After the Protest

horse cops 4-16

MILWAUKEE, Sunday Afternoon: I came to the student-organized sit-in protesting Trump’s appearance at UWM late today. Though most of the action was over, the footprint of the immense force mustered to defend Donald Trump against potential protesters lingered.

As I approached campus, I saw pairs of police on motorcycles driving up and down Kenwood Avenue. Metal barriers staffed by uniformed Milwaukee police officers partitioned the campus into “go” and “no go” zones; I was advised by two of them to “go around” instead of taking a short cut across campus.

Taking the long way around, I saw four mounted police entering one of the no-go zones as other police drew back a metal gate for them. In a high-tech era, the presence of cops on horseback conveys more than physical danger. Seated high above a crowd on the backs of huge, domesticated animals, mounted police conjure an intimidating history of bloody charges into crowds of peaceful protesters.

The forces deemed necessary to secure Fox News’ “Town Hall” with Donald Trump entailed dozens of police and police vehicles: cars, motorcycles, horses and, ominously, a paddy-wagon parked just off of Kenwood Avenue. Pedestrian and automobile traffic was redirected.

At a crucial time in the semester, these arrangements impeded student access to libraries, studios and labs. Students and faculty of color had a well-founded fear of being verbally or physically harassed, as has become commonplace at Trump events. Shouldn’t a public university be a place where people can walk and learn without fear?

Undaunted, hundreds of students, faculty and other denizens showed up to peacefully protest Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and its explicit threats to Muslims, people of color and anyone protesting against it. These protesters understood what is at stake when a public campus hosts a purveyor of race-hate.

Undoubtedly, Trump’s appearance at UWM will be justified by invocations of the importance of non-partisanship and free speech, and by the unstated importance of the revenues generated by use of campus facilities. But the heavy police presence on campus contradicts arguments about balance and public discourse. Hate speech is not the same thing as free speech. In Wisconsin, free speech is itself under assault from attacks on public education, on tenure and democratic governance. And the fact that UWM desperately needs the revenue paid by Fox News for the venue speaks volumes about the position of education in our state.

The detritus of the event today at UWM tells another tale than that of free speech and parity. In context of the brutal assault on public education in Wisconsin, this story is one of money spent on protecting dangerous rich men instead of investing in educating the people who can rightly lay claim to UWM as their public campus.

After the Protest

UWM: Horror Movie Edition


POST-ACT 55 WISCONSIN, THE FIRST DAY OF UWM SPRING BREAK: less than a week out from the March 10 adoption by the state Board of Regents of new, Act 55-complaint policy that threatens the much-vaunted Wisconsin Idea.

The new policy riddles the academic freedom and university democracy consecrated in the Wisconsin Idea with contradictions. In the name of “flexibility” for a “21st century economy,” powers long vested in shared governance have now been wrested away from faculty and staff and placed instead into the hands of campus and system administrators. University employees are nervous, fearing that the new language of “program discontinuance,” effectively ends tenure and spells the end of employment for many faculty and academic staff.

At UWM, we are also a week shy of the Chancellor’s next budget address to the campus, rescheduled from March 10 to March 21 because of the Board of Regents meeting. In this budget address, the Chancellor is going to announce his program for dealing with UWM’s “structural deficit”: the $50 million of additional cuts confronted by our campus. The Chancellor is to discuss which of the recommendations of his Campus Organization and Efficiency Task Force (CCOET) he plans to adopt. These include programs for reorganizing the campus to maximize “efficiencies” and cut expenses as well as “position control” in which all open jobs are remitted to central oversight. Best case scenario: pursuing these cost-saving measures will involve a natural shrinkage of faculty and staff through attrition. Worse and more likely, this will involve terminations and layoffs.

Across the UW system, employees are nervous. Administrators are now in possession of formidable powers to terminate employment; they are motivated by vast cuts in state funding to seek cost savings. Layoffs and firings seem inevitable. As UW-Madison’s Dave Vanness and Chad Alan Goldberg point out, such powers abhor a vacuum: they are almost always deployed.

Spring break: I vow not to think about all this for a little while. Oblivious as a horror movie character who opts to check the basement, I open my email Monday morning. I am stunned to find this message:

On behalf of the Chancellor’s office I am announcing the search for the Director of the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship.

How on earth is this a good time to be advertising for a new administrative post?

The most benign read of this is that it is simply a matter of institutional tone-deafness and bad timing. Donations like the one supporting the Lubar Center are vital to the economic health of the UW system, although they can also cost money to staff and maintain. Perhaps the Lubar Foundation gift covers the entire salary of the proposed position. Maybe there is a justified hurry. A hurry would certainly explain the one-week application window in the ad.

