In a previous post about the real people in these real UW jobs, I wrote about how many of them are leaving not only the UW, but the state of Wisconsin. Deliberate legislative and ideological malpractice is costing us friends, neighbors, colleagues, public servants, and the type of good and hard-working people everyone should support, regardless of political affiliation.
Below is a message sent yesterday by one of my colleagues at UW-Green Bay. This person is one of the most dedicated and respected people on our campus. As rumors have spread that this person might depart because of the toxic political climate, I have seen more than one student weep; others have expressed outrage that a mentor so important to them would be chased away from a university system that was once truly special. They say, “This can’t be real.”
Over the years, this colleague and I have had many students in common; I have seen, up close, the significant effects this colleague has had on their thinking, reading, writing, curiosity, engagement, confidence, expression, and overall personality. Frankly, there are students who cannot imagine their educations without this person. I understand why. I cannot imagine working in a space with such a glaring, self-inflicted void.
When talking about “star faculty” leaving the UW, there are many misconceptions. Let me slay a few of those quickly and unequivocally:
“Star faculty” and staff do not congregate solely in Madison; they are abundant throughout the system. They are not rare in the UW; they are plentiful. While schools like Madison, and maybe Milwaukee, have more at their disposal to retain such faculty and staff, the other comprehensive and two-year campuses do not. In many ways, campuses outside of Madison are more exposed because depleted resources neutralize viable counter offers. The poachers know this. They are here now and “plentiful,” the description I used above, may soon no longer apply. Amazing faculty and staff will remain, but the losses are deeply felt and negatively affect our mission and duty to our students.
“Well if they can get more money, they should go!” How naive. To almost everyone I know in the UW, quality of life is far more important than salary, so let’s not pretend this is entirely about economics. Our legislature is actively hostile to, and disparaging of, public employees, and the UW has been front and center of late. There are three other new departures to list from my campus, but this is not the post for that—in all cases, it’s more than money and job security that are the cause; the open hostility of our state’s leadership is a more significant factor than ever. More than one faculty/staff member has said to me, “I just can’t stay where I’m despised. I can’t have my children hear people talk about me this way.” I get it. I have two daughters. It’s a surreal moment when your eight year-old asks, “Why does the Governor hate schools and teachers so much? My parents are teachers.”
So here is the letter. They are a real person’s words, experience, heart, and pain. To hear them is to hurt, especially given how easily all of this could have been avoided via governance that didn’t prioritize grudges and division.
Most of you know that this email has been a long time coming, but that hasn’t made it any easier to write. It’s been something of an open secret for a while that I’ve been offered the position of XXXXX at XXXXX University, and I’m writing to let all of you know that I’ve accepted that position. I will be submitting my letter of resignation from UW-Green Bay later this week, and I’ll be moving to XXXXX in August.
When I came to Green Bay thirteen years ago, I never dreamed I would ever leave. Wisconsin has been and always will be home to me. School and jobs have taken me away several times, but I’ve always seemed to end up back here. I’ve done the math, and it turns out that I’ve lived 34 of my 44 years in this state. Before the passage of Act 10, there was no way on earth I would ever have considered applying for another job. This year I applied for jobs mostly to hedge my bets against possible disaster, and as you all know, since I applied, that disaster has arrived. As a proud graduate of the system’s flagship institution, this was and is the ideal job for me, but it has become very difficult to watch the dismantling of the system and the state that I love, especially since my livelihood depends on them. Those of you who know me best know how incredibly painful it is for both me and my family to leave, but I simply cannot afford to deprive myself and my family of this opportunity for a brighter future.
Over the past couple months, I’ve winced as people in my position have been described as “defectors.” That description is appropriate in one sense, since what we are now engaged in is nothing less than a war for the future of public higher education (and particularly the kind we in the humanities and the liberal arts value) in this state. I hope all of you will realize that although I am leaving the system and the state, I am no defector in that war: I am on no side but yours. While even a pessimist like me can see that the political climate in Wisconsin is bound to change for the better sometime soon, I’m afraid that some of the changes that are being made to what we all do for a living are irreversible. The only thing that encourages me is that I know what capable and determined advocates remain among UW faculty to fight to mitigate the damage, all of you among them.
I cannot imagine ever working with a better group of colleagues than I have had the pleasure to work with in my thirteen years at UW-Green Bay. I admire you all enormously, and I am honored to call all of you both my colleagues and my friends. Given its size and its incredibly diverse faculty, HUS should never have worked, but in the time I’ve been here it has worked spectacularly. In fact, it is the most functional department I have ever been in or around. That is due largely to the almost miraculously collegial atmosphere we’ve managed to establish. And the unique interdisciplinary education in the humanities that we have managed to provide for our students is something to be proud of and very much worth fighting for. Even though the prospect of living in Wisconsin helped to entice me, the most important reason I came here was the opportunity to work in such an environment. I desperately hope you can manage to preserve it in some form.
Although I am leaving, I plan to be a frequent visitor, at least in the coming year. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. I hope I will get a chance to see all of you at some point during those trips. In the meantime, please know that I wish nothing but the best for all of you and for this institution. In this case, the cliché that the decision to leave was the hardest one I’ve ever had to make happens to be true. The way my life has gone, the chances seem pretty good that I’ll be back someday. I know you’ll all do your best to save this place while I’m gone.
So there it is. Goodbye to a neighbor, a tax-payer, a homeowner, a consumer, a Wisconsin vacationer, and a wonderful family. Why would we want any of those living in Wisconsin, and specifically Green Bay?
I will also add this: the constant bullying of this state of its own employees is going to separate this family for a year.
My soon-to-be ex-colleague with move on alone for the year to the new job, while the remainder of the family stays so the children can finish school. Think about that. We are talking about a person who has given a significant portion of their life to do outstanding work for this state; a person who just earned the distinguished rank of Full Professor at a pay rate that stands at half of what might be earned somewhere else (our pay is well below Madison’s); a person who wanted to stay here and looked for any reason at all to do so. How did the legislature respond? Your accomplishments mean nothing, and we are now going to make the tenure status you earned meaningless. Have fun spending a year away from your family.
How can Wisconsinites stand by and watch their neighbors be treated so shabbily? My colleague didn’t. As an educator, this person helped Wisconsin citizens, many of them first-generation college students, advance in their lives and move beyond any barriers that held them back. Every student who worked with this person knew they were valued; they were respected.
The state and our central administration could not return the basic courtesy.