UW Struggle: Sage Against the Machine Edition (Updated)

obi-wan-kenobiSometimes those who exist to do nothing but tear other people down can do you a tremendous favor—they can remind everyone of exactly what it is we don’t want to be.

And that’s the case with the Wisconsin Policy “Research” Institute and their recently released op-ed paper (dubbed a “report”) on faculty tenure in Wisconsin. The paper itself, released immediately before the Board of Regents meets to finalize tenure policy, is clearly offered to influence the board, especially those who share a mutual connection with The Bradley Foundation.

My belief, based on what I’ve heard from Regent Behling, is that the WPRI editorial will be ignored, as it should be, if only for its jaw-dropping lack of quality. My children receive birthday party invitations that are better sourced. Though that didn’t stop Wisconsin media from lending credibility to such negative and regressive propaganda, and that is where I think everyone, of all political stripes, can reflect on education, the labor it requires, and what it means to build something as a whole rather than tear things down as score-keeping factions.

Here’s the truth about WPRI’s white light paper, and one can glean this simply by looking at the bibliography: not one research study is cited. Not one. Nothing peer reviewed. They are so desperate for sources that they footnote themselves. The main document referenced is an opinion (!) survey that requires no knowledge of the subject being inquired about (anyone with money can put out a glossy brochure, just ask Americans for Americans Against Americans). The “conclusions” offered in the brochure are on par with “Eat a banana, you’ll feel better.” And so for anyone reading, if you want higher education to result in you, or your children, producing work on the level evidenced by such an editorial, then there is no such thing as “higher” education. (If I read that and were a business that relied on research, I’d be donating to the UW right now.) But if you, like the Board of Regents, are deeply invested in an education system that cultivates even basic research methods, critical thinking, and investigation founded on discovery rather than preconception, then it’s time for you, whether you’re democrat, republican, independent, or Trump-tastic, to support faculty and staff in your higher ed institutions, and use that support as a way to throw your weight behind the quality of life that labor, good wages, job security, and reasonable benefits can offer to every single one of your neighbors and every single citizen of Wisconsin. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Sage Against the Machine Edition (Updated)”

UW Struggle: The Outposts Edition

Northern Faculty Outpost... buried and forgotten.
Faculty Outpost… buried and forgotten.

I haven’t been blogging much because, well, I’ve said what I had to say and was pretty much right about everything. My nine readers got their money’s worth. (Hi mom! Hope the trip to Boston is going well. Say hi to Rachel!)

But let me continue my long reign as master of the obvious and sculpt this snowman of truth: there is no campus but Madison and that is all that matters to the powers that be. (See: money, sports.) “Whatever do you mean, Professor Dingleberry?” Hold on, I’m getting to it.

Nico Savidge, of the State Journal, has this gem about recent efforts to “poach” Tom Cruise-level faculty from UW Madison. I mean, who could imagine that this would happen? I wonder if anyone has made that point along the way. Now, I don’t want to rotisserie a dead horse, so let me move to the money moment, and girl do I mean money:

Speaking to the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities earlier this month, University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross referenced Minnesota’s attempt to recruit political science faculty, saying it cost $1 million to keep the professors in Madison. A UW System spokesman said that money will be spent over “several years” and included $420,000 in salary increases and $645,000 for research funding.

UW-Madison pledged in November to spend $3 million on raises and counter-offers for top faculty.

Patrick noted those raises will boost the pay of up to 20 percent of UW-Madison professors, at a time when others on campus have complained about the impact of state budget cuts. (Emphasis mine.)

Excuse me? Did you say raises? Did you say raises for 20% of faculty? Let me interrupt this blog with maniacal laughter: Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Outposts Edition”

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: Scrap the Tenure File Edition

Man... my second tenure file was, like, 500 pages.
Hey holmes… my second tenure file was, like, 500 pages.

