UW Struggle: “Accountability!” Edition

Boom Industry
Boom Industry

I am a simple man. Master of the obvious. But that doesn’t mean I’m not here to help.

There are many who, observing the UW situation from the outside, have offered some version of “the reality is not as bad as the overeactions indicate.” Many such reactions come from folks in-state, even in the UW, and many more from outside the state. The weird thing about such readings is the willingness to ignore the unique characteristics of the state government in question. As I have argued for years now, everything is about the state legislature. Your university system is as good or bad as the legislature in question makes it, just as you would say about the state itself. That’s why I normally don’t lecture someone in Arizona about what it’s like to work in their system—I don’t know nearly enough about their legislature, the specific people involved, and the policy decisions at work.

So, let me tell you that we are currently in an accountability-free(fall) zone. Accountability is not a democratically applied term in Wisconsin; it is code for the targeting of a specific constituency, which is ramping up in the badger state faster than you can say Spotted Cow.

Let us take a trip down memory lane…

A long time ago, nearly two weeks distant now, the Wisconsin state legislature attempted to demolish the state’s open records laws. The move was unquestionably totalitarian, authoritarian, and all applicable synonyms. Here’s a short peek at one of the major players, who also wields considerable influence over the UW system:

Republican sources told The Journal Sentinel that Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos (R) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) played an influential role in pulling the package together. Vos confirmed that he was aware of the proposals before Thursday’s vote, telling Wisconsin Public Radio Monday, “Almost all of us in the leadership teams were.”

He claimed that lawmakers were interested in the changes as a way to protect constituents from being targeted by outside groups through open records law, as well as to encourage a “collaborative discussion” during the legislative process.

Did you get that? We need secrecy to avoid targeting donors constituents while we let a corporation write legislation can finally collaborate without the inconvenient pressure of the mean old public eye. Oh wait, what’s that?

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Thursday asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate the Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin’s campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws.

The board assisted prosecutors who conducted the secret John Doe investigation ordered stopped by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.

The citizens of Wisconsin have the right to know what laws are being broken behind closed doors at the very agency that is supposed to ensure accountability in government and elections,” Vos said in a statement. (emphasis mine)

Yes! None of this behind closed doors business! None of this nonsense about “targeting”! Translation: we do the targeting around here, not you. So what does this have to do with the UW? Reminder, this is the same person who chaired the state’s university committee and is the major force behind incessant micromanagement dressed as “reform.” This process is still in its early stages. You/We have yet begun to be surprised.

But obviously the media in Wisconsin, jolted and vigilant after the open records scandal that laid bare all intentions, is all over this. They are no longer dealing with stories in isolation, but really showing all of the coordination at work. Um…I guess not. With the open records problem in the background, everyone is friends again! Beer summit! Thanks! Once again we’re seeing a familiar pattern: online articles have been edited to remove important (though unflattering), direct quotations from legislators and the UW Madison Chancellor, but not so much in the case of a faculty member. Open records requests for who rewrote tenure/shared governance/layoff provisions remain unasnwered, but how would the public know they were out there? After all, there’s a campaign to cover! Also, it’s faculty (bad!) we’re talking about, so no one really cares

Now, I’m not going to write specifically about the current storm around a UW professor and the expected calls for “accountability!” from the wholly unaccountable. Other people who are smarter and more eloquent than me have already done so, minus the snark, or just follow Dave Vanness on Twitter. But I will say this: while the legislative class gets their exercise via the daily walkback of yet the latest ridiculous thing they’ve said, no such freedom or opportunity is given to the professor. The professor is always wrong. The professor needs to be more responsible. The professor must be held accountable. The professor will never have the privilege of “the walk back” and the space such a metaphor implies. (Whatever happened to, I don’t know, simply telling someone they might be wrong about something? Or, what’s that called? Offering a counter argument.) Will I again be chastised for overreacting if I were to say that this is a sign of things to come?

In short, the fainting couches are again a booming industry in Wisconsin. People are shocked, shocked I tell you, at the things the professor might say! (“Your winnings, sir.”) I mean, who does stuff like that? Let me just leave this here as a reminder of how we apply standards of decorum differently…



And I did offer a false exit before, but now it’s official. Blog hiatus. Moving on to other projects—two books to write and a job to do.