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: 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)”

UW Struggle: Upocalypse Final Update, Part Deux: Return of the Wing

ChickenWing
The once and future wing

Before launching into rabid tirades about how UW faculty and staff have to do everything, let me talk about local economies. The other evening, I was challenged by a tenured UW-Green Bay psychology professor to a chicken-wing eating duel. I am from Buffalo, New York, and such contests have run in my blood for generations, back through the veins of my hirsute ancestors (“Rybak” is Ukrainian for “bird limb devourer”). Pictured above is not a chicken wing; it is my family crest. Anyway, the opposing armies gathered at midnight under the cover of jukebox neon and proceeded to engage in battle. A third party was present—someone from “business”—but he was disqualified for ordering boneless wings (he, of course, said they were an “efficiency”). We explained, patiently, that those were not wings, but “nuggets of surrender.”

Long story short, I was vanquished and thus humiliated everyone and everything I stand for. My decline and fall aside, ask the management of Legend Larry’s what the UW does for its local economy. Ask them if they value hungry people with job security. Extend this out to establishments all over the state, especially those that provide trivia services. All I have to say to UW central admin and our state legislature is: why do you hate happy hour?

So, about doing everything…

I have written tirelessly, endlessly, about the fact that Wisconsin’s higher-ed narrative is dominated by a myth: the myth that faculty have power. The myth that faculty are so powerful that they prohibit the university from flex-o-vating nimble 21st century efficiencies. I have waited patiently for Wisconsin media outlets to rely on something other than Politifact to take a stand, or to at least ask basic questions. None of this has happened. So let me point out something to outside observers that should be breathtakingly obvious: powerful people and interests are again moving swiftly to curtail the job security of powerless people. If faculty are so powerful, the great titans of the state, why can’t they simply put an end to this attack? Oh, right, the power is, and was always, held by the other parties involved: the people who cut budgets, give tax breaks, build stadiums for pungent teams, raise tuition, and collaborate with ease to extend Wisconsin’s new tradition of weakening worker protections and earning power. It’s that simple. So, dear media outlets, stop writing about faculty as if they are, or ever were, the source of any problem the UW has. They aren’t. Holy donkey teeth, for the sixth time I will post this list.

Summary: those with power have invested a powerless constituency with the appearance of power (aka “divide”). They then use their real power to attack those people who, all along, were powerless to stop them (aka “conquer”). Get it? They never had the power to cause the problems they are being associated with. (See: American workers. Also, history.)

Another note to the media: feel free to ask President Cross some very basic questions about motive. Seriously, just basic information will suffice. I have never seen someone in the center of a conflict be asked to go on the record so little about his intentions. Whether someone agrees with him or not, everyone in the UW deserves a clear, directly-stated picture of what his goals are, especially if President Cross agrees that the system should weaken tenure to the point of irrelevancy. Certainly we can all agree that we should have this clear statement of vision/direction, no? Continue reading “UW Struggle: Upocalypse Final Update, Part Deux: Return of the Wing”

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: Alien Abduction Edition

You’re not paranoid if what you’re fearing is real. Then, you’re just right.

Never trust a legislator when reason is on the line!
Never trust a legislator when reason is on the line!

With that, I announce that the corporate takeover of Wisconsin is now complete. We’re at the point, literally, where we can’t go one hour without another jaw-dropping legislative giveaway. At 5:30 we’re prohibiting poor people from buying shoes with fancy laces and at 6:15 raccoons can teach high school English and math. And holy bright baboon’s butt, we’re not even close to finished.

Before I go on, let me quickly offer two points that must submerge into our collective (un)conscious. I will offer them without context, but trust me on this: first, there is no such thing as the “Tea Party”—there is only movement/corporate conservatism. Second, the UW does not have leadership; it has lobbyists who, unfortunately, don’t lobby for the system. Thank you. I will now proceed.

Tomorrow, the Joint Finance Committee will deal with the UW, and this I guarantee: things will emerge that are completely unexpected and shocking (see my opening paragraph about making it through an hour). Whatever those things may be, they are right now being handed to JFC committee members from the special interests who have pushed every other action that is destroying the quality of life in this state. To review, a greatly abridged list: Continue reading “UW Struggle: Alien Abduction Edition”

UW Struggle: All That Remains Edition

All That Remains“Expect the worst” has proven itself outdated, as Wisconsin continually exceeds such expectations during its transformation into a full corporate laboratory. A lot of pre-cut pieces have fallen into place, with the UW domino yet to fall, but it’s all pretty clear, isn’t it?

Recent events include:

  • More money has been given to K-12 schooling, but only for the purpose of increasing the pot for private interests. I mean, why make a turkey for someone if you’re not going to stuff it?
  • Death by a thousand rules to Wisconsin’s poor, who are receiving legislative treatment that makes Leviticus look fussy.
  • Plus, a hundred other things I could list here.

So where does that leave the UW System? Especially with money being handed out to public schools the CEOs of future charter schools and tax revenue being incompatible with our national austerity regime?

Short answer: screwed. All that remains to be asked is: how screwed?

Well, there are competing theories on this as they apply to the UW and, more specifically, its leadership: Continue reading “UW Struggle: All That Remains Edition”

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”

UW Struggle: Real People Edition

ruins1As I sit down to write this, I know it could be 10,000 words of sadness. I will limit myself.

Making news these days are the proposed buyouts campuses are offering to employees 55 and older; the buyouts are not automatic, as you must apply and be approved. But the buyouts are not a good deal, just as much of everything else is not a good deal. The Green Bay Press Gazette has a piece today on buyout offers, and I know and work with the people quoted. Steve Meyer, one of the most respected and visible professors on our campus, said, “No way I am going to take them up on their offer. I am too far away from retirement to take it.” He’s right not to. It is a sad offer among other sad offers. Also, the man is 56. Fifty-six is young. But I guess we can have a discussion about ageism some other time. Most importantly, if Steve did accept the offer, it would be a tremendous loss to our students, seeing the departure of yet another of our science faculty. This is a person we want to encourage to go away?

But this blog isn’t about buyouts. It’s about our chronic hemorrhaging of talent. When you work at a campus like mine, UW-Green Bay, losing even one person to another job can be crippling; it often means, in some cases, that you are losing half or all of a popular program. I have heard people, and one legislator in particular, say that the “loss of talent” argument is not real. Make no mistake: the poachers are here. They have been here for years, as the post Act-10 climate in Wisconsin has seen an increase in the departure of thriving, post-tenure professors.

The white noise hums, “We need you to be more like a business!” Is this what businesses do? Let their talent leave without so much as lifting a finger, all while consumers students dependent on that knowledge and skill helplessly stand by? Continue reading “UW Struggle: Real People Edition”