may be spared those missteps. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom is “learn from your mistakes,” and look, I’ve made more than I can count, but I have learned far more from the mistakes of others, especially teachers.

It is incredibly hard to find new ways to talk about things, to “reframe,” to find your way into words that produce that rare and meaningful change. So, what happened when I wrote openly and honestly about guns? Exactly what I expected (which is dispiriting). For those looking to wade into the same waters, maybe on a blog of one’s own, here are some observations that you are free to ignore:

The Civility Trap Continue reading “UW Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)”

On that guy, Rep. Steineke

Click for Jim Steineke theme music:

Rep. Jim Steineke

Writing about guns feels like a Herculean task, and I’ll certainly write a post in the future about what I’ve learned so far. Spoiler and big surprise: it will be about language and its failures.

That being said, during yesterday’s carpet bombing of negativity, threats, and personal attacks, one minor point bubbled to the surface in more than one location—that my reproducing the Twitter exchange between Representative Jim Steineke and me was somehow disrespectful and an attack. This perception couldn’t be more wrong—instead of wasting time detailing why this is so, I will simply just correct the error by apologizing. (It’s not that hard a thing to do.) I study language for a living. Trust me, I knew that in writing my post it would be nearly impossible to escape the right/left polarization that ensured anything I wrote about Rep. Steineke would connote as negative.

Here are some facts: Continue reading “On that guy, Rep. Steineke”

UW Struggle: Nostradamus in the House Edition

Coffee + Prophecy = Step Off
Coffee + Prophecy = Step Off

Look mofos, I don’t want to get all Nostradamus on you, but here’s me yesterday:

Of course, this points to the real driver here—consumerism. Bills like this, disguised as “gun rights” or “second amendment” initiatives, are really nothing more than product placement for a  specific business interest seeking expanded markets. Guns are no different than networked, smart devices in this respect—their content must be everywhere, all the time, or something is wrong. To that point, when the police on my campus came to speak to our department about what to do in an “active shooter situation,” they mocked me for choosing not to carry a smartphone. This is not the first time someone has equated that personal choice with gross negligence. But maybe now is the time to appeal for sponsorship and a raise. So, how about it Glock? If I get licensed to carry a weapon and choose your brand for my classroom, will you pay me to advertise? (emphasis provided by soothsayer)

Here is Speaker Robin Vos today on allowing concealed carry in campus buildings:

“The idea of allowing someone to carry a legally obtained weapon? Yeah, I have no problem with that, especially if they would limit it to people who’ve already been trained to do concealed carry,” he said.

He added: “I don’t have a problem with people carrying a smartphone or carrying anything else. It’s a tool. It’s who uses the tool and how they use it.” (emphasis, again, via soothsayer)

Newsflash: here’s the thing that happens when you decide to get blogaliscious about guns: a horde of disaffected white boys immediately try to get in your gums like they were gingivitis, dudesplaining your feelings and experience for you, telling you how wrong you are, and somewhere along the way pointing out that even remotely suggesting that someone would see guns in parallel with phones makes me a big pair of donkey nuts. “You’re so stupid! This is about freedom and stuff, not consumerism!”

Oh yeah? See above. How do you like the man in the blue turban now, bitches?

Crucial anecdote:

Speaking of tools…

I taught high school for a number of years, three of which were in an all-boys catholic school.  A well-meaning woman once had the unfortunate task of introducing me to a room full of teenage boys (I was stepping in to help with the production of the school newspaper).

The intro went as follows:

“This is Dr. Rybak. He is a tool. Use him.”

Thanks for listening.


UW Struggle: Guns and the TL;DR Edition


I am afraid of guns. This is not a mild fear. Even if a police officer stands too closely I move away—I see the holstered gun and need to put space between us. I believe that handguns and automatic weapons are instruments of death and death only, thus they are evil. I do not use the word “evil” lightly, as I find evil in the world as real and tangible as guns themselves (I do have a bachelor’s degree in history, which too often doubled as the study of war and weapons).

But enough about my fears, right? What’s the point? Well, two legislators in Wisconsin are seeking sponsors for a bill to allow concealed weapons into college buildings and classrooms. This is where I work and make my living.  I will say this plainly: I cannot do my job if there are guns present in the classroom, concealed or not. I will save the usual trolls the energy of response (Well then get another job! What a pussy! Man up!) Will anyone care? Will anyone in the legislature stand up for me, particularly on the Republican side, when it is now that I, and employees and students who feel similarly, need you most? Will the people who rally for the objections of someone like Kim Davis rally for my conscientious objection to feeling threatened and scared in my workplace? This is not a rhetorical question.

Let me divert into the personal for a moment, as that is one thing I try to do in this blog—attach human faces and stories to issues that don’t get such treatment in writing that is strictly partisan bomb throwing.

People who were close to me have died because of gun violence. We’re talking cold murder and random shootings.

Many years ago a  friend of mine from high school, a math savant and lover of chess, was murdered in a robbery. He was a wonderful person with the sense of humor to match. (If he would have been armed, he might still be alive! See! It’s his fault!) He was indeed unarmed at the time of his death, but it wouldn’t have mattered. He was shot in the back of the head. He was driving a cab and was killed for what might have amounted to a few hundred dollars.

Not long after that, a former co-worker of mine was shot and killed in California. (We worked part-time jobs together in a local grocery store while beginning our college careers.) She was a vivacious, funny person, and we were two teenagers who flirted with each other and the idea of dating. I have a vivid memory of walking with her one day, outside of work, holding hands. With her being African-American and me being white, we drew a lot of looks (that was an incredibly uncommon sight in Buffalo at the time). Let’s just say that that short walk taught me more about race than any lecture I’ve ever heard; that lesson is secondary to how brilliant her smile was. Although she was in the military at the time of her death, she was also unarmed. It didn’t matter. She was sitting in a bar when someone in a car driving by fired randomly at the people standing in front. I guess bullets have unintended consequences. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Guns and the TL;DR Edition”

UW Struggle: Professors are from Pluto Edition

High Inquisitor Decree #1: I pay f*ing taxes!

