UW Struggle: Real People Edition

ruins1As I sit down to write this, I know it could be 10,000 words of sadness. I will limit myself.

Making news these days are the proposed buyouts campuses are offering to employees 55 and older; the buyouts are not automatic, as you must apply and be approved. But the buyouts are not a good deal, just as much of everything else is not a good deal. The Green Bay Press Gazette has a piece today on buyout offers, and I know and work with the people quoted. Steve Meyer, one of the most respected and visible professors on our campus, said, “No way I am going to take them up on their offer. I am too far away from retirement to take it.” He’s right not to. It is a sad offer among other sad offers. Also, the man is 56. Fifty-six is young. But I guess we can have a discussion about ageism some other time. Most importantly, if Steve did accept the offer, it would be a tremendous loss to our students, seeing the departure of yet another of our science faculty. This is a person we want to encourage to go away?

But this blog isn’t about buyouts. It’s about our chronic hemorrhaging of talent. When you work at a campus like mine, UW-Green Bay, losing even one person to another job can be crippling; it often means, in some cases, that you are losing half or all of a popular program. I have heard people, and one legislator in particular, say that the “loss of talent” argument is not real. Make no mistake: the poachers are here. They have been here for years, as the post Act-10 climate in Wisconsin has seen an increase in the departure of thriving, post-tenure professors.

The white noise hums, “We need you to be more like a business!” Is this what businesses do? Let their talent leave without so much as lifting a finger, all while consumers students dependent on that knowledge and skill helplessly stand by?

I want to make one point clear: this doesn’t only matter in high-profile instances, such as those described in this piece about medical researchers. It matters just as much on the smaller campuses, in the teaching and learning trenches. Let me use my own campus as an example and actually name names. Let me show you what we’ve lost and still stand to lose. Then let someone in the state legislature and UW central show us that they care about this.

For some context, the undergraduate population at UW-Green Bay is largely female. Doubly awesome is the fact that our most notable sports team is the women’s basketball squad, annual powerhouse and future national champions. On our campus, it is vital that we have women in leadership roles, teaching roles, administrative roles, etc. With that it mind…

Let me introduce you to Dr. Angela Bauer. She is a biologist, a recognized teacher, expert in endocrinology (slightly important), and has demonstrated teaching excellence in both face-to-face and online environments. She chaired the biology department, and I’ll shorthand this point by saying that a woman chairing a science department might, just might, be a role model of sorts.

Here’s another fact about Professor Bauer: she used to work at UW-Green Bay. She doesn’t anymore.

Professor Bauer left in 2012 to become the chair of a biology department in North Carolina. We (and by “we” I mean the UW system) offered her almost nothing to stay. Our counter offer, if you can call it that, was an embarrassment. In the short time that I worked with Dr. Bauer, what struck me most was how much she cared about teaching and how hard she worked at it. She rolled up her sleeves every day. She participated in teaching scholars projects to improve her students’ learning. She was great at her job. She is great at her job, just not in Wisconsin.ruins2

Let me introduce you to Professor Aeron Haynie. I had the pleasure of working alongside Professor Haynie in the English department at UW-Green Bay. She was a mentor to me, and on the occasions I observed her classroom teaching, I felt I was entering a robust, participatory environment where each student was deeply invested in their learning. Dr. Haynie’s teaching knowledge, and performance, helped me to reinvent myself pedagogically. Dr. Haynie, because of her passion for teaching, took over UW-Green Bay’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and revitalized it. She also co-edited an incredibly important book about teaching practice (in addition to her other scholarly work). At a time when the legislative gallery is calling for more and better teaching, Professor Haynie is the superlative example of this.

Here’s another fact about Professor Haynie: she used to work at UW-Green Bay. She doesn’t anymore.

In 2012 she received, of course, an unmatchable offer to direct The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of New Mexico. She left our teaching center, which we are thinking of cutting (!!!) in the current budget travesty, to go to another university where she trains teachers in the most important facet of their careers. Again, at a time when legislators harp about teaching, we let an actual teaching professional and scholar walk away. There are students on our campus who worked with Professor Haynie that still talk about her. We say teaching is important. We say we want more, more, more. Is this how we invest in that claim? Is this how we behave more like a business?

Let me introduce you to Professor Kim Nielsen, a history professor and expert in disability studies. In fact, she wrote A Disability History of the United States. (I mean, what relevance could knowledge about disability have in contemporary work and technological environments? I wonder if there are people who are hired and paid very well to work in such areas?) Professor Nielsen is, among other things, a full professor, a Fulbright Scholar, an NEH winner, and author of five books.

