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: Professors are from Pluto Edition

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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 ARE TAXPAYERS!
  • PROFESSORS PAY TAXES! (Just in case item one didn’t make sense)
  • I HAVE NEVER RECEIVED A NOTICE FROM THE FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT THAT READS: “IF YOU WEREN’T A PROFESSOR, HERE ARE THE TAXES YOU WOULD HAVE PAID. LUCKY YOU!”
  • TAXPAYERS AND PROFESSORS ARE NOT ANTONYMS; THEY ARE SYNONYMS!

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?

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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 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

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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

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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:

 

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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.