Earlier this week, UW System President Ray Cross gave an interview on CW 14  with Robert Hornacek (A UW–Green Bay graduate. Go Phoenix!). Overall, I thought the interview was very good. Of course, interviews are not policy and don’t create change, but in terms of the overall tone, especially when discussing the value of tenure, there was nothing I could complain about (a miracle, you say!). But again… this is not actual policy.

Still, there were two or three stand-out moments in this discussion that illustrate just how terrible we are at discussing the professors who work in the UW System, and it betrays two things: first, how the rhetorical strategies of “divide and conquer” have worked to the point where they have entered our linguistic consciousness as reality, and second, I wonder if President Cross and Mr. Hornacek truly know what kind of people they refer to when they say “professors.” Just in case they do not—and I didn’t see enough evidence of this—let me step in and help a little.

The full interview is included above, but skip ahead to the 4:28 mark, where Mr. Hornacek asks the following, verbatim:

There are also a lot of issues around the edges of this budget cut—things like tenure, things like shared governance questions—let’s just…the question about tenure is where does that stand today? And I know that there are some people out there who scratch their heads and say, why does that make sense in this day and age, why should the professor have that much job security when the taxpayers don’t? (emphasis mine)

This happens all the time and it’s not even subtle anymore—here, again, we have the insinuation that professors are somehow a constituency that is separate from the taxpayer. Of course, this is the moment I’d like President Cross to step in and say, “Let me remind you that professors, and all UW employees for that matter, are taxpayers. So your question doesn’t make sense, because there are taxpayers with this type of job security.” Ah, but it’s so easy for me to watch the video and editorialize after the fact about what someone should say in the moment. That said, I can offer advice for the future, and will take the opportunity do so with this small list of very big letters:

  • PROFESSORS PAY TAXES! (Just in case item one didn’t make sense)

Thanks for listening. So, President Cross and Mr. Hornacek, if you have the chance to field/ask such a question again, please try to emphasize this point. It’s really important to all of us (especially professors because of the baggage the word “professor” now carries) to be recognized as, you know, regular members of the community who pay for roads, schools, services, the university, and taxes toward our own salaries.  My kids go to a public school that I am proud to pay taxes for. They are surrounded by teachers and staff that I am proud to support with my tax dollars, so don’t talk about me (or let someone talk about me) like I do not contribute or matter as much as someone else. Thank you. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Professors are from Pluto Edition”

UW Struggle: Let’s Pretend We’re Not Talking About Tenure, Ok?

Are these things possibly connected?

While doing other work, I’ve peripherally absorbed what’s happening at the Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting, and I’m struck by the following tweets:

What follows is not a commentary on the Tweeter, but merely an observation on the content. Referenced above are two pressing issues (among many) for the UW: the dismantling of meaningful tenure protections for faculty, as well as the proposed ban on research using fetal tissue. If you look at the timing of those tweets, they appear as one agenda item has moved into another, as if they are separate matters for discussion.  I can’t help but interpret these issues as being of a piece somehow.  Should they be discussed as such? Maybe, but don’t expect that to happen. As a matter of fact, the compartmentalization here is so prevalent that Chancellor Rebecca Blank says this legislation is more damaging than, well, a quarter of a billion dollar budget cut… with no mention of tenure protections at all: Continue reading “UW Struggle: Let’s Pretend We’re Not Talking About Tenure, Ok?”

UW Awesome: Green Bay Edition



I’ll keep this brief. When you spend some time in your life blogging, you quickly become aware that outside perceptions often paint you as being completely self-absorbed, and add to this that you don’t do any work because you spend all of your time whining on the web. I have the hate comments to prove it; unfortunately, I can’t share them, as they all go right to the trash largely unread. I mean, it’s not like I get paid to be up in this joint.

So let me be positive today.

Yesterday was our convocation at UWGB, and I was humbled to receive one-half of a Founders Award for Collaboration (the Founders Awards on our campus are a big deal). Let me assure you that I am the least accomplished person in the above photo. On the right, in the sweet leather jacket, is my collaborator Caroline Boswell. She is a top-shelf historian, tireless worker, and all-around genius. Behind her is Denise Bartell, who I’ve watched for years almost single handedly dig into student retention and achievement issues. On the other side of me is Amanda Wildenberg, a staff member, who pretty much helps everyone in a fifty-mile radius. If you want to read about everyone pictured, here’s the skinny. I could go on. UW-Green Bay is a special place, and I’m sure everyone else out there in the system who might read this can say the same thing about their campus, some program, some tradition. In all cases, it is the people who make the difference. The UW’s most valuable resources are its human resources. The linguistic tide of neoliberalism and austerity would like to flex, efficiency, and nimble pivot your brain into thinking differently, but we all know it. That’s why we’re the UW. This is why I spend my time blogging, writing what I do—not to navel gaze, not for sympathy, and not to whine—I do it to represent.

And let me say this: It has been more than a surprise that this blog has picked up a readership. Bizarre. And while I feel compelled to blog for many reasons—one being that it helps prepare me to teach students about new media—this doesn’t take up much of my life. I work hard. I work a lot. And I’m also good at my job. I better be by now. The majority of UW employees should feel the same way about themselves. Even so, I have light years to go to match the efforts of some of the people pictured above. The UW is its people, whether they be students, staff, faculty, alumni, etc. When a state, via its legislature, deliberately tries to assault people who are so good—in deed and in intention—you have to speak out. Continue reading “UW Awesome: Green Bay Edition”