Here’s another fact about Professor Nielsen: she used to work at UW-Green Bay. She doesn’t anymore.

Here is the last line of Professor Nielsen’s current work bio: “She recently arrived at the University of Toledo after fourteen years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.” Yes, Professor Nielsen left in 2011, and as was the case in the other instances described, we did almost nothing to keep her here. We barely tried.

Notice, I’ve not even mentioned that we lost three members of our community. People who paid taxes, spent income, and contributed to the culture and fabric of the Green Bay area.

Keep in mind, these offers that out-of-state schools are making to UW faculty… they are overly generous when actually compared to the counter offers received. I’m pretty sure we’ll start losing faculty with the simple promise of a Groupon and Styx reunion concert tickets.

The UW system is in trouble. It is, and has been, losing talent at a growing rate. I asked the Czarina of Data on our campus for figures, and confirmed that the loss of tenured faculty is indeed on the rise. In her email to me the Czarina wrote, “Losing people post tenure is relatively rare and definitely seems to be trending upward.” I have only mentioned three losses here, but could extend this list out to include at least 15 others since 2011. I counted. I have the spreadsheet. Fifteen.

So what about today? What about for this coming fall? The news gets worse…

ruins3Two tenured faculty members were just poached by a school in New York State. I know the details of the offer. If I told you what they are getting versus what they have now, you would gasp, then laugh, then maybe say something about “In the real business sane world….”

One of the professors is in the arts and works in administration. She (another she!) is superior at her job, especially when connecting with the community. I’m sure New York will benefit from her work. The other is a Communications professor (I mean, who needs that?) who does important work in conflict resolution (again, who needs that, in Wisconsin!); he volunteered his services regularly at a conflict resolution center in Green Bay. I’m sure New York State will treat him well. Goodbye Professors Mokren and Garcia—your students, colleagues, communities, and friends will miss you dearly.

Finally, there is Professor X. I’m not allowed to say anything specific about this because nothing is official. Professor X is my colleague. He is also about to be poached… by a school that has had previous success in taking UW-Green Bay talent. I guess word gets around. Let me say a few words about Professor X: he’s a national expert in his field; he’s one of our campus’s best and most popular teachers; his new book was just published; he is irreplaceable in terms of teaching, research, and service to both the institution and the community. For what he is paid, he is an absolute bargain (as are many). If Professor X leaves, we will likely lose his position—a huge blow to our thriving department—because the position description doesn’t include the words “marketing” or “business.”

Let me state plainly the worst part of this all: Professor X wants to stay in Green Bay. He told me this, even though the offer he has is yet another that makes you weep with how noncompetitive we are outside of Madison and business schools. Professor X said to me directly, “I’m looking for any reason to stay. Any counter offer at all.”

Our Provost has declined to make a counter offer. Nothing. Not ten dollars. In short, “just go.” This is malpractice.

I could go on… maybe about the female political science professor who left for a job in Ohio after her second year. Maybe I’ll list the names of other people on the market or who have been contacted by head hunters. If I were an administrator at another school, here’s the reality: I could offer almost any UW faculty member a deal that is worse than my current faculty, but would seem nothing short of heaven to them. Basically, poachers don’t even have to try anymore.

The pain doesn’t end here.

It costs money to search for faculty. It also costs significant work hours. For example, I chaired a faculty search last year where I logged over 200 hours of work for not an extra cent of pay (shared governance is cheap, as Sara Goldrick-Rab has explained). So, in addition to the monetary costs of conducting a national/international search, which we are required to do, you are asking faculty/staff to take on significant additional hours, for no additional pay, that draws them away from their more primary duties…like teaching. Yes, conducting searches is a welcome part of the job, until those searches become frequent and you find yourself searching for the same position twice in three years because you couldn’t retain the original hire. Put another way, high faculty turnover not only hurts the institution in terms of quality, it hurts financially.

The following phrase is being uttered quite a bit in UW search meetings these days, “Do you think we can keep this person?” (Well, unless your search is frozen, of course.)

All of this, added to the larger picture, has been devastating on morale. This is my thirteenth year in the UW System. I have never seen faculty and staff morale as low as it is now. People are working under significant mental strain, struggling to focus and perform while their jobs and worth are in question. Many have finally accepted that, as employees, our bosses do not value us very much. Some of our bosses don’t even like us or what we do. When your value is under constant attack, doubt creeps into your own self-evaluation. This has mental and emotional effects. I’m not being dramatic when I say that tears have not been uncommon this year.

