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 Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)

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Don’t become The Cheesechurian Candidate!

As all nine readers of this blog know (Hi mom! Love you!), I recently wrote about my fears and objections about allowing concealed weapons into campus buildings in the UW System. Understanding exactly what I was getting into, I took in all of the reactions without offering responses of my own—basically, I allowed myself to be rhetorically captive.

Why? Because for people like me—especially in my professional life—social/new media is perilous on-the-job training. Like so many who completed their graduate work before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress, a certain fluency and accountability is expected  when working in new(er) and emerging media. It’s complicated. It’s risky. People lose their jobs for missteps. My primary professional goal is to be a good teacher, and part of the job involves exposing myself to mistakes, failure, embarrassment, harassment, risk, etc, so that my students may be spared those missteps. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom is “learn from your mistakes,” and look, I’ve made more than I can count, but I have learned far more from the mistakes of others, especially teachers.

It is incredibly hard to find new ways to talk about things, to “reframe,” to find your way into words that produce that rare and meaningful change. So, what happened when I wrote openly and honestly about guns? Exactly what I expected (which is dispiriting). For those looking to wade into the same waters, maybe on a blog of one’s own, here are some observations that you are free to ignore:

The Civility Trap Continue reading “UW Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)”

UW Struggle: Nostradamus in the House Edition

Coffee + Prophecy = Step Off
Coffee + Prophecy = Step Off

Look mofos, I don’t want to get all Nostradamus on you, but here’s me yesterday:

Of course, this points to the real driver here—consumerism. Bills like this, disguised as “gun rights” or “second amendment” initiatives, are really nothing more than product placement for a  specific business interest seeking expanded markets. Guns are no different than networked, smart devices in this respect—their content must be everywhere, all the time, or something is wrong. To that point, when the police on my campus came to speak to our department about what to do in an “active shooter situation,” they mocked me for choosing not to carry a smartphone. This is not the first time someone has equated that personal choice with gross negligence. But maybe now is the time to appeal for sponsorship and a raise. So, how about it Glock? If I get licensed to carry a weapon and choose your brand for my classroom, will you pay me to advertise? (emphasis provided by soothsayer)

Here is Speaker Robin Vos today on allowing concealed carry in campus buildings:

“The idea of allowing someone to carry a legally obtained weapon? Yeah, I have no problem with that, especially if they would limit it to people who’ve already been trained to do concealed carry,” he said.

He added: “I don’t have a problem with people carrying a smartphone or carrying anything else. It’s a tool. It’s who uses the tool and how they use it.” (emphasis, again, via soothsayer)

Newsflash: here’s the thing that happens when you decide to get blogaliscious about guns: a horde of disaffected white boys immediately try to get in your gums like they were gingivitis, dudesplaining your feelings and experience for you, telling you how wrong you are, and somewhere along the way pointing out that even remotely suggesting that someone would see guns in parallel with phones makes me a big pair of donkey nuts. “You’re so stupid! This is about freedom and stuff, not consumerism!”

Oh yeah? See above. How do you like the man in the blue turban now, bitches?

Crucial anecdote:

Speaking of tools…

I taught high school for a number of years, three of which were in an all-boys catholic school.  A well-meaning woman once had the unfortunate task of introducing me to a room full of teenage boys (I was stepping in to help with the production of the school newspaper).

The intro went as follows:

“This is Dr. Rybak. He is a tool. Use him.”

Thanks for listening.

 

UW Struggle: Guns and the TL;DR Edition

Beginning

I am afraid of guns. This is not a mild fear. Even if a police officer stands too closely I move away—I see the holstered gun and need to put space between us. I believe that handguns and automatic weapons are instruments of death and death only, thus they are evil. I do not use the word “evil” lightly, as I find evil in the world as real and tangible as guns themselves (I do have a bachelor’s degree in history, which too often doubled as the study of war and weapons).

But enough about my fears, right? What’s the point? Well, two legislators in Wisconsin are seeking sponsors for a bill to allow concealed weapons into college buildings and classrooms. This is where I work and make my living.  I will say this plainly: I cannot do my job if there are guns present in the classroom, concealed or not. I will save the usual trolls the energy of response (Well then get another job! What a pussy! Man up!) Will anyone care? Will anyone in the legislature stand up for me, particularly on the Republican side, when it is now that I, and employees and students who feel similarly, need you most? Will the people who rally for the objections of someone like Kim Davis rally for my conscientious objection to feeling threatened and scared in my workplace? This is not a rhetorical question.

Let me divert into the personal for a moment, as that is one thing I try to do in this blog—attach human faces and stories to issues that don’t get such treatment in writing that is strictly partisan bomb throwing.

People who were close to me have died because of gun violence. We’re talking cold murder and random shootings.

Many years ago a  friend of mine from high school, a math savant and lover of chess, was murdered in a robbery. He was a wonderful person with the sense of humor to match. (If he would have been armed, he might still be alive! See! It’s his fault!) He was indeed unarmed at the time of his death, but it wouldn’t have mattered. He was shot in the back of the head. He was driving a cab and was killed for what might have amounted to a few hundred dollars.

Not long after that, a former co-worker of mine was shot and killed in California. (We worked part-time jobs together in a local grocery store while beginning our college careers.) She was a vivacious, funny person, and we were two teenagers who flirted with each other and the idea of dating. I have a vivid memory of walking with her one day, outside of work, holding hands. With her being African-American and me being white, we drew a lot of looks (that was an incredibly uncommon sight in Buffalo at the time). Let’s just say that that short walk taught me more about race than any lecture I’ve ever heard; that lesson is secondary to how brilliant her smile was. Although she was in the military at the time of her death, she was also unarmed. It didn’t matter. She was sitting in a bar when someone in a car driving by fired randomly at the people standing in front. I guess bullets have unintended consequences. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Guns and the TL;DR Edition”

UW Struggle: Professors are from Pluto Edition

Dolores-Umbridge-Wallpaper-hogwarts-professors-32797027-1024-768
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?

Portal_physics-2.svg
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 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”