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?
Ok then, let’s walk over to studio two and play “Ten Questions for President Cross.” I hope that someone, somewhere in the Wisconsin media landscape will use this as a cheat sheet—that’s the real point. No one cares about the scribblings of hippy-poet bloggers. I ask these not to be antagonistic; I ask because, literally, I believe almost no one knows the answers and clarity would be helpful.
Here is your musical accompaniment:
Ten Questions for President Cross
2. Yes or No: Did you participate in, or lobby for, the creation of the revised language in the JFC omnibus bill?
3. Yes or No: Are you supportive of requiring faculty to go through a rigorous, years-long, entirely performance-based tenure process and then allowing, upon completion of that process, said faculty to be fired for reasons completely unrelated to their performance?
4. Yes or No: Are you comfortable with taking away existing tenure protections from faculty who earned those protections. Put another way, after asking faculty “to complete X for Y,” and X has been completed by thousands of hard-working Wisconsin citizens, are you comfortable with taking away Y?
5. Yes or No: Have you, or will you, argue that all UW tenured and tenure-track faculty be grandfathered into the protections offered by the original statute, which was promised to them when you secured and benefitted from their labor?
6. Yes or No: Are you willing to attempt to break an existing contract with tenured and tenure-track faculty?
7. Yes or No: You have said that if faculty can be arbitrarily fired then there is no tenure—since tenure is earned via a grueling performance-based process, isn’t the firing of any faculty member for reasons not performance-based arbitrary?
8. Yes or No: Will you publicly, in full view of all UW employees, ask the Board of Regents and the Wisconsin legislature to restore tenure protections, as previously written, to state statute? (Note: even if they say “no,” it’s probably important that our leader ask if this indeed is what he wants.)
9. Yes or No: Given your own plans for regionalization, and given incoming Regent Grebe’s statement that we have to cut programs, and given the recent Board of Regents votes, and given that proposed tenure changes perfectly align with such plans, do you expect us to believe that there is not a plan in place to start cutting programs and thus arbitrarily firing the faculty who work in those programs?
10. Can you, and will you, finally acknowledge that you agree with and welcome all of the changes described above? At least then we have honesty and transparency. If you do not agree and welcome these changes, can you publicly state such, thus placing the concerns and feelings of UW employees ahead of any “punishment” for daring to make a statement? Or maybe just “How do you feel about all of this?” (I guess that’s more than one question.)
Bonus Questions for Media to Ask Legislators and Regents
Bonus 1: Yes, we know that Wisconsin is the only state with tenure written into state statute. Still, that is not a reason to change it. How, specifically, does the state benefit economically, via this budget bill, by removing these protections from statute? (Note: this has already been asked by Nick “The Leviticus” Fleischer over at his place; too bad he’s only a hippy professor and not a journalist.)
Bonus 2: What do you hope the result of such an action is, especially the revision to how people can be fired? (Please answer without using the word “flexibility” or “modernization” or any of its variants.)
Bonus Question for Anyone in the Media
Bonus-Bonus: Have you asked anyone, and then reported on, the legality of breaking this commitment after people have given up years of their lives, and countless other job opportunities, based on that promise? Is it possible that the UW has a legal department with paid employees? (Although they may not be the ones to ask.)
Thanks for playing!
Regularly scheduled programming…
It is impossible for me to read these events any other way: the UW System is trying to pretend at tenure (warning: you will hear meaningless austerity cues like “modernize tenure” thrown about). In short, what kind of farce requires people to dedicate over a half a decade of their lives to rolling in the teeth of an exhausting, performance-based tenure metric when your job security is actually in service to an entirely different, arbitrary metric? In short, why the heck would you ask anyone to go through the tenure process at all? Who is the kind of person, what kind of moral disaster, asks people to give so much of their lives and effort simply to sweep away those years under “this program isn’t aligned with the needs of this business that doesn’t care about your curriculum and doesn’t pay state taxes anyway”?
In one of the most bizarre developments I can think of in higher ed, we are about to have one of the world’s most respected university systems pretend to have tenure.
Final Note: I write this from a particular point of view, that of a faculty member. Please be aware that I know the proposed changes affect academic staff, and any other number of people. I care about those things just as much; I am just too ignorant of the details to write about them. I apologize for any offense. If you’ve read any of my other postings, even before the “UW Update” series, you’d know that I’ve written about adjunct labor and exploitation, about K-12 teachers, etc. I value all of those views and struggles, and I’m simply adding a specific voice to that chorus.
Also, I’d like to publicly thank, as so many have, Dave Vanness for his efforts to organize, to inform, and his taking the time to make an accurate, human, heartfelt statement to the Board of Regents. Thank you so much. If only more people in the state knew that your goodness is the rule for the UW and its mission.
Not sure where I go from here or when I’ll be back. But I’ll give you a hint as to what I think will save the UW:
We need to build Viking ships. Trust me on this. I’ll explain later.