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: 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”

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: Quick Dispatch

AmericatIn case anyone thinks that arguments from our current decision makers in Wisconsin make sense, let me disabuse you of that notion. Let me offer my loudest “Holy Guacamole!” as a tasty beacon of befuddlement. If you zoom in on a particular context—K-12, higher ed, tenure, shared governance, department of natural resources, stadium deals, borrowing for roads—nothing makes sense. Just this morning I walked into my kitchen and saw three raccoons making pancakes and coffee. It all seemed so normal. However, zooming out provides a crystallized picture: it’s all about money and ideological grudges, at every conceivable level. With that said…

Your UW Compass: Whether we’re talking tenure, shared governance, public authority (we have more goalposts than the Green Bay Packers), power brokers prefer to steer the public away from the fact that we are cutting another quarter of a billion dollars from the UW in a single budget cycle. You know how your household budget becomes super Mary Poppins flexible when you have less money? Me neither. If you would like a tour guide on this point, go visit Nick Fleisher; he serves wine and cheese at his place.

Makes Sense Snippet #1: Legislators who want the UW to act more like a business got very upset when the UW acted like a business and made sure it had cash reserves for things that never happen… like budget cuts. You literally could not have enough fainting couches in the Capitol for how offended legislators were by the existence of these reserves. Now, faculty may control the universe, but they don’t control UW budgets, so legislative ire was indeed directed at the appropriate power sources: UW central and the Chancellors of its institutions. So (as Nick Fleisher again points out) what do these legislators, who were mortally wounded by such behavior want to do? Further empower the people that they were supposedly furious with. Seriously, try to walk two feet without someone saying, “We need to empower Chancellors to be more like CEOs…the President needs to dictate without input….” Why? So they can build cash reserves for rainy days? Um, ok. I thought that left the legislature with a bad taste in its mouth? There’s only one reason I can possibly think of for doing this, and not much imagination is required. If you meet with a legislator or write a legislator or write an editorial, ask about this. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Quick Dispatch”

UW Struggle: “Hit the Aqueducts, Pal!” Edition

aquaductMusical accompaniment courtesy of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass:

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, unless they are the two that snuggle close to my heart (Where are they hiding the dinosaurs? and Was Marlon Brando real?), but a curious thing happened over the weekend. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an interview with Robin Vos that included two revealing quotes that were (insert rumble of thunder) later edited out by the deputy managing editor. Now, this editing happened because it’s, well, editing… or, somebody wanted Pluto demoted! Thanks Obama.

Although now deleted, the quotes are burned in my brain and I can paraphrase them with 100% accuracy, and as I said, they are revealing in a way that should give everyone, of any political affiliation, pause (if you care about education, that is). Let’s file the first as an Alanis Morissette “this might be ironic depending on whether or not you get irony” event.

Both comments have to do with regionalization—which the legislature, President Cross, and the Board of Regents are currently collaborating on while saying they are not—but let me start with the most humorous. In short, Speaker Vos wonders why campuses have to offer classes that are offered at other campuses (“access” and “demand” are apparently not applicable answers), and he tried to conjure an example that would sound obscure (think, “the ancient mating habits of ur-donkeys”): the result… do we need someone who teaches “ancient Italian history” at every campus? First, I’m unclear why our republican leadership would not let the market decide such questions: if the demand is there, we should employ ten such people on every campus, no? So I have one essential question for Speaker Vos, who got his start as the owner of RoJo’s popcorn (aside: is the cotton candy image family friendly?): do we really need popcorn at every movie theater? Couldn’t we just have it at one or two and let the rest of the people eat Sno-Caps and black licorice?  What’s with all of the concession duplication? Continue reading “UW Struggle: “Hit the Aqueducts, Pal!” Edition”

UW Struggle: Talking Points Hotline

HotlineSheesh, some of the things people say. Well, as you may have noticed, nothing seems to be going right these days. More importantly, I’ve heard some folks ask “How do I respond to X?”, with X often being the most general of talking points. I find these questions very important, and I’m going to take a stab at a few here, saving the most important for last. And as always, my friends in the media, feel free to take any of these questions and run with them.

Removing tenure from state statute “brings us into line with other states.”

My first response to this is, “Why is being in line with other states important?” What is it about this condition that speaks in any way to the quality of the action?

This is how I respond: “If it is so important for us to be in line with other states, why are we stepping so severely out of line with our other legislation, such as the proposed changes to teacher certification, which would make us the most permissive in the nation? Why is it okay to be completely out of line with states there, but we must get in line in regard to tenure? Another example? Before Wisconsin passed Right to Work legislation, a majority of states did not have such laws (I believe we made it a 25/25 split). Furthermore, our Governor has talked about a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage—the obvious intent here is to not fall in line, to avoid the social momentum of acceptance. As more and more states, and hopefully the Supreme Court, affirm that we are finally “getting in line” on this issue, there will be efforts to undermine that trend.

So back to tenure. Why is our legislature selective about when to bring us into line with other states? What are their criteria for being in or out of line? Instead of running to the fold, why are we not setting a powerful example? Of course, none of these questions have an answer because the original justification is not real—it is an empty talking point. Still, if your Uncle Harvey VandenFreedom throws this out, or you find yourself at a “listening” session, these are certainly the things rolling around in my head.

No one with tenure has ever been fired. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Talking Points Hotline”

UW Struggle: Open Letter to Speaker Robin Vos (with pizza)

sammys
An offer you can’t refuse?

Dear Speaker Vos,

I am writing in regard to your recent comment, “I don’t really support tenure, period.” I understand why someone would say this, yet I would, as a tenured faculty member, love to talk with you about some reasons why you should, especially when taking into account that tenure is much more about the present (i.e. what happens in classrooms and with research today) than it is about the future (i.e. “jobs for life”). You have gone on record as someone who supports good teaching and time in the classroom, and tenure (on the teaching side of things) is much more about pedagogy than it is about entitlement.

I admit that I am nobody. I have no power or influence and can barely get my dog to recognize my authority (I yell, “Scarlet, get away from that poop!” She spares me not even a glance). Yet, I am a faculty member in the UW System, and my wife and I both work at UW-Green Bay. We would love to invite you to Green Bay to have dinner with us at Sammy’s (in my opinion, the best pizza in Wisconsin, with Wild Tomato its only rival). Bring your family; dinner is on us. Here is Sammy’s menu—I highly recommend the root beer in a frosty mug, and for pizza, my general preference is for pepperoni and mushrooms, but I am open minded about many things, especially pizza toppings.

If the journey to Green Bay is too much at this busy time, I’ll be happy to pack my family into our van and head to establishments closer to you. My connections in the southern parts of Wisconsin say that Sheboygan actually has the state’s best pizza—some place called Il Ritrovo. Personally, I find this claim dubious, but as I have yet to experience the pizza in question, I am willing to travel for the mere promise of good pizza. For great pizza, I would run there barefoot with my family on my shoulders (think Aeneas carrying his father out of a burning Troy). Continue reading “UW Struggle: Open Letter to Speaker Robin Vos (with pizza)”