Tomorrow is convocation on my campus. I like our convocation because the campus is lovely and I get to see people who work very hard in all different corners of our university—faculty, staff, students, administration, new hires—my heart buoys when our collaboration is so abundantly visible, when so many of us, usually apart, arrive in one place for the same event.

A number of those present will be tenure-track faculty, some of them new hires in need of guidance, mentorship. Some will be associate professors who hope to go up for full professor soon. What lies ahead for this specific group of professionals is a deeply challenging amount of work and pressure, with much of those forces taking the form of a bottomless pit of self-documentation, i.e., the tenure file.

Tenure no longer exists in Wisconsin. We have entered the era of pretendure. The only moral thing to do, right now, is abolish the tenure file. If the reward for compiling the file no longer exists, then the file should no longer exist.  As someone who has compiled two tenure cases for the UW, both of them required and successful, I can say without hesitation that I spent hundreds of hours collecting, organizing, and writing these materials. During my 3rd year in the UW Colleges, I missed my sister’s wedding ceremony IN FRANCE because of a January deadline for submitting an onerous retention file that resulted in me producing hundreds of unread dossier pages.

And for what? Nothing.

The state has reneged on its side of the agreement; all of those hours of work and worry and preparation were for nothing. Because of the new layoff provisions inserted into Wisconsin state law, all faculty are contingent. Asking people who are your employees to spend this much time on documentation that secures them nothing is a staggering waste of our most valuable resource. It is unethical to ask for such a personal commitment for the sake of mere performance. Why ask for such documents, which no longer have the end promised for the means, when these hard-working professionals could be working on pedagogy, research, job searches, or more importantly, spending time with people and activities they cherish? I hope that all of us, across the UW system, can stop pretending that tenure is real and use this opportunity to treat each other better. To lessen the load in a time when people stand on the scales out of pure meanness and spite. I have long argued that, within the academy, we are often our own worst enemies, but with a legislature that loathes our very existence, it truly is time to rely on each other. We have an important mission. A vital one. A mission that is approaching, by default, civil disobedience. Let’s make it easier for each other to accomplish our goals and missions in these times when short-sighted governance and voting patterns make this mission’s difficulty something that would make Sisyphus blush.

That’s why I’m calling on the tenure task force, President Cross, and faculty senates, personnel councils, and departments across the UW system to begin discussions and processes for eliminating the tenure file as a condition for achieving pretendure. A CV and/or collection of short activity reports is enough. Do we really need more than that? Let’s free ourselves, and our colleagues, from this taxing burden now rendered meaningless by the state government’s seizure of the earned property right that was the reward. Do we really want to make this much work for people? For each other? And beyond asking individuals to produce the documents, over the course of years, do we want committees packed with more employees to spend hours reading/skimming this work? Again, for what? The same applies for people who desire to go up for full professor. A CV will do when your time remaining on the job might be shorter than the time working on the file. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Scrap the Tenure File Edition”

UW Struggle: The Impractical Dream

Former
Convocation Photo with Green Grass

1.

I’ll briefly return from my blog hiatus to tell you a story. For me, stories always prioritize people because people should matter most in our narratives. This goes without saying when discussing a human and social good as vital and magical as education. Pictured above are two of my colleagues from UW Green Bay. Having worked in an institution that has directly benefited from their training, knowledge, passion, and humanity, I can say that they are everything you would want in educators and public servants. They are the teachers and role models I would want my children to have, that I would gleefully pay taxes to support. They flourish when most free to use their talents and intellect to educate people, to advise and mentor them. They make people’s lives better by, among many other things, helping to position them to succeed. This is not freedom that comes with micromanagement, paternalism, condescension, vilification, or bullying. This freedom is born from trust and respect, from a recognition that we want you to work for the citizens of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Idea. These ideas that you have, we support them and we trust you. Let’s turn you loose to make them a reality. That way, the future is bright.

