UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man

Nice blog you got there. Shame if something happened to it.


I don’t know, Wisconsin is really freaking weird these days, as in completely losing its mind while having hallucinations of competence. If you don’t want to read any of this, here is a short video on the state of productive dialogue in the Badger State as it relates to higher education. Hint: the new state animal is us:


So here’s where we are—the faculty at UW Madison are considering a “no confidence” vote in System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents. For the record, I am not on the faculty at Madison and would not dare to offer whether or not this is the right course of action; that’s for them to decide. But here’s what I can say—the mere specter of such a vote has unleashed complete buffoonery and a stampede of frothing jamokies. Holy smokes. There are two popular themes at this blog, but let me iterate them just for the heck of it: 1) Faculty are always to blame 2) You won’t believe what happened since the last thing that happened.

Since the moment Pandora’s word escaped from the box of a possible no-confidence vote, we have had: The Madison Chancellor’s blogged response, a legislator’s first response, another legislator’s not-so-veiled-threat release, followed by two legislators issuing a joint falsehood…all with the same themes: freedom, taxpayers, I love my family, Kohl’s cash, you’ll regret this, real world.

Also of note: no confidence resolutions are a perfectly legitimate part of governance, BUT COMPLETELY NON-BINDING AND THEY LITERALLY HAVE ZERO IMPACT ON POLICY! But as we like to say at my crib, whatevs.

In other words, WHEREAS I might have some shit to say, and WHEREAS I’m saying that shit right now, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that you don’t have to listen to me or do anything as a result. It’s a fancy way of offering an opinion that has pretty much already been made clear by the hoards of unwashed, downtrodden folks in the halls of learning.

But what the heck is going on that’s got everyone’s beans on the grill?

Wisconsin madness summary! (Look for the trend)

Call: Faculty speak out against move to a public authority. Response: We’re not listening

Call: Faculty speak out against budget cuts. Response: Who cares, we’re not listening.

Call: Faculty protest attack on tenure/earned property right. Response: Not listening.

Call: Faculty speak against limitations in shared governance. Response: I can’t hear you.

Call: Faculty ask for effects of cuts to be publicly presented. Response: Not listening. Also, “No Whining!”

Call: Faculty propose amendments to tenure/layoff statutes. Response: Did you say something?

Call: Faculty ask Ray Cross for an iota of public support. Response: Hahahahahahahahaha. Can’t hear you.

Call: Faculty at Madison propose a no-confidence vote in people who have completely ignored everything faculty have had to say about anything…


Wait…what? Does this strike anyone else as profoundly weird? (Remember: this post is about “confidence.”)

So let me get this straight: after completely ignoring faculty concerns at nearly every turn, after abandoning faculty to incessant attacks from all comers, after remaining silent on fake “studies surveys” on tenure, after painting your faculty as “emotional” for reacting to the loss of earned job protections, after taking over every branch of government possible and stacking the board of Regents with corporate hatchets…suddenly UW Central and the legislature are upset about a no-confidence motion that they could completely ignore as they have done everything else? What? Why?

The thing is, the deeper you dig, the more confusing things get, as in no one knows what they’re talking about. Do you want examples?

Okay, the first response is Chancellor Rebecca Blank. She doesn’t issue press releases; she takes her word directly to the streets via her blog. Among her claims: “Such a vote would put the UW-Madison faculty in opposition to our governing board, with which we work closely and must have a positive relationship.” Basically, doing this will lead to a political backlash that will result in more budget cuts. (This is the “Faculty are always to blame” trump card, which is synonymous with “shut up.”.)

But none of this makes sense—there is no “relationship” with the Board of Regents because there is no dialogue, no reciprocity, and really no interest beyond achieving the pre-determined ends of the austerity agenda. What “relationship” do you have with officials who offer “Welcome to the 21st Century” as a justification for demeaning people’s entire professional record and accomplishment? Furthermore, and I’ll say it again, this has nothing to do with faculty. Do you know what budgets are slightly connected to? (Ding!) Revenue. You know what Wisconsin is not interested in? (Ding!) Collecting revenue. Therefore, budget cuts. We could literally change the name of the UW System to “The Ayn Rand Academy of William Buckley’s Wet Dreams on AM Radio” and we’d still see a budget cut. Lastly, are we dealing with adults anymore? Does the fate of our state’s treasured university system—an essential economic, educational, and public resource—hinge on someone’s tone on any given Tuesday? Really? None of this makes sense.