But to get back on track, we are trying to buy people out at the same time that we are losing people to other jobs. We are telling people of incredible value that they are no longer wanted, or that we have nothing to offer to keep them.

Everything I’ve written here applies to the majority of UW-System campuses. Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. The working conditions are crumbling, therefore…


29 thoughts on “UW Struggle: Real People Edition

  1. I having been reading your writings here and elsewhere since one of your courses at UWGB influenced my decision to major in English and minor in Education. It is after the fact, I know, but as I sit and contemplate my impending graduation from UWGB (less than a week away) I finally feel compelled to comment.

    I began my career at UWGB as an “undecided” student, and after a year of doubt dropped out. When I came back to UWGB it was Professors like Dr. Haynie, Dr. Lowery, Dr. Hall, Dr. Boswell, Dr. Meacham and yourself (to name a few) who helped me realize my love and passion for writing, reading and all things “wordy.” I came to this conviction later than most, but it has happened nonetheless. I am grateful for the passionate folks who brought me to this realization. And, as I read this post I began to dread life outside of UWGB and the community I felt there. What pains me more is the reality that there are other students out there like me. Students who begin there time at UWGB–or any university–feeling less than certain about their futures. Students who are unknowingly waiting to take a seat in MAC or WOOD or anywhere on campus in front of a brilliant educator like the ones you have mentioned above, and have a trigger tripped, an interest sparked, and a future set in motion. Students who, without the quality faculty which I have had the opportunity to learn from at UWGB, may miss out on the great experience I have had.

    I will be walking the stage in the Kress on Saturday. In doing so I will be moving into an uncertain future. I minored in education, and have aspirations to pursue an MFA in creative writing (eventually) and one day hope to teach at the college level. But, I did not pursue a teaching license, the sad reality is that I can’t afford it, I can’t afford to leave my retail job, to take on–in my opinion–the most important of professions, teaching. This is a crushingly depressing statement for me to make. My father taught English at the high school level for almost four decades, and I would love nothing more than to carry the mantle. At this time, however, I am feeling much as I did when I first set foot onto UWGB’s campus in 2006, utterly uncertain.

    The climate surrounding education in Wisconsin is stifling. It is immensely difficult to keep trudging on and pursuing a career and future that may not pan out. But, I guess I gotta.–couldn’t do anything else.

    I need to end this thing, so I will just say, thank you. Thanks Dr. Rybak for all of your support, teaching, guidance, and belief. Thanks for the years of service you have given me, and students like me. You, and educators like you, will always be appreciated.

  2. Perhaps the most tragic effect of public education de-funding is the dramatic decline of young people choosing education as a career. Universities in the U.S. are experiencing declines of 30% or more in the numbers of education majors. This trend seems to be occurring at UW-Green Bay, too. The best and brightest students have fewer and fewer incentives to become teachers. What a pity.

  3. Senator Hansen, I hope you and others can stem the tide of what it taking place. This assault knows both sides of the aisle. Governor Doyle was part of it. It’s high time for both Democrats and Republicans to come together for the future of this state. Everyone has had enough..

  4. As A UWGB Graduate class of 1971 I am incredibly sad at what is happening to our University. The uncaring feelings from Walker and Republicans is getting me totally down emotionally. They have their head in the sand as they tear down our once great University system. Chuck could you you send me your letter to my E- mail above.

  5. As a UWGB graduate I am incredibly sad about what is happening to my University. To lose the best and brightest educators at the expense of quality education is totally wrong. Walker and Republicans have their head in the sand as they tear down our once great University system. Chuck would you please send your letter to my E-Mail above so I can share your truewords of wisdom!

    1. Senator Hansen, thanks so much for reading and for your continual advocacy for education and working people. It really means a lot and is inspiring. I have sent the text of this post to your email. Thanks again!

  6. It’s heartening to see all the comments to Chuck’s post. Bear in mind that what he says is happening at all the institutions of the UW System; Chuck is just very eloquent and articulate about one. So hopefully everyone is making these points to legislators who will be deciding on the fate of the UW System.