On the right is Angela Bauer. She’s a biologist. A neuroscientist. Let me tell you a story about Angela, someone who cares deeply for student achievement. When she discovered a statistically verifiable achievement gap in her introductory science courses, especially among underrepresented students, she said “No, this is unacceptable.” She drew a line. She and a colleague set out to close that achievement gap while increasing the number of underrepresented students deciding to major in the sciences. After 10 years of verifiable achievement stagnation, Angela, with her mind and will and heart, turned that into 8 consecutive semesters of increased achievement and enrollment. She won the UW System Diversity Award for her efforts.

On the left is Bryan Vescio, my long-standing chair in the UW-Green Bay English department. I have gone on about Bryan in other posts, but let me provide the condensed version: English is one of the strongest programs on our campus because of his vision and leadership, and more importantly, students have gone on to success as a direct result of his mentorship. We have over 150 majors in a department that, at its peak, runs on six faculty members. Bryan protected no turf, encouraged ideas and growth, and reveled in our successes, all while writing books and being a leading scholar in more than one field. He was, in short, superlative, and, at his salary, one of the best bargains Wisconsin ever had. Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Impractical Dream”

UW Struggle: The Long, Unnecessary Goodbye

leavingIn a previous post about the real people in these real UW jobs,  I wrote about how many of them are leaving not only the UW, but the state of Wisconsin. Deliberate legislative and ideological malpractice is costing us friends, neighbors, colleagues, public servants, and the type of good and hard-working people everyone should support, regardless of political affiliation.

Below is a message sent yesterday by one of my colleagues at UW-Green Bay. This person is one of the most dedicated and respected people on our campus. As rumors have spread that this person might depart because of the toxic political climate, I have seen more than one student weep; others have expressed outrage that a mentor so important to them would be chased away from a university system that was once truly special. They say, “This can’t be real.”

Over the years, this colleague and I have had many students in common; I have seen, up close, the significant effects this colleague has had on their thinking, reading, writing, curiosity, engagement, confidence, expression, and overall personality.  Frankly, there are students who cannot imagine their educations without this person. I understand why. I cannot imagine working in a space with such a glaring, self-inflicted void.

When talking about “star faculty” leaving the UW, there are many misconceptions. Let me slay a few of those quickly and unequivocally:

“Star faculty” and staff do not congregate solely in Madison; they are abundant throughout the system. They are not rare in the UW; they are plentiful. While schools like Madison, and maybe Milwaukee, have more at their disposal to retain such faculty and staff, the other comprehensive and two-year campuses do not. In many ways, campuses outside of Madison are more exposed because depleted resources neutralize viable counter offers. The poachers know this. They are here now and “plentiful,” the description I used above, may soon no longer apply. Amazing faculty and staff will remain, but the losses are deeply felt and negatively affect our mission and duty to our students. Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Long, Unnecessary Goodbye”

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: Horseshit Preemption Edition

no-horse-shit4rAs expected, there will be no new revenue to help alleviate violent cuts to various Wisconsin public services and institutions. Let’s preempt our planned horseshit-water rafting excursion; a deliverance, if you will, from the oncoming tide of lies about “tough choices” that supposedly appear via magic rather than their own deliberate set of calculations.

We can begin with the article linked above, especially this supper-club-sized serving: “Republican leaders have stood firmly against raising taxes, leaving them few sustainable options except to make cuts.” Journalism! Ummm, to rephrase: because of a non-binding choice entirely in their control, they have no control. Got it. Thanks.

And let the “tough choices” beating of breasts and gnashing of teeth begin.

Announcement: there are no tough choices now. The choices were already made, and the results perfectly match the desired outcomes. Lower tax revenue = smaller government; therefore, freedom! At the very least, media outlets, let’s not pretend that revenue shortfalls are a sudden change in unpredictable weather. They are the result of deliberate policy and deliberate choices. What we have now are not “tough choices.” What we have are tough, debilitating results.

So dear Patrick Marley, Jason Stein, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: your current headline reads, “No hike in revenue estimates forces tough budget decisions.” Let me rewrite the headline for you so as to not make excuses for people and circumstances that have clear, identifiable causes: “State revenue, declining because of tax cuts, allows leaders to move forward with desired cuts to state services and institutions.” There is no “forcing” involved here.