The second to respond was Assemblyman Jim Steineke. He reacted on Twitter, then issued his press release, which itself is hard to interpret. I’d expect someone to respond, but why him? Among his claims: that irregular UW Madison faculty think they are better than regular folks and the motion displays “a 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.” Okay, I’m confused. Why is a GOP legislator pointing out that the average Wisconsin family is struggling financially when we’ve lived under ruling-party economic policy, for a long-time running, that was supposed to fix all that? A knee-jerk response might be: “it’s Obama’s fault.” But the Wisconsin economy has been under performing when compared to national averages–just ask Jake, he’ll hook you up. Also of note: this press release doesn’t seem to criticize UW Madison as much as it works to make the following claim—the more people we have just making ends meet, the better; if you are above that state of existence, we need to bring you back down to struggling. I honestly have no idea what any of this has to do with, well, anything. None of this makes sense.

Then there’s Senator Steve Nass, who has already gotten everything he wants and then some, expressing outrage (as he did when Ray Cross agreed to meet with students of color): “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. Passage of the resolution will prove that even more institutional reforms are urgently needed and must be included in the next state budget to protect tuition-paying students.” What? This is the person who has voted for massive cuts to the system, repeatedly. Tuition control? Legislators do nothing but brag about their long-standing tuition freeze. The best way to lower tuition? Fund tuition decreases. Backhanding the middle class? This person votes against labor protections and helped pass “right to work earn less.” Do I really need to say that faculty have nothing to do with tuition policy or budgets? Do I need to point out that faculty don’t have power over their own workplace, let alone have the ability to backhand the entire middle class with invisible powers? Furthermore, professors pay taxes and are largely middle to lower-middle class earners. None of this makes any sense.

Okay, now Darling and Nygren who add this whopping untruth: “Aside from these two changes, the Regents’ tenure policy is virtually identical to what Wisconsin’s tenure policy had been prior to Act 55.” Guys. Come on. Do I really have to say this: our state legislature does not make “changes” to law that accomplish nothing. Don’t you remember, the whole point is “Big and Bold.” So what we’re to believe here is that the completely republican controlled state government passed laws, RELATED TO THE DREADED PROFESSORS, that did…nothing?

HahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaHahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

None of this makes any sense. Of all things, and of all times, why now? Why the heavy rhetorical artillery in relation to a small thing, this potential vote of no confidence, that is completely non-binding? Why these specific people, issuing releases and official documents (or blogs)? Does anyone have an idea for what generated this full-court press, and is Central reaching out to these folks to do so? (A respected dirty hippy colleague of mine has convinced me that this is likely.)

But why? Our local press applies almost no heat at all to President Cross. These legislative statements praise him after, well, decimating the budget and eroding labor protections. What’s the problem?

One answer, of course, is the usual: scapegoat faculty just as the public are starting to wake up to the effects of the budget cuts. It’s too bad people actually have to lose something to snap out of it, but people are starting to notice, and with the Trump candidacy looming, maybe folks are getting a bit nervous about their seats and need a quick reset to divide and conquer mode—that feels like what’s going on, as seen in the usual “make ends meet working class elite arrogant liberty” rhetoric at work. But maybe there’s something else. If there is, I hope someone writes about it.

In terms of the potential vote itself, it doesn’t really matter to me much. Why? The phrase “no confidence” just feels redundant at this point.

Thanks for listening to my modest, common-sense words.

One thought on “UW Struggle: The No-Confidence Man

  1. Spot on. I worked at a campus in Wisconsin where faculty voted “no confidence” in the president — but with no follow-up strategy.

    The result? No change. He remained in the job. Faculty remained in their jobs.

    If UW-Madison faculty go forward with this, I hope that they have planned more to follow, or they also will demonstrate that their vote is meaningless. And I hope that because Cross and the majority of Regents merit a “no confidence” vote — and a meaningful follow-up.

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