I live and work in Wisconsin, which is engaged in a long and deliberate destruction of its public education system. Legislators and System administrators evoke “the taxpayer” as the sacred stakeholder, but this is simply no longer true. Since comparisons to “running things like a business” tend find purchase, saying the taxpayers are the major stakeholder in the UW System is like handing the majority of power to a minor stakeholder. In fact, the major stakeholders in our system remain largely voiceless: students. Essentially, their tuition and aid dollars (which are not tax dollars) have been elevated above declining state support, and they are now primary.
My wife, also a teacher in the UW, received this letter from a former student of hers, who still lives and works in our community–she is also very successful. No legislator, System President, Chancellor, or Provost will ask her what she thinks. I thought I’d use this little space to help promote her voice.
From Morgan Moran (UW-Green Bay alum, English/Creative Writing)
Subject: Don’t let autonomy weaken a legendary identity.
Friends, this email isn’t meant to drone on about the political, budgetary and administrative issues facing the UW-system.
This email is meant to give you a small glimpse into the life-changing 4 years I spent at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, when the system was at its best.
I came to UWGB in 2004 – a business major, which was, admittedly, code for “I don’t know what or who I want to be.” I sat through economics and statistics classes, color-coded my notes, mastered the SWOT analysis and Venn diagramed like no other.
But my mind wandered. Was this what I wanted? Was this who I was? Why was I more often daydreaming about pinstriped powersuits than the meaningful difference I wanted to make in the business world? Was I of that world?
Then I took a literature course. A randomly chosen class that would score me some good reads while satisfying a Humanities general education. And heaven help me if my soul didn’t open up right there in the third row as we discussed Life of Pi.
The interdisciplinary courses at UWGB opened my mind and heart but most importantly, my eyes, to who I was as an academic and who I would become as a creative professional. The university’s mission expanded my horizons in such a way that helped me avoid a career that, clearly, wasn’t for me.
The Humanities in particular taught me to be a more considered, tolerant and imaginative person. How I embrace people for their differences! How I love prose that is brave enough to be raw, uncomfortable and unconventional! How my heart bursts out of my chest when I visit different countries and get to experience cultures wildly different from my own! (Next on the travel agenda: mountain trekking in Nepal.)
I would do the university a disservice if I only praised the content of the courses. For it was the passion of the Humanities professors – arms waving in the air, eyes glinting with wonder, dry-erase markers as artful as a conductor’s baton as we mapped ideas and themes on the board – that convinced me to walk down to the Registrar and change my major to Creative Writing.
I wish I could have had a microphone at that moment to drop dramatically to the ground.
Boom. It felt like an elephant had been lifted from my chest as I spent the rest of my academic career writing poetry, editing a literary journal, admiring Buddhism, writing papers in Hoch Deutsch, delving into anthropology, and of course, reading the heck out of prose that would shape me into the inquisitive, poised, impassioned woman I am.
These professors – many of whom still meet me for a glass of Merlot to discuss the grand virtues of life, many of whom saw me tearfully say I Do on my own wedding day – left indelible, earth-shaking impressions on my life…because they had the tools and the structure and the wide-eyed vision to give me what I didn’t yet know to give myself.
I still can’t read Life of Pi without getting teary, thinking about how that random (but so very necessary) course changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Today, I’m an Associate Creative Director at Green Bay’s most accomplished branding agency. I help organizations (ranging from healthcare to industrial technology to firefighting apparatus to credit unions) become the companies people love to engage with. Then comes the fun stuff – writing the sort of print ads, radio spots, TV campaigns and brand roadmaps that make people laugh and cry.
I engage the human condition for a living. And I don’t know if I could say the same if I were entering the UW system next Fall.
Please consider the exceptional identity and world-class mission you have crafted.
Please consider the lives your talented team has touched and continues to inspire.
Please consider the essence that drives my place of work – making good things happen – and please continue to do the same at UWGB.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
If this is meaningful to you, please move beyond reading. If you are connected to UW, share your story. Write your legislators, regardless of their party affiliation. And write the Chancellors/Deans of your local campuses. Write UW System President Ray Cross, who needs to be more of a public advocate. If the cuts are severe as predicted, demand that human resources be honored first. Lastly, parents. The voice of parents with children in the UW System is an important one; legislators listen.