UW Struggle: “Efficiencies!” Edition (Unblocked!)

MehOnce, after an amazing plate of sweet-and-sour pork, I cracked open a fortune cookie that read, “Soon you will shit yourself. Lucky numbers: 3, 9, 12.”

I think back to this vicissitude of life not for its absurdity, but for how, in its moment, how expected and normal it felt. (Of course I will!) Which takes me to the meetings of the current UW Tenure Task Force…

Now, there are many ways to approach this narrative, but let me hit on one that has not been discussed in the media, at all, and really should be: all of this task force’s work, based on whim and political posturing, is completely unnecessary. There are faculty on the task force, there are administrators, all who have to take on the extra work of this appointment because their Governor decided to briefly run for president and their legislature wanted… well… something.

Put another way, the legislature—a group of people who portray deep concern with how much time professors actually spend teaching, or how valuable their research really is—certainly had no problem creating a mountain of new work that, by definition, pulls those same people away from their teaching, research, and administrative duties. Just think about this: those who decry “big government bureaucracy” eviscerated a simple, clear, existing policy that then required the formation of bureaucracy a task force and committees, necessitated that state employees pull themselves away from valuable work at a very difficult moment, required significant travel time… all so we could recreate a system that we already had but in more complicated form.

Q: Who would do this?

A: The uninformed. Continue reading “UW Struggle: “Efficiencies!” Edition (Unblocked!)”

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”

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: 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: 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: Sparkle Pony Fainting-Couch Edition

I'm a sparkle pony, and you hurt my feelings!
I’m a sparkle pony, and you hurt my feelings!

Before I get to the brush fire of hurt feelings, I’d like to point you to Nick Fleisher’s crib. The hospitality is nice, the furniture is comfy, and the latest post is as rock-solid of an update as you’re going to get after the town hall at UW-Milwaukee that has all of the serious folks fainting on their couches. There have been many “my word!” and “oh lordy!” ejaculations since Wednesday.

Exhibit A:

Well fat frog’s ass! We can’t have regular folks asking questions of their leadership in a spirited but entirely civil way! I mean, there may be a lot at stake, but I reckon y’all could use some manners! Well I never! Faints on couch

Those professorial brutes!
Those professorial brutes!

Continue reading “UW Struggle: Sparkle Pony Fainting-Couch Edition”

UW Struggle: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Public Authority Edition

funnythingSo much has happened. But if anyone reads one sentence of this post, let it be this: in the process of resisting the UW’s strict top-down authority, people are making a real difference. We’re active. We’re out there. We’re contacting legislators, connecting with the community, attending joint-finance hearings, crafting editorials and open letters, voicing expectations to campus admin, and openly questioning the UW’s central leadership. It’s working (depending on your goals, of course). This is not to say that results will be favorable, but it should serve as a proud reminder of what might be possible beyond the passing of the current budget. This is a long game.

If you haven’t read Noel Radomski’s chronology of the PA proposal, do so. (I have coffee, I’ll wait.) What does this reveal? UW admin is interested in shared governance as a talking point, not a method of operation. As Karen Herzog’s profile of President Cross documents, Cross has a preference for performing public work in private and the results have been disastrous, rhetorically and substantively. Going by even the most basic definition, people expect leadership to be direct and provide clear vision. This is not happening in the UW (for the duration of this post, this means central admin). In fact, we are modeling for our students, and our state, the very things we identify as being exclusionary, oppressive, and unimaginative. This is heartbreaking.

So, what is the funny thing that happened on the way to the public authority? We made a discovery: a good part of the problem is us. We must fix it. In other words, when we are being told to accept without question that our funding model is broken, it is actually our leadership model that appears broken. Isn’t it clear that a central UW admin doesn’t serve the system well? Do we need a single system, close-to-the-vest President to be our voice in public (and private) forums? Is it actually working against our interests to not have a diversity of voices present at all times? Is this model misrepresenting who we actually are? Instead of a president, would we be better served with empowered chancellors who are directly engaged with their communities and local legislators?

I’m not sure, but here’s where my thinking is about what’s failing: Continue reading “UW Struggle: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Public Authority Edition”

UW Struggle: Okie Dokie I Reckon Yessum Update

Don_Knotts_Barney_and_the_bullet_Andy_Griffith_ShowI’ll keep this brief. Like my career, apparently.

The Journal Sentinel published a long profile of UW System Ray Cross. I don’t know much about him personally, so I was happy for it. That being said, I’ve thought a lot about some things Cross says in the profile, especially this tidbit:

Cross said he doesn’t ascribe motives or assume ill intent when working with lawmakers.

“I don’t believe there’s a legislator in the Capitol who wants to hurt this institution. Nor do I believe that we understand that. The university often interprets actions as harmful because something’s ‘due to us.'”

Rhetorically, this is typical of Cross, who did the same thing the one time I spoke with him personally. He has no problem ascribing motives, or a single belief, to a massive institution while simultaneously doing gymnastics to reinforce the supposed diversity of another. In doing so, he also refers to the supposedly myopic system he governs as “we” while separating himself from that we—it is him, after all, that stands apart and recognizes this shortcoming.

This is pure fiction. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Okie Dokie I Reckon Yessum Update”

UW Struggle: Sales Tax Redux (“Help!” Edition)

Fact: 1 in 4 Beatles is the Taxman
Fact: 1 in 4 Beatles is the Taxman

Like many, one of the concerns I have about shifting the UW to a funding mechanism based on sales tax is the disproportionate effect it has on lower earners.

Now, I directly asked my Chancellor at Friday’s town hall meeting, “How do you personally feel about shifting to a funding stream that is based on sales tax?”

His response, almost verbatim, That’s not true. The money is appropriated from a variety of different taxes. Then he turned to another question.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing my Chancellor. I just want a definitive answer on this (and thus, we’re back to criticizing System). In short, help! Does anyone know the answer? If so, why is this something that is presented as simple (“The system will be based on sales tax revenue”) until you ask about it (“It will pull from a variety of tax sources”)?

Why do I want to know? I have moral questions about who such taxes would burden with the responsibility for funding a UW system that would likely become less available to the non elite. Continue reading “UW Struggle: Sales Tax Redux (“Help!” Edition)”