UW Struggle: Quick Dispatch

AmericatIn case anyone thinks that arguments from our current decision makers in Wisconsin make sense, let me disabuse you of that notion. Let me offer my loudest “Holy Guacamole!” as a tasty beacon of befuddlement. If you zoom in on a particular context—K-12, higher ed, tenure, shared governance, department of natural resources, stadium deals, borrowing for roads—nothing makes sense. Just this morning I walked into my kitchen and saw three raccoons making pancakes and coffee. It all seemed so normal. However, zooming out provides a crystallized picture: it’s all about money and ideological grudges, at every conceivable level. With that said…

Your UW Compass: Whether we’re talking tenure, shared governance, public authority (we have more goalposts than the Green Bay Packers), power brokers prefer to steer the public away from the fact that we are cutting another quarter of a billion dollars from the UW in a single budget cycle. You know how your household budget becomes super Mary Poppins flexible when you have less money? Me neither. If you would like a tour guide on this point, go visit Nick Fleisher; he serves wine and cheese at his place.

Makes Sense Snippet #1: Legislators who want the UW to act more like a business got very upset when the UW acted like a business and made sure it had cash reserves for things that never happen… like budget cuts. You literally could not have enough fainting couches in the Capitol for how offended legislators were by the existence of these reserves. Now, faculty may control the universe, but they don’t control UW budgets, so legislative ire was indeed directed at the appropriate power sources: UW central and the Chancellors of its institutions. So (as Nick Fleisher again points out) what do these legislators, who were mortally wounded by such behavior want to do? Further empower the people that they were supposedly furious with. Seriously, try to walk two feet without someone saying, “We need to empower Chancellors to be more like CEOs…the President needs to dictate without input….” Why? So they can build cash reserves for rainy days? Um, ok. I thought that left the legislature with a bad taste in its mouth? There’s only one reason I can possibly think of for doing this, and not much imagination is required. If you meet with a legislator or write a legislator or write an editorial, ask about this.

Makes Sense Snippet #2: As I pointed out in my post yesterday, our legislature must take on shared governance because it has evolved into some kind of mutated democracy super flu. Where it should merely be advisory, people who are not the CEOs are making actual decisions! Here’s the thing about policy: it is either advisory or it isn’t. It doesn’t evolve by itself. If mangy students, faculty, and staff have contributed to any campus decisions it’s because campus leadership took their advice. So what’s really being said is, “We want these voices to be purely advisory, but we’re going to get really mad if you take any advice.” All together now: this is another solution in search of a problem. Shared governance is already advisory; just ask system President Cross, who has made this point over and over. For example, one of my recent provosts (how about that phrase!) wanted to make a unilateral decision on my campus about online programs; faculty senate and student government did not feel the decision was appropriate and wanted more input; the provost declined to heed that advice and made a decision, quickly, that is still in place today.  So, tell me again, why are we spending so much time talking about making an advisory system advisory? Because a quarter of a billion dollars, that’s why! If you meet with a legislator or write a legislator or write an editorial, ask about this.

Makes Sense Snippet #3:  For those who think this isn’t a coordinated attack on public education, with this round of grudges moving the crosshairs firmly on the UW, I have this to say:

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In Wisconsin, we love education so much that, via this budget bill, we are going to let people with high school diplomas and no teacher training teach K-12. There’s a lot I could say about this, but let me offer true experience—in addition to my Masters and PhD work, I also went through a teacher certification program and taught high school for four years. There are many, many things I would change about education programs, but all of those changes would involve ensuring that teachers received the most thorough, maximum training they could… not eliminating the need for any training at all! And while many see this as a K-12 issue, which it is, let’s not forget it is also another deliberate attack on the UW and its education departments who, you know, train the state’s teachers to work in what used to be (like the UW) and shining national example. How are people feeling about flexibilities and efficiencies? Well, for starters, behold and behold. If you meet with a legislator or write a legislator or write an editorial, ask about this.

Makes Sense Snippet #4: UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says the changes to tenure policy are not a disaster. She has also said it might be worth asking the Governor to veto those provisions in the budget bill. One of these things is not like the other.

Makes Sense and Kumbaya Snippet #5: Here is something that happens everyday in the state of Wisconsin:

“Hello, UW faculty member, would you like to come to our radio show/television segment/library/meeting/group/event and talk about X, for no compensation?”

“Why yes, I’d love to. As a state employee and educator these are the things I live for in my professional life! Thank you so much for thinking of me!”

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll see I referenced two comments by a legislator that were dropped during revisions to a news story. No worries, I completely get it—I teach things like writing and revision for a living. However, it came to my attention that numerous people emailed the editor who had done the revisions to the story (this is not about the writer, Karen Herzog, whose work and congeniality I truly admire), asking for access to the original version. Answer: no. He said they have a policy about releasing such drafts, and again, I get it (I won’t let you read the crappier drafts of my crappy poems). However, the editor in question was then simply asked to provide the quotes, just for simple accuracy. Just the quotes, which as quotes, were obviously written down. Answer: no. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a news person would deny people access to their content when it is fulfilling its most basic function: documenting for the public.  Answer: no. Okay then.

A quarter of a billion dollars. It used to be more. Have a nice day!

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