UW Struggle: Update from the Struggle

cropped-Sculpture-e1414110522329.jpgSome folks have asked for updates on the day-to-day debacle in Wisconsin, where people argue over the best way to get a quality public good without having to pay for it. We are facing, yet again, another massive cut–the 3rd in a row–and we are soon approaching a state divestment in higher ed of 1 Billion dollars. But you know, efficiencies.

So what’s the latest? Where are good sources of information?

  • Today’s news in reserve fund updates: Karen Herzog’s reporting on the UW situation is excellent. Today she delivers news of the 1.3 Billion in cash reserves that Ray Cross hasn’t been mentioning much. In fact, while these reserves are there, all Cross says is “bite the bullet.” Um, President Cross, how about we start discussing ways in which any small portion of that money will help? Please?
  • For my money, Sara Goldrick-Rab is the best academic source if you are looking for a view from someone committed to affordable public education, especially for those who are economically disadvantaged. Follow her on Twitter. In short, Sara = research + spirit + morality. Also, if you talk shit she will crush you.
  • And on the day that such news breaks, Rebecca Blank warns of third-shift layoffs (!) and dares ask athletics to chip in a bit. And if you think UW Athletics isn’t a peripheral golden cow, read the last two paragraphs of this piece. Thanks! We’ll be sure to handle athletics with care while firing the slower-footed at will. Counter offer: suspend UW football and basketball for next season, or until “flexibilities” kick in.
  • As part of the $300 million in cuts discussion, the intended fear has people focusing a bit less on the “public authority” proposal that goes with it. President Ray Cross wants this authority, as did the state of Texas, who is now rethinking it.

Now, I know you all care the most about what I think, especially since I am a man of great power and influence. (After all, I did purchase Infinite Jest yesterday.) So…

If you are someone who wants the budget cuts greatly reduced, or eliminated, and also want to remain a state system, you have no powerful ally. The Governor and the Legislature want the system reduced to rubble, while the system President wants it to be monetarily reduced and more open to tuition hikes, privatization, and less interference from pesky things like student participation in governance. If you want a well-funded state system, all we have is each other, and only pressure on legislators will help achieve that goal, as dim as it may seem.

I confess, Ray Cross has lost me. As the FOI requests keep revealing the emails, the tone of the discussions, as well as how information gets packaged for the little people, is more and more off putting. Let’s review the first year of Cross’s tenure, which promised a renewed relationship with the legislature and reestablishing of trust: we have potentially the worst budget cut ever and the end of the state system. Now, people I respect have said to me that his intentions are good, that the mild public display is a rhetorical performance but he’s really fighting behind the scenes. Maybe that’s all true. The results stink. Here’s a lesson that we should have learned by now–being nice has zero effect on these legislators, so you might as well take your fights public; it’s the only way to keep people informed. What happens when you play 12-dimensional rhetorical chess behind closed doors and in emails with the “big boys”? You get played, and then the public has no idea what you’re fighting for. Get it? Everyone is in the dark but you. We have to read the papers to find out about our own workplace.

I’m just a little person–meaning a teacher–who performs the actual mission of teaching and learning. No one cares what I think, especially the system President, or any Chancellor, or any Provost. My sense from the internal emails from central is that people like me are appreciated when we agree with something, when we don’t we’re an obstacle. But from my perch of irrelevance I’ll say this–we deserve better. We deserve public, open, fiery, honest advocacy for a mission worth fighting for. We deserve leadership that asks opponents of our system to go on the record, continually, about why they handily rejected our request for increased funding. This statement has never been asked for, not once. So how is the public to know?

Finally, I don’t know Speaker Robin Vos beyond the fact that he doesn’t like people like me very much. I really wish I could change that. Speaker Vos, I live in Green Bay–consider this an open invitation to lunch or dinner with me, my wife, and my two daughters (and our dog, in case you have allergies). Here’s a reality that many faculty and staff have to face (and maybe Speaker Vos as well): we’re actually the closest allies in terms of outcomes. We want a state University in Wisconsin that is controlled by those who are elected, not appointed. Maybe over dinner we can talk about the funding part. We do great things. We can prove it, easily.

That’s your update. All of this will change by tomorrow.


5 thoughts on “UW Struggle: Update from the Struggle

  1. Remember that Cross personally donated to a Republicans threatened by recall after he arrived at Extension and Colleges in 2011. At the same time, he was pushing back against an earlier bad Walker budget and trying to save the Wisconsin Idea, by his own report. He’s a smart guy with good ideas but as a WI taxpayer, I want the public to remain in control through our elected reps. Check out this quote from Cross at Parkside this week. I think of the UW as a service first and business second and why does he warn about a state takeover of a state university??? (From https://www.uwp.edu/explore/news/crossvisit.cfm)

    However, Cross said, a major portion of the UW System is a business. “It needs a responsible board,” he said, “but it doesn’t need to be micromanaged by the Legislature. The state, and particularly the Legislature, is at a crossroads. It has to make a decision. Either we are given the flexibility and we’re going to hold the board [of Regents] accountable for achieving things, or [the state] is going to take us over.”

    1. “Cross acknowledged that it may be time to review the governance and tenure laws currently in Chapter 36 of the state statutes. He noted that academic staff are not currently included in the state law, only in Board of Regents policy. The review and thoughtful discussion, he said, would include members of the faculty and staff.”

      If that is the case, the place for thoughtful discussion to include members of the faculty and staff is NOT in the state budget process. And there is a real effort taking place to have those discussions held, organized by a couple highly respected organizations. This is a really complex issue, and it takes a lot of organizing, with concern for people staying in existing silos. But to do nothing would be a mistake. Take it out of the budget and have the discussion!

  2. Good synopsis, Chuck. Based upon the FOI emails and other things I know, I am not at all sure about the “good intentions,” and then it depends on one’s perspective. To date, there is no evidence supporting the UW System president’s comments to faculty reps that shared governance and tenure was under any more fire than it has been for years, and indeed the available information would suggest that this is an area that legislators were smart enough to not want to mess with. So, the assertion that a deal needed to be brokered to save these centerpieces of UW System is highly suspect.

    An organization that you might want to follow is WISCAPE, headed by Noel Rodamski.

    It is my opinion that the public authority legislation should never be imbedded in a state budget, and we should insist that it be removed and debated statewide. WISCAPE and WIPPS are ideal organizations to lead this discussion. If it’s a great idea, it will pass through the normal legislative process. The UW System was not created in a state budget, and neither should a wholesale reorganization of how the business of the University takes place.

    1. Thanks for this–it’s good to see some clear thinking in turbulent times. And yeah–Cross has lost me, too.

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