UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man Redux

We're going to ignore you, Fredo.
We’re going to ignore you, Fredo.

 

I woke up today wanting to be positive, to feel like fresh-picked flowers and magnolia blooms. I’m reading UW-Madison professor Caroline Levine’s book on form, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about her contention that seemingly restrictive forms can, when intersecting with other forms, afford positive change—in short, this is why I’m always saying we need a new way of talking about things, and once we get there, change really can happen. I was going to write about how, when we look at the issues, the “opposing” forces surrounding the UW share many of the same goals…

Then I wake up to this article in the Capital Times which reveals what we’ve already known, but it doesn’t hurt any less—it’s all a long con game; the UW Board of Regents and UW leadership conspired to limit faculty response and input to changes to the tenure process, and basically agreed to ignore faculty voices. They had no patience for democracy and followed through on this intent. Everything you need to know about what the system President and Board of Regents truly think about faculty is summed up here: Continue reading “UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man Redux”

UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man

Nice blog you got there. Shame if something happened to it.

 

I don’t know, Wisconsin is really freaking weird these days, as in completely losing its mind while having hallucinations of competence. If you don’t want to read any of this, here is a short video on the state of productive dialogue in the Badger State as it relates to higher education. Hint: the new state animal is us:

 

So here’s where we are—the faculty at UW Madison are considering a “no confidence” vote in System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents. For the record, I am not on the faculty at Madison and would not dare to offer whether or not this is the right course of action; that’s for them to decide. But here’s what I can say—the mere specter of such a vote has unleashed complete buffoonery and a stampede of frothing jamokies. Holy smokes. There are two popular themes at this blog, but let me iterate them just for the heck of it: 1) Faculty are always to blame 2) You won’t believe what happened since the last thing that happened. Continue reading “UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man”

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: Missouri Thinkblog Edition

So many people are writing about what is happening in Missouri, and rightly so. Many familiar contexts are playing out—what it means for sports, for universities, for protest and how quickly the powers that be can neuter it—but as an observer from afar, I will only attempt to make the loosest of connections here. If I could latch onto a single truth among many that I see there, it’s this:

A number of Missouri students, faculty, and staff demanded that their system President actually stand for something.

A quick look at the list of demands makes this breathtakingly obvious. Let’s just say that, when finally raising their voices, “the needs of business,” “nimble flexovation,” and “the 21st century global blah blah blah” weren’t highly prioritized. In short, there is a truly human agenda: quality of life, inclusion, healthcare, social justice, spending more on important resources.

Incoming President, Blain Fucknuts
Incoming President, Blaine Fucknuts, former CEO of 21st Century Solutions for Solutions

Which brings me back to the UW System.

I’ve long felt conflicted about how much anger I should reserve for the system President, or any system President of a public system—being angry at such people is like being mad at the Queen of England. We’re essentially talking about well-paid middle management whose main purpose is to enact the wishes of the true sources of power: state legislatures and their financial backers. So the Missouri protests trained a good amount of focus on individuals (the President, Chancellor), who quickly became compensated fall guys for their role in assuring that a change in personnel is synonymous with structural change, which it isn’t. (This is what people mean when they say that things like gender discrimination are systemic—the system survives the individuals who participate.) Any incoming President in Missouri will be vetted to insure they can say the right things, repackage the status quo, and most importantly, ensure that football continues (i.e. the appropriate people get paid; the Romney people from Bain will be at this week’s BYU game, after all). But the situation is still unfolding, and maybe such quick managerial touch-ups will also be rejected. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Missouri Thinkblog Edition”

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: 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: 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”