Even if this benign interpretation is accurate, the timing of this advertisement exhibits a terrible ignorance of campus climate on the part of the university administration.  We inhabit a period of severe state-imposed austerity, in which hard-working and undercompensated faculty and staff struggle to keep the units that teach and support UWM students afloat, amidst constant rumors of the end of institutional life as we know it. For example: to save money, the tremendously successful Campus Read program has been downsized from a free book distributed to all first year students to a free PDF of an article. In this context, the announcement of an entirely new administrative position seems inconceivable.

This timing points towards a much more sinister reading of this announcement. Even if the sounds the character initially hears on venturing down the basement stairs turn out to be just a cat, we all know there is something else down there, something big and scary, less fluffy and much more dangerous.

In this horror-show plot, the austerity created by Wisconsin politicians, the policy adopted by the Board of Regents last week, and the announcement of this new position are connected in sinister ways. They aim to restructure education on a corporate model.

Calls to make the university more “flexible” and “efficient,” to bring it in line with markets, to, in the sardonic phrase of Regent Margaret Farrow “welcome” us into the “21st century” disregard the deep roots of the UW system in democratic access. (Not to mention the existence of a Center for 21st Century Studies on this very campus!) In emphasizing markets, this new corporate model disregards the particular mission of UWM: to provide broad, public access to a top-tier, Research 1, university to all the people of Wisconsin.

Modifying UW to suit a corporate model undermines the creative freedom protected by tenure and job security. It is ironic that calls to transform the university are often cloaked in an ill-defined rhetoric of entrepreneurship, when true innovation relies on safe harbor for thought and experimentation. Perhaps an open campus and city-wide democratic conversation about what kinds of entrepreneurship best befit our particular mission might generate productive ideas for how to steer the beautiful new, empty building on our hard-hit campus. But there has been nothing of the kind. In the corporate model, administrators make those decisions.

The corporatization of the university has already resulted in an exponential growth of administrative costs at UWM. These administrative costs, along with inequity in the state funding formula, are a good part of why the campus now contends with the “structural deficit” on top of state-imposed austerity. It remains to be seen whether the Chancellor’s budgetary plans involve cutting administrative costs, or even taking a symbolic first million dollars out of the top salaries on campus.

What kind of a university system will Wisconsin have in the wake of the Board of Regents’ abrogation of academic freedom and university democracy? What does it mean to have the urban access campus of the state simultaneously plagued by debt and administrative bloat and increasingly tied to an undemocratic, corporate model?

We pause at the bottom of the cellar stairs and peer into the darkness.

UWM: Horror Movie Edition

We Now Know, or, Another Semester Older, Deeper in Debt: Takeaways from the UW Struggle, 2015

all of usThis struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

-Frederick Douglass, 1857

Since this summer, the entire University of Wisconsin system has faced the assault on academic freedom and shared governance enacted by Act 55. In addition, we have been hit with a whopping, historic $250 million cut in state allotments to the UW system.

As if these affronts were not daunting enough, in late summer UW-Milwaukee administrators announced that the campus had amassed an internal “structural deficit” amounting to an additional $30 million in cuts. An extra-governmental, campus-wide task force, as well as secretive budget-cutting committees, convened to contend with the implications of this “structural deficit.”

UWM AAUP has been active on both the state-wide and campus-specific fronts. At UWM we successfully advocated for AAUP representation on the Chancellor’s Campus Organization and Efficiency Task Force (CCOET). Chapter members and allies turned out in force for many of its meetings. Our “One Faculty” cohort at these meetings included graduate and undergraduate students, academic staff and faculty. Together, we gave voices and faces to the effects of potential cuts, thereby altering the task force’s conversation.

In concert with colleagues at Madison and Whitewater, we also pressed for AAUP-compliant policy at the statewide Tenure Task Force (TTF) charged with rewriting academic policy for the state. This task force is consultative, not democratic: these policies will ultimately be decided by the Board of Regents alone. At the TTF meeting on December 23, Regent John Behling, Chair, repeatedly responded to concerns about draft faculty layoff and post-tenure review policies by saying that he would “think about it.” His use of the first person singular reveals volumes about the autocratic way system policies are now being crafted. However, our collective advocacy so far has resulted in the adoption of much more AAUP-compliant language, which will hopefully have an impact on the final outcome of UW system tenure policies.

Advocating for equity in a time of austerity has come with a steep learning curve, requiring attention to the machinations of governance and administration, budgeting practices and state politics. We have done what university intellectuals do best: we have analyzed, discussed and written about what is happening to us. On top of that, we have organized and turned out for events and meetings to show our solidarity and support for each other, creating networks on and across our campuses.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway because this is that kind of end-of-year summary, that all of us undertake this work on top of full schedules of teaching, research, service and personal commitments. Big thanks and much respect to everyone for the hard work, for faith in a difficult time.

