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”

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: (Govern)Mentally Challenged Edition

PicardNobody conscious in Wisconsin needs reminding of this, but government here is truly bad right now when judging by any host of metrics. But if we focused on talking points, word salad would actually be welcome as delicious. So, if you are someone looking in from the outside, this is the daily horseshit we have to step through. Over to you, Governor:

On The University of Wisconsin: “I think it’s unfortunate,” Walker said of UW System president Ray Cross saying he would resign if tenure and shared faculty governance are eliminated. “This is exactly why you need to have these reforms and why you shouldn’t be able to have the faculty have a gun to the head of chancellors and administrators.”

Let us pause for a moment and think about how truly backwards this is, and deliberately so.

  1. Scott Walker really does equate state employees, especially teachers, with terrorists. This is the second time he has explicitly described such employees as being life threatening. “It’s just an expression!” you say? No, it’s a pattern.
  2. Faculty are absolutely powerless. If faculty were “holding a gun” to anyone’s head, or had any power, they wouldn’t be speaking out so much. Why? There would be no need! The whole point of making your voice heard—whether faculty, staff, students, etc—is that we are powerless. Everyone conscious knows this. Continue reading “UW Struggle: (Govern)Mentally Challenged Edition”