As of last week, faculty and staff at the majority of campuses in the UW system have voted to express our lack of confidence in the direction pursued by Board of Regents and system president Ray Cross. This historic wave of resolutions has now been ratified at seven of the thirteen four-year campuses, and by a vote of the faculty senate representing the thirteen UW Colleges.
Because I am one of the three faculty senators who introduced the resolution that ultimately resulted in the historic, full faculty vote at UWM on May 10, I am often asked what it is that we want. Are we asking Cross to resign? Do we expect the current Board to be replaced by different Regents?
But the sum of what has taken place across the UW system this May is bigger than its parts. Taken together, these resolutions are part of a social movement emerging across Wisconsin and beyond. Social movements encompass and exceed the hopes and needs of their constituencies, becoming places for the creation of new ideas, strategies and alliances. That is what is taking place across the UW system.
Protesting the current institutional climate of politically manufactured austerity, this movement promotes the broad, democratic vision originally expressed in the Wisconsin Idea. The recent, court-mandated release of emails from Governor Walker’s office offers clear evidence of the political assault on this hallowed idea, which holds that the teaching and research mission of the public university should benefit the entire state.
No confidence resolutions have spread like wonky wildfire across UW governance groups. These resolutions enact democratic shared governance, another key principle of the Wisconsin Idea. Taking place through shared governance channels, these votes articulate our collective devotion to the Wisconsin Idea and the institutions we serve.
Faculty, staff and students across diverse UW campuses have united in our defense of the Wisconsin Idea. Penned by UW Madison American Federation of Teachers (AFT) local president Chad Alan Goldberg, the initial resolution passed the Madison faculty senate through collaboration between governance, the AFT, and the American Association of University Professionals (AAUP). Subsequent resolutions have been adapted to respond to specific issues at different campuses.
At UWM, for example, the faculty resolution was the result of collaboration between AFT, AAUP and faculty governance. After the unanimous faculty vote, academic staff governance crafted their own resolution. The Academic Staff Senate became the first academic staff governance body in the UW system to pass such a measure. By definition, academic staff do not enjoy the protection of tenure: their resolution stands as a particularly brave and principled clarion call. The power of the no confidence votes at UWM emanated from the cooperation of different governance groups, along with the involvement of our AAUP and AFT chapters.
Support for democratic public education is not limited to UW faculty and staff. Student groups such as BlackOut at UW-Madison and Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!) at several UW campuses assert the civil right of access to education for all students.
Off campus, the No Confidence Movement finds allies in the push back against the degradation and privatization of k-12 education. Organizations like Schools and Communities United and Parents for Public Schools defend public funding and local control of education. These issues parallel those articulated in the Wisconsin Idea: democratic shared governance, academic freedom and educational access.
Across the country, public investment in education has declined. A study by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that since 2008, states across the country have reduced their spending on public higher education by 17%, at the same time that tuition has risen by 33%. Even with the tuition freeze currently in effect in Wisconsin, the cost of a college education is burdensome and puts a degree out of reach for many students and their families. The effects of the cuts may well mean that it takes longer and costs more for students to complete their degree programs, as advising becomes scarcer and departments and programs are forced to cut back on course offerings.
Countering decades of austerity, mounting student debt, and declining public funding for education, the No Confidence Movement supports lowering tuition and increasing state investment in education. We oppose the conjoined forces of imposed austerity and corporate managerial control of education, which have resulted in high administrative costs and threaten the quality of research and teaching at UW.
Instead, the No Confidence Movement supports the time-honored values promoted by the Wisconsin Idea: hard work, democratic access, public service and free inquiry. We call on our elected representatives to fund the freeze by restoring state support for public education.
Social movements respond to traumatic losses by asserting shared dreams as collective possibilities. The No Confidence Movement in Wisconsin has begun this process by making educators and students protagonists in the long conflict over public education in our state and nation. Collectively, we have great confidence in a fully funded and democratically governed system of public education, kindergarten through PhD.