    This Wednesday in the Appleton area we hopefully get non-academics to be thinking along these lines too. If you wish to attend the Future of Public Higher Education forum you can register today at https://futureofpublichighered-appleton.eventbrite.com. Event deatils can be found there too. Or if you cannot travel to attend you can do so virtually via the video stream at http://new.livestream.com/uwfox/events/3919981.

  7. Great post (and by that I mean well written, because let’s face it, the subject matter is far from a great thing to have to talk about!) This also hits me close to home, because as a UWGB alum, I remember these professors, and although I didn’t take classes with all of them, I do remember seeing some of the fantastic work they did for the university.

    Another point about UWGB (and other UW campuses) having to let these great faculty go is that in many cases, my guess is that they will be “replaced” by adjuncts who are hired part time for very low pay to teach on a per-class basis. No matter how great these people may be as educators, that low pay means they need to cobble together a ton of these teaching gigs and/or other part time work elsewhere to make a living, which means no matter how much they might like to spend time working with students outside of class, they simply can’t do it to the extent a full time faculty member typically could, which is a drawback for both teacher and student. Not to mention, the university loses the visibility and community connections that come from faculty research, because who has time to do research when they’re struggling to make rent?

  8. What you have written breaks my heart. Thank you for your eloquent anger! It also precisely describes the situation where I work, at a small liberal arts college in the West. At one point I was on the short list for an R1 position; I spoke to my provost, who hugged me and said “We’ll miss you around here!” After 25 years of teaching here, I am paid $40,000 less than a friend was just offered for her first full-time position after getting the Ph.D. I am ready to leave.

  9. Thank you for an honest, inside look at what it feels like to watch the institution and career you love circle the drain. While it may seem like a stretch to compare a UW system school to an urban elementary school in Kenosha, while reading your blog I could see the clear connection. We’ve felt the same pain since 2011 when a wave of layoffs, buyouts and “strongly encouraged” early retirements put a permanent dent in our ability to serve our students. The obvious, immediate pain was seeing colleagues leave. The underlying and lasting feeling is worse – it seems like we can shout it from the mountaintops, and the reality is that not enough people care. After our schools were devastated in 2011, Walker was saved in the recall and easily re-elected in 2014. Many GOP voters took what they needed from public education for themselves and their families, but have no regard for present and future students. An educated and enlightened population is important to some, but not to enough. The dismantling of public education is a multi-step plan, which started at the roots where we are (I’m a kindergarten teacher) and now is reaching the highest branches. So what do we do? We keep teaching, we keep hoping, and we keep an eye on jobs in Minnesota.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this blog Chuck. Rather than lament the loss of excellent faculty, shouldn’t we celebrate their improved labor conditions at institutions in states where citizens actually value higher education? We should do everything we can to help our colleagues fulfill their greater potential. And the above examples you cite suggest that this is not in Wisconsin.

    1. I think, on a personal level, celebrating those achievements and decisions feels entirely appropriate. We all miss people, I think, who make decisions to move to a different place in their lives. But on a professional level, my main reaction here is not to celebrate, but to grieve for our students and state.

      1. Thanks for the response. Wisconsin’s loss is another state’s gain – and students at other institutions will benefit. At least on some level, there’s a kind of parity. Faculty are leaving, not dying.

  11. I have spoken to a few people from other UW campuses where situations are extremely difficult. I hate what is happening at UW-Green Bay.

  12. I graduated from UWGB in 1978 and there is no question that the faculty and staff there changed my life. The enormous care they’d put into creating the excellent curriculum , teaching with enormous wisdom and skill, and mentoring me were a gift. Then, the state invested in the future of kids like me from small towns across the state.

    I’m now on the faculty of a university in another state (and we, too, have had cuts, but nothing like this). As we’ve built our programs, I’ve talked so often about UWGB as an example of what higher ed should be.

    It’s egregious that I now have to bracket those conversations by clarifying that I’m talking about a UWGB in the distant past.

  13. As a recent grad (2014) I can say that I saw this in action. Professor Haynie was easily one of my favorite teachers. In addition I minored in Computer Science and saw a department that seemed to be really struggling with this. It felt like it was practically a one-person department, and they were having trouble hiring replacements (note that I only spent two years on the campus, so while I heard great things about the teaching staff they’d lost, I did not know them personally).

    Honestly, the rebranding and marketing on campus was an open joke among the student population. Unless this talent drain is reversed they are going to wake up one morning without anything worth selling.

  14. Chuck, please send this to every state legislator. This is a masterpiece. Thank you for your efforts.

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