And here’s a reminder: when the “choice” you have to make is your desired outcome, it is not tough. Got it? When buildings fall, let’s not make martyrs of the architects.

Here’s another reminder: this is all about money. It has always been about money and the ideological reorganization of who has access to it. So… public authority, tenure, shared governance, reserves something or other… all relates to this budget, how? (See my previous post.)

We pause for an interview with Chuck Rybak! An important man who was generous enough to put down his coffee and speak with us!

Chuck: How will any alteration of policies related to tenure and shared governance affect the current budget situation?

Chuck: They won’t. There is no monetary connection whatsoever. Strike that. Shared governance does save money, so it’s probably more important now than ever. Furthermore, tenure is free, and likely the only thing preventing highly-skilled faculty from leaving the UW for even moderately higher pay.

Chuck: What connection does the public authority model have to this budget situation?

Chuck: None. Any flexibilities (cough) (unintelligible) can be legislated anyway.

Chuck: Then why do people spend so much time talking about these things?

Chuck: Don’t ask me (pregnant pause), but I do have ideas about why people would give the appearance of completely unconnected issues being connected.

Chuck: What could happen, in terms of choices, that might help the citizens of Wisconsin?

Chuck: Hmmm. Accepting federal money for healthcare. Raising tax revenue by tapping those most able to pay it and those who most benefit from a system of public education. Remember, the majority of Wisconsin corporations pay no state taxes at all. Even a little would help. Or this.

Chuck: You mean, nothing related to tenure, shared governance, or charter schools?

Chuck: Excuse me?

Chuck: Thanks so much for stopping by.

Chuck: No problem. Have a nice day.

Your guide for dealing with media and opinion from here until the final budget is passed:

  1. There are no tough choices. The choices that have produced this situation were already made by the very same people in question.
  2. There are no tough choices. The above is very important for accountability (buzzword, I know). Let’s make this an election issue now: deliberate policy has deliberately weakened education in Wisconsin. Easy choices for them, hard results for everyone else.

  3. There are no tough choices. Push against any rhetorical horseshit that positions the upcoming cuts as a situation that “just appeared,” hanging in the sky as if a distant sun we cannot reach. Our current leadership—in the Capitol and UW Central—deliberately brought us here. That’s the starting point of all discussion: “specific choices by these specific people have us in this specific situation.”

If the results are not good for Wisconsin and its citizens, the decision makers should be held immediately accountable. You know, just like they expect of teachers.

The beatings will continue until morale improves. Have a nice day!

 

UW Struggle: Moses in Bullet Points Edition

MosesWe live in a leadership void. And while it is tempting to wax furious on larger levels (the US Senate just voted on whether or not something is “real”), I’ll keep my focus on our capsizing state and its university system.

What is there to say about this drama? Is it a comedy? A tragedy? I’m more inclined to interpret it as performance art about irony. For example, it is amazing to watch people participate in an entirely linguistic process while simultaneously questioning the value of the humanities. It is amazing to watch “Americans for Freedom(!) and Up-pulled Bootstraps” fetishize authority to the point that words like “boss” and “CEO” feel like catalysts for arousal.

Enter our hero and savior: “flexibility.” As we know, “flexibility” is code for cutting pay, benefits, and jobs.  Speaking of performance art…

Here’s a question I ask myself every day: why would anyone sitting in our legislature listen to Ray Cross? This is not a criticism of Cross (he could be Ronald Reagan), but ultimately a question about meaningful and representational organizational structure. What can antagonistic legislators possibly be thinking when meeting with President Cross beyond, “Oh great, here’s the guy begging for money. Again. Here’s Mr. Reasonable. This is so boring. What can we do for fun and liven this up? Make him squirm!” Continue reading “UW Struggle: Moses in Bullet Points Edition”