UW Struggle: Tough Choices Edition, Plus Goodies!

SmallEdamCheeseGreetings from Wisconsin! Land of tough choices, tough cheeses, and freedom from the tyranny of decent benefits and job security! (You’re only as good as the ease with which you can be fired flexibled and efficiented.)

Above the Fold: Tough Choices!

UW President Ray Cross stormed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page to double down on moving the system into a public authority, indicating that we will need “to make difficult decisions about what [the public authority] will look like,” paired with a lot of other language about the huge budget reduction we face right now.

I need two coaches!

Well scratch my jock, these tough choices include raising the pay of UW Madison assistant football coaches less than we’d actually like! How are we going to stay competitive in the Big 37? This is difficult, but with strength and grit hopefully we’ll make it through. Whistle rationing starts now! But if I can (sort of) quote my Governor, “Why don’t coaches coach more?” Come on Coach Chryst! Take on some extra players! Get Barry out of the sauna!

Note: I count 97 players on the current roster. With one head coach and nine assistants, that’s less that 10 players per coach. Let me introduce you to faculty who teach classes twice the size of your team, with no assistants. Coach more! This is the 21st century global first down! Nimble! And on a personal note, if your tight ends coach makes $125,000 a year, then I am a tenured professor who doesn’t even rate a single butt cheek. Thanks.

Below the Fold: Also from Cross’ Editorial

While indicating our new funding model would rely on sales taxes, Cross did not expand on who pays such taxes, our feelings about a funding stream that disproportionately burdens those of lower income, how that burden meshes with our morality and the Wisconsin idea, or why price certainty is more desirable than affordability.

Lightbulb: President Cross mentions the Minnesota University System while curiously staying away from any comparison to Virginia. Why? Well, for one, there is no central administration in Virginia! So how about it folks? If we are indeed destined to move to this model, should we start emailing legislators about adopting the structure that eliminates central administration? There is a lot to be saved in salary there, and empowered Chancellors are likely to be more accountable to regional constituents than to top-down marching orders. Tough choices! The counter argument, of course, is that we need a presence in Madison, full time, lobbying on our behalf. Well, we’ve seen how that’s gone. My sense is that central couldn’t effectively lobby kids at a birthday party to eat ice cream. So, sisters and brothers in powerlessness, when should we get that campaign rolling? To bed! We ride at dawn!

Advice: Dealing with “Mr. Business!”

motorola-dynatac-8000xAs you may have seen, the editorials are rolling in from the older white man I call “Mr. Business.” If this editorial is local, it is likely accompanied by a pre-internet author photo that includes a wood/brass plaque nailed to a background wall. Many dear readers have inquired, What do you say when Mr. Business currencysplains, “This is only 2.5 percent of your total budget! You can absorb this easily! Also, I’m from the real world; here are my scars!” This argument is also being made in national publications like the Troll Street Journal.

The response: these people are actually arguing that we should tax the rich and close corporate loopholes. Why? Because they can easily absorb it! They won’t even feel it!  There are two responses you will receive to this obvious point: CLASS WARFARE! and JOB KILLER! Look, income disparity is a fact and 2/3rds of Wisconsin corporations pay zero state income taxes. They do pay sales and use taxes, which are then passed on to the consumer. Get that? Under a public authority, many of us little people will be paying, again, for more than just us. Also remind “Mr. Business” that if he wants the UW to be more like a business, then maybe we should roll out the red carpet…like we do for business.

Forecast: Stormy

If the push for the “Right to Work” (!) legislation is any indication, there is a lot more coordination here than we’re admitting (and we’re already admitting a lot). I’m sensing on my own campus, and on others, faculty conflict and some lashing out against those who ask questions of administration and, more specifically, push back against the public authority. I have many feelings about this, but I’ll put this as generously as I can: faculty are supposed to ask questions. Hell, any process like this should court an exhaustive list of negatives just for the sake of information. What is unacceptable is belittling colleagues who have suspicion about rushing into uncertainty when they have received so little earnest talk from their stewards. Also worth saying: simply receiving information from administration is not shared governance. Shared governance is when a diverse classification of employees and students participate in decision making, not just hear about it. This concludes your moment of obvious.


We have seen a number of false dichotomies and associations, none more glaring than trying to position the budget cuts and the move to a public authority as some kind of trade or “exchange.” The two are unrelated. I would say that another false opposition/pairing is that between “the legislature” and “the public authority.”

Let’s be clear—there is no such thing as the public authority. There is only the legislature. The legislature legislates the public authority into being, it legislates it out of being. Saying the public authority “frees” us from any kind of oversight is like parents saying their kids are truly in charge of something. In other words, they’re in charge until we say they’re not. (See: future budgets in Wisconsin)

These freedoms and flexibilities and efficiencies? They are legislated. The public authority would be created by the legislature; it is its child. There is never a time that the legislature does not control the real outcomes here (See: Act 10, collective bargaining rights, the future of pensions and the state’s requirement to actually fulfill their obligation, etc.)

People are right to ask questions about all of this. And they are right to be suspicious. I’m still trying to discover who the real advocate is at central, the advocate who wants to stay a state system in name and wants to fight against the current cuts. Who is that person? Someone tell me I’m wrong. All I see, and have ever seen, is a full embrace of the worst-case scenario.

I will respectfully withhold the obituary section from today’s issue.