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UW Struggle: The Banality of Weasels

Weasel1This has been, to say the least, a disheartening year. Again, public servants—with teachers often at the forefront—have been demonized in the latest round of “grown ups playing public relations.” When budget decisions are finally made in June (maybe), most teachers won’t even be under contract, opting instead to retreat to their accessorized yachts and mansions in various tropical, taxpayer-funded islands. Personally, I and various rappers will retire to my brand-new yacht, which I’ve christened, “Union Thug Without Collective Bargaining Rights of Any Kind.” I live large.

But let me get to the point. For those who catch the reference in my title, I greatly admire Hannah Arendt. Mostly, it’s her guts. More importantly, she demystified for me the figure of the evil genius and the master plan. She focused on the “unthinking,” the middle manager who, beyond a specific competency, might as well have been Mr. Magoo. And thus Wisconsin… where almost no one knows what they are doing, and here lies another desperate/fanciful call for voters to help rectify this. Heeeeeelllllllllllllllllllp!

So, where are we in the great unthinking budget games?

Exhibit A: Let’s start outside of the UW for a moment, where a state legislator has pretty much said we should cut the science bureau of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Why? Climate change of course! Like many other parts of the country, opposition to the reality of climate change, or that humans have direct effects on the environment, passes as “thinking” or a “point of view.” (Here’s my test: “You don’t think humans have a direct effect on the environment? Okay, let me pee in your water and you drink it. Remember, no impact!”) To quote the Senator in question, “I’m critical of science services. I don’t think they’ve used good science. And I’ve got to tell you, they’ve done big-time harm here to my district here in northern Wisconsin.”

Good science! Let me get this straight: if you think scientists are bad at their jobs, you don’t get better scientists, you simply get rid of scientists in total. Actually, I sympathize. For example, when we had a plumbing problem at home, where a pipe broke and spewed waste all over the basement, we weren’t sure if that waste had come from humans or not. After all, it was coming out of a pipe and not someone’s privates. Given that, I fired all plumbers in my mind. We now just live in our own filth and connect to a simpler time. Holy fat frog’s ass. What’s wrong with people?

Exhibit B: This gem on the future of tenure and shared governance in the UW system. I swear, if there’s any issue that has been talked about with more deep ignorance and unthinking it’s the concept of tenure. Okay, maybe healthcare death camps and the impending U.S. takeover of one of its own states, but tenure is totally up there. Honestly, this stultifying incompetence amounts to this recurring discussion, in full. Tell me if you’ve heard it before. “Jobs for life! Fire people! Teach more you lazy sloth butt!” Impressive.

Is it possible, just once, for a reporter…or a UW official…or a legislator…to mention, say, accreditation and the role tenure plays in having accredited programs, and why that would be a requirement? That’s just a suggestion that requires someone out there to be among the thinking, to actually know something. How many times do I have to punch myself in the face here? Don’t answer that. We’ll just let the deciders step in and have a word:

[He] recently doubled down on his criticism, saying he was withdrawing support for Walker’s proposed UW public authority in part because the Board of Regents had passed resolutions to protect tenure and shared governance.

“Why are we giving you the autonomy to do nothing with it if you’re going to protect the status quo?” he said in an interview with WisconsinEye.

Let’s me get this straight: “We have to cut your budget because of a monetary shortfall–there’s nothing we can do about that! However, we won’t help you alleviate the monetary situation because you hold the ‘status quo’ on these entirely non-problematic, non-monetary things.” Got it.

Weasel2Now, let us pause and ask what the thinking people do: let’s say tenure and shared governance were problems, as some legislators have indicated… would one offer, maybe, an example? If not, maybe just offer up a question that would require an example. Yes!

By contrast, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has harshly criticized the joint decision-making process. Vos took aim at shared governance during a forum in 2013, saying the balance of power in decision-making needed to be tilted more toward chancellors, allowing them to act as campus CEOs.

“Does the role of allowing faculty to make a huge number of decisions help the system or hurt the system?” he asked.

So, a question has been asked here. With the position so firm (this is bad!), we are ready for examples to follow! And… there are none. What is offered as thinking? “More like CEO’s… the boss… power…blurgh.” I wonder if people do actual research on such things? Who would those people be and where might we find them? Hmmm…

Summary: Although, as admitted by President Ray Cross, all shared governance is advisory, we should empower Chance-eo’s to make decisions about… advice? And again, Wisconsin has a ton of solutions looking for problems.

Exhibit C: State leaders, who are all about the middle class and helping people get access to affordable education… rejected a student loan refinancing proposal. Here is the dynamic wisdom of how to solve this problem:

Nygren and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, both said colleges ought to focus on making sure students graduate on time, and that students should consider which degrees will help them pay off their debt.

The degree a student chooses likely has more impact on debt and the ability to pay it off than any other factor, Nygren said.

That makes complete sense! Thinking! As we all know, there are no important professions that require a college degree while not landing you in the country club boardroom. None at all. You know, mildly important things like social work, journalism, and agriculture. But whatever! Major in a new field called “automatic profit from everything you do”! Also, get your degree faster while we construct budgets that cut positions and course offerings!

Summary: Education is valuable only if you are wealthy with plans to continue being wealthy. Check.

Exhibit D: Every piece of empty rhetoric you’ve heard on campus from upper admin. Can anyone possibly zombify their way through another “listening session”? I recently heard the phrase, “The humanities are going to have to get on board!” With what? Teaching humanities curriculum? Making the university a profit with our full classes and waiting lists? On it, Holmes!

wienerStill, I’ll ask, how is the “behind closed doors” strategy working out down at Central? Remember that rousing pep talk from… it must have slipped my mind. Now, there is a “resignation” plot that the press keeps referring to, and given the recent news about revenue, about restoring K-12 funding, lessening the cut to public broadcasting, all while not bringing in any new revenue (freedom!), things look bleak. To be honest, I have little to no hope of good outcomes for education in a landscape of grudges and prideful simplicity. And when those bad outcomes arrive, we’ll have had no look at the mechanisms. How effective were the backroom conversations that people like me are too immature and unimportant to be privy to? I’d say, going forward, that I’m about as fond of this rhetorical (non) strategy as I am of gas-station hot dogs. It’s just another slick wiener rolling around in place. Gross and uninspiring.

I feel we are at the point where real ideas are offensive. When was the last time, in relation to the UW budget, that you heard meaningful discussion? Instead, just major in wealth, something tenure, you’re not ready for autonomy or lobotomy, science is for losers, Rebecca Blank is mean, and “don’t worry, the big cheeses got this covered.” Here’s the reality about “tough decisions”: doing what you always planned to do is easy; going against the ideological crowd, changing your mind to do good—that’s tough.

I’ll make one point about public servants and the UW: the situation we are in, right now, as a system, is the result of a lot of people doing their jobs poorly and predictably. For as much flack as UW faculty and staff (and students) receive, here’s a newsflash—they’re the only ones who did their jobs this year and excelled. We are now at the end of the academic year. Faculty and staff did their jobs. It’s time for some other folks to do theirs.

Update: And in a world gone mad, local legislator writes the GB Press Gazette just awshucks surprised about the wacky perceptions out there. No actual change in behavior is recommended here, just a change in perception.

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1 Comment

  1. Joy May 12, 2015

    On behalf of the actual furbearing weasels of the planet, I strenuously object to your characterization of the perpetrators of our budget disaster as “weasels”. Have you no decency?

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