UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition

chuck_barris
h/t to Alan Talaga for making a Gong Show reference on Twitter

What if I told you that someone with responsibility literally brought a red button to a meeting? What if I told you that this person, while his subordinates were making test-run presentations, would push the button and the words ‘no whining!’ would be ejaculated as a sound effect? Again: this is not a metaphor. This is real.

So I’ll ask: Who is this person? What do you imagine the setting to be? Are we talking about adults? Younger people? A gimmicky corporate setting? Friday night neon bowling?

No. That would be the President of the UW System and the subordinates would be our campus Chancellors, who were asked to describe the campus effects of another quarter of a billion dollar cut to state support. They were instructed not to whine (as faculty have been told to not be emotional), and upon further review, the presentations themselves were cancelled. I know what you’re thinking: this can’t be true, no way, this is the president of a university system, we knew you were close and you’ve finally lost it!   I know; that’s what I thought as well. Here is the incident in question detailed by Nico Savidge:

“[The presentations] should be factual, not whiny,” Cross wrote in his message.

Cross insisted on this point — he said in the interview he brought a red button to the meeting to be used if he felt a chancellor was complaining too much in a presentation. When he pressed the button, a sound effect shouted, “No whining!” (emphasis mine, because wow)

What, were hand buzzers and bottles of seltzer spray unavailable? You couldn’t find someone on a unicycle to ride up and poke them in the eyes? Look, I miss Benny Hill too, but I have access to YouTube.

Still, this can’t be true. So I asked Nico on Twitter to confirm—Nico was tweeting a lot about the Final Four, thus I assumed he was brained by an errant chicken wing when the North Carolina Won’t Make Donuts for Gay Heels (see Glazed 3:15) went down at the last moment—he assured me that his mental state was not the problem:

Continue reading “UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition”

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: “Efficiencies!” Edition (Unblocked!)

MehOnce, after an amazing plate of sweet-and-sour pork, I cracked open a fortune cookie that read, “Soon you will shit yourself. Lucky numbers: 3, 9, 12.”

I think back to this vicissitude of life not for its absurdity, but for how, in its moment, how expected and normal it felt. (Of course I will!) Which takes me to the meetings of the current UW Tenure Task Force…

Now, there are many ways to approach this narrative, but let me hit on one that has not been discussed in the media, at all, and really should be: all of this task force’s work, based on whim and political posturing, is completely unnecessary. There are faculty on the task force, there are administrators, all who have to take on the extra work of this appointment because their Governor decided to briefly run for president and their legislature wanted… well… something.

Put another way, the legislature—a group of people who portray deep concern with how much time professors actually spend teaching, or how valuable their research really is—certainly had no problem creating a mountain of new work that, by definition, pulls those same people away from their teaching, research, and administrative duties. Just think about this: those who decry “big government bureaucracy” eviscerated a simple, clear, existing policy that then required the formation of bureaucracy a task force and committees, necessitated that state employees pull themselves away from valuable work at a very difficult moment, required significant travel time… all so we could recreate a system that we already had but in more complicated form.

Q: Who would do this?

A: The uninformed. Continue reading “UW Struggle: “Efficiencies!” Edition (Unblocked!)”

UW Struggle: Hark, the Little People Sing

Shocked

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 Awesome: Green Bay Edition

founders-award-winners-post2

 

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”

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: “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”