In the much-needed pause of the all-too-brief holiday break in this madness (CCOET small groups are meeting this week! Possibly Regent Behling is spending time mulling the many suggestions he received from dauntless TTF members before Xmas!), I thought it useful to look back on what we learned from our collective efforts in 2015. So here are some greatest hits of 2015: a holiday gift from me, as President of our thriving UWM AAUP Chapter. May they help advance our struggle in 2016!

1. The fiscal austerity imposed by state legislative policy is real. It also occasions the aggregation of power.
Policies enacted in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility” work against democracy, putting more power into fewer hands. We can see this taking place across the system, as the Regents rewrite university policies once vested in administration and shared governance. It is happening at UWM, where CCOET, an extra-governmental task force, proposes policies like “position control,” which promise “transparency” and “flexibility” by centrally consolidating the power to hire.

The kicker here is that the budget crisis will pass, as all crises do. But much of the restructuring of the university is likely to linger, particularly if the democratic tradition of shared governance struck down by Act 55 continues to wane.

2. “Flexibility” in administrative policy always comes at the expense of those with the least power and resources.
So far, at UWM, most of the savings necessary to contend with the budget cuts have come from voluntary retirements and resignations: positions that have not been replaced. While this method lacks vision, meaning that the units experiencing a high volume of people leaving or retiring take the greatest hits with no particular oversight, it so far has had the virtue of not cutting positions out from under people.

Voluntary departures will not be enough, particularly to contend with UWM’s “structural deficit.” Further savings will likely come largely at the expense of the lowest paid and most contingent employees at the university. Already there are rumors of massive layoffs of teaching academic staff. And we can see the ghost of this Christmas future in Chancellor Mone’s blithe December 22 announcement of the campus’ Priority Referral Policy for University staff laid off or not renewed.

3. There will be no “chopping from the top,” no voluntary cuts to the salaries of highly paid administrators.

Along with allies like the UWM chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, UWM AAUP has repeatedly raised the symbolic and fiscal importance of cutting the largest salaries on campus and across the UW system. These interventions have elicited muted murmurs of assent and vague references to a possible “administrative furlough.” But no plan has been forthcoming to implement any “chopping from the top.” Why would anyone who makes six figures give themselves a pay cut to inspire those making five? Frederick Douglass understood this one well.

4. The “structural deficit” comes out of decades of inequitable funding of UWM by the UW system.
The administrator who first explained the “structural deficit” to me back in August likened the campus’ situation to that of a consumer who foolishly overspent on a credit card, with the resulting necessity of austerity. This explanation makes UWM’s growth prior to 2010 seem irresponsible. As in the case of consumer overspending, the narrative of the “structural deficit” is one of grave and shameful fiscal miscalculation.

But this explanation omits the fact that the “structural deficit” directly reflects the long-term underfunding of UWM. As UWM-AAUP explained in our December 7 press release, state appropriations for UWM have declined to below half of what UW-Madison receives per student. Since UWM educates the largest percentage of students of color, veterans and residents of Wisconsin in the UW system, that effectively means that these students pay more in tuition and fees than students on other campuses, and receive less. Even a small increase in state appropriations per student would immediately relieve the “structural deficit.”

This alternative story about the source of our “structural deficit” is instructive, because it frames the current budget crisis in a historical context. The rhetoric of exigency that accompanies this crisis often discourages such broader analysis. Our work to understand the “structural deficit” has been collaborative, involving AAUP members across the state and campus.

5. What is happening to public higher education is happening across the board to public education.
The assault on the UW System has happened at the same time as state legislators introduced a bill to further privatize Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). This attempt to take over MPS would increase the number of voucher and privately run K-12 schools in the district. Touted as an “efficient” remedy to aid underfunded urban public schools, the takeover would make MPS responsive to the concerns of shareholders in private corporations rather than parents, students and other residents of the city.

UWM-AAUP has been proud to collaborate with the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) in supporting democratic access and control of education for all. In the UW system, we educate the students who graduate from high schools across the state. For this reason and many others, the struggle for public education in the universities is deeply connected to the issues confronting public K-12 education in our state. Together, we work to defend the public good articulated in the Wisconsin Idea.

Which brings me to:

6. We are better off together.
These are discouraging and terrifying times to work in the UW system. Across rank and status, job security is questionable. Morale is low. We see colleagues leaving and applying for jobs elsewhere, and we wonder what the point is of sticking around.

But here’s the thing: what’s happening in the UW system is awful. It’s also happening across the country and across the globe. The savaging of UW is part of a generalized abandonment of public institutions that favors profit-driven education over the democratic civility articulated in the Wisconsin Idea.

True that we are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, but the poison gas of corrupt fiscal policy is pervasive in both private and public education today. It makes sense, then, to stand our ground here.

Before I started working for UWM-AAUP our situation made me scared and angry on a daