UW Struggle: Missouri Thinkblog Edition

So many people are writing about what is happening in Missouri, and rightly so. Many familiar contexts are playing out—what it means for sports, for universities, for protest and how quickly the powers that be can neuter it—but as an observer from afar, I will only attempt to make the loosest of connections here. If I could latch onto a single truth among many that I see there, it’s this:

A number of Missouri students, faculty, and staff demanded that their system President actually stand for something.

A quick look at the list of demands makes this breathtakingly obvious. Let’s just say that, when finally raising their voices, “the needs of business,” “nimble flexovation,” and “the 21st century global blah blah blah” weren’t highly prioritized. In short, there is a truly human agenda: quality of life, inclusion, healthcare, social justice, spending more on important resources.

Incoming President, Blain Fucknuts
Incoming President, Blaine Fucknuts, former CEO of 21st Century Solutions for Solutions

Which brings me back to the UW System.

I’ve long felt conflicted about how much anger I should reserve for the system President, or any system President of a public system—being angry at such people is like being mad at the Queen of England. We’re essentially talking about well-paid middle management whose main purpose is to enact the wishes of the true sources of power: state legislatures and their financial backers. So the Missouri protests trained a good amount of focus on individuals (the President, Chancellor), who quickly became compensated fall guys for their role in assuring that a change in personnel is synonymous with structural change, which it isn’t. (This is what people mean when they say that things like gender discrimination are systemic—the system survives the individuals who participate.) Any incoming President in Missouri will be vetted to insure they can say the right things, repackage the status quo, and most importantly, ensure that football continues (i.e. the appropriate people get paid; the Romney people from Bain will be at this week’s BYU game, after all). But the situation is still unfolding, and maybe such quick managerial touch-ups will also be rejected. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Missouri Thinkblog 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: All Clear Edition

Harrison-Ford
You’re all clear kid! Now let’s forget about everything else and go home!

There was a credible bomb threat at the Capitol yesterday; just a few days before there was a credible threat to democracy. Both of them have been declared “all clear.”

The budget, passed yesterday by the state assembly, waits for Governor Walker’s signature. The document contains innumerable horrors, and although I am deeply invested in the entire process, this blog series focuses on the UW element of the puzzle—I just make my small contribution and move along.

When this budget is finally signed, the UW will become the Great Pretendure—any meaningful definition of tenure has been destroyed, thousands of hardworking and brilliant people have been properly vilified, and the state government has seized the property of people who earned it on the state’s requests and conditions. I will write more on pretendure later, but for now…

Ah, the Fourth of July weekend. Honestly, I don’t care for the holiday much, as it contains many bad memories and the maintenance of generation upon generation of terrified, quaking pets. This past Fourth was different, as actual democracy stepped to the front and people fought against and successfully upended significant authoritarian overreach in the Capitol. I was amazed, on edge really, to follow in the press and social media, reporters from different outlets pushing hard against elected officials and forsaking the insipid “both sides do it” narrative for the adversarial stance that produces good journalism. A small sample:

For anyone following the open records story, the state backed off, on a holiday(!), after being so badly exposed and embarrassed. Clearly, upon witnessing this attempted information coup, the press is in super watchdog mode, ready to pounce on other areas of overreach with equal persistence and ferocity. I mean, when you’ve identified specific legislators who wanted to dismantle, among other things, your capacity to do your job, you watch that person like a hawk. You watch with suspicion. You’ve learned your lesson. You do not relax because, as you’ve seen, nothing is ever enough for these people who control nearly everything.

Here are all the tweets yesterday I could find about UW faculty being stripped of all meaningful job protections…in a budget bill…with no public hearings:

 

Beer1

 

I peeked at Christian Schneider’s column to see if, of all people,  he was still mad about people’s rights being trampled—his last two columns are about the UW making people stupid and why we should thank rich people for everything.

I checked for statements from anyone, maybe President Cross—he has a 66 word thank-you note.

Nobody cares. 

Like I said, all clear.

UW Struggle: The Banality of Weasels, Part Duex

banalityThese people cannot breathe without lying.

For a quick journalistic recap, we still don’t know who authored the changes to tenure/layoff provisions that seek to strip earned property rights from a significant number of Wisconsin employees. I do know that before our Independence Day totalitarian turn toward government secrecy, there were multiple open records requests filed with members of the JFC and UW President Cross pertaining to all documentation regarding those changes and how they were put together.

Going on a month now… no response. That is to be expected in today’s Wisconsin.

If you’d like a peek at what UW folks have been dealing with, just get quickly caught up on the 4th of July open records debacle, which is pretty much the same working dynamics played out at a larger scale. As we now know that the Governor’s office was directly involved in the move to eviscerate public view of government activity, some lower on the food chain are scrambling to answer the massive journalistic and public outcry. Now, this example is meant to be indicative of what we’re dealing with in the UW, and I type that with one hand on my forehead while I know that somewhere, someone else is yelling, “Yeah, but what did tenured faculty do about it!” Anyway, behold Dale Kooyenga, powerful member of the Joint Finance Committee, who sent an apology to a right-wing website (!) because, basically, he claims not to know what he was voting for when he said Aye! to secrecy in government:

After inquiries my understanding was the changes would have put Wisconsin law consistent with many other states and the US Congress in order to facilitate more honest dialogue among stakeholders. Since the vote this has been found to be inaccurate. I apologize for not recognizing the scope of these changes.

If I weren’t so depressed I’d be laughing hysterically. Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Banality of Weasels, Part Duex”

UW Struggle: “Remember the Time” Edition

RememberAh, memories.

Remember back to the days of Pharaoh Murphy and those UW professors that had the audacity to complain about UW Central’s “behind closed doors” governing strategy? Remember how said professors were scolded, and even President Cross himself emerged from a backroom behind a backroom to say that too much public lobbying has hurt the system in the past? Remember how uppity UW Professors were reminded to sit down and be quiet? The boss is the boss after all, opined the great Falbo Baggins, so don’t worry your pretty little heads about it. Why would we possibly want openness? And for good measure, we were subjected to this…again:

Well, like Michael Jackson on Dangerous, I remember the time.

So imagine last night as all hell broke loose in the Joint Finance Committee when Republican legislators moved to gut Wisconsin Open Records laws as they applied to themselves and, well, how they want to keep their work behind closed doors.

And… outrage! Justifiably so. Holy triple-jumping turkeys, even Christian Schneider is on board the “Say what?” train (you know, the Christian Schneider who couldn’t believe UW professors wouldn’t shut up and that tenure was not being changed?). I’m thankful for it—I enjoyed his tweets during the process, which were informative and based on experience, like this one: Continue reading “UW Struggle: “Remember the Time” Edition”