UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man Redux

We're going to ignore you, Fredo.
We’re going to ignore you, Fredo.


I woke up today wanting to be positive, to feel like fresh-picked flowers and magnolia blooms. I’m reading UW-Madison professor Caroline Levine’s book on form, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about her contention that seemingly restrictive forms can, when intersecting with other forms, afford positive change—in short, this is why I’m always saying we need a new way of talking about things, and once we get there, change really can happen. I was going to write about how, when we look at the issues, the “opposing” forces surrounding the UW share many of the same goals…

Then I wake up to this article in the Capital Times which reveals what we’ve already known, but it doesn’t hurt any less—it’s all a long con game; the UW Board of Regents and UW leadership conspired to limit faculty response and input to changes to the tenure process, and basically agreed to ignore faculty voices. They had no patience for democracy and followed through on this intent. Everything you need to know about what the system President and Board of Regents truly think about faculty is summed up here:

Emails obtained by the Capital Times through an open records request reveal that staying on message and tamping down opposition on the tenure issue were priorities for top UW system officials.

A copy of the proposed tenure policies, with minor changes recommended by the Board of Regents education committee in February, were sent to regents — and made public — on March 7, just three days before the final vote.

In introductory comments on the policies, Behling again sounded the themes of accountability and flexibility: “These draft policies would hold campus leaders and faculty accountable and empower our campuses to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

Regent Tim Higgins messaged Behling and regent president Regina Millner that day about putting off the entreaties of the UW-Whitewater leader of a system-wide effort to amend tenure policy proposals before the vote.

“I believe that it’s important that all Regents support the task force recommendations as presented,” Higgins wrote.

Millner also wrote of putting off faculty trying to lobby their case and told Behling she thought a chart of the proposed policy amendments would show common points between those offered by administrators and faculty.

“In addition, this will help us better articulate our reason for not making the other amendments,” she wrote.

Behling expressed his displeasure with faculty attempts at the 11th hour to address regents on the tenure policy as they prepared to vote.

“I think this has become a poor idea,” Behling wrote to Millner, Cross, Villa and UW System state lobbyist Jeff Buhrandt.  “I have also spoken with a couple of Chancellors that agree with my assessment.” (emphasis mine)

Put another way, there should no longer be any debate about whether No Confidence motions are appropriate, because as seen above, all claims have been confirmed and the regents and UW Central have no confidence in their faculty. It’s obvious; we are beneath them and are units to be managed. They clearly state they are going to ignore faculty expertise, even as faculty members are dedicating significant amounts of time to putting together proposals that they expect, at the very least, to be heard with an open mind. That listening didn’t happen. Do I need to point out that this is not only inflexible, but also inefficient?

Tell me if you are familiar with this strategy—there is a pre-determined outcome, followed by an elaborate performance of input and “listening sessions,” which are all really just public relations events meant to massage people toward said outcome. Of course we’re familiar with it—this is the new Wisconsin Idea.

What was I going to write about before reading once again about our complete abandonment?

For starters, I was going to emphasize how seemingly antagonistic legislators and UW faculty and staff can unite, easily, to address significant problems in our state. Also, I wanted to point out one important by-product of the Madison no-confidence vote—the responses, even if negative, are incredibly helpful for understanding misconceptions and possible points of contact. For example, let’s begin with my Representative, Jim Steineke, who has been vocal about his objections to non-binding no-confidence votes; some of his comments include:

It’s a clear example of the complete disconnect between UW Madison faculty who seem to expect their job to come with a forever guarantee and the average Wisconsin family struggling just to make ends meet.


“I think it shows that they’re a little out of touch with the average Wisconsin citizen who doesn’t have the job protections they have through tenure,” Steineke said. (emphasis mine)

So what do these statements show? Let anyone of any political affiliation answer the following—what is more important in the quotations above: the attitude of Madison faculty or that average Wisconsin families struggle to make ends meet and don’t have job protections? Obviously the latter. As a legislator, Representative Steineke is in a prime position to improve quality of life for families and increase job protections for workers. Who can help with that? The UW and its faculty and staff! This is what we live for! (Put me in coach!) If the argument is that UW faculty should have less job protections and salary, then we’re moving the needle the wrong way, right? I mean, what legislator would argue that what the state of Wisconsin needs right now is even more people with limited to no job protections? Who wants a race to the bottom? So really, Rep. Steineke, I sincerely mean it when I say that this is the perfect time for you to align with faculty and staff (among others) so that no one, not one person, in our state struggles to make ends meet or has no job protections. Or as the stalwart Dave Vanness put it:

This is exactly the kind of spirit and cooperation we need. But right now…guys…we’re blowing it. (The offer still stands Rep Steineke—name the time and place; Vanness and I will be there.)

How should we engage people like Senator Steve Nass, who says, “The No Confidence vote isn’t really about President Cross or the Board of Regents. The radical faculty at UW-Madison are rejecting the values and expectations of the people of Wisconsin. They are backhanding the middle class families who are pleading for controls on tuition and an end to wasteful spending in the UW System”?

Again, we should actually be aligned here—Senator Nass has been regularly furious with UW Administration, about many things, for a long time now, and almost all of his concerns have nothing to do with faculty: cash reserves (unrelated to faculty), tuition (not controlled by faculty), spending (not controlled by faculty), etc.

Senator Nass—we see that you are mad at UW administration…JOIN THE CLUB! We’re allies! Can you believe it! Let’s get together on this! Almost all UW faculty, staff, and contingent professors are firmly middle class earners (and often barely that; look up what adjunct faculty are paid per class). Instead of rejecting us, involve us! Not only do we not want tuition raised, we want it significantly cut in order to promote access, so please work with us to increase state funding for the express purpose of tuition decreases—that helps everyone, and faculty and staff will love you for it.

And for all legislators and regents who point out what a great job President Cross is doing dealing with emotional faculty with too much job security, I’d issue this gentle reminder…you know who has even more job security than faculty? President Cross. Why? Because, as he himself says, he is also faculty. If he were to be fired today, some department would have to make room for him on their teaching staff, where he would enter with “tenure” and get a paid year to prepare to enter back into teaching while actually looking for another job. So why dog people about job security by aligning with someone with even more job security?

Again, the central truth of all of these blog posts holds until it is disproven—faculty and staff are always to blame. What is my evidence for this?

The Wisconsin legislature has excoriated UW Administration over a host of issues: cash reserves, healthcare payments, software systems, tuition hikes, etc, etc, etc, none of which have anything to do with faculty, because faculty don’t control those things. What was the action taken as a result: the legislature moved to significantly empower the people they blamed for these problems, and moved to further kick down faculty. Why?

Again, people, we’re really blowing it. Faculty and staff are among the legislature’s, and the state’s, untapped but most willing allies. How so? We want Wisconsin, and every person in it, to succeed. But instead? We’re giving up on our moonshot, and that’s a lot of what these no confidence motions relate to.

Everyone in the state wants us to aim higher than, “We’re really streamlining our back office operations.” Right? You can only hear “flexibility” and “more like a business” so many times before you realize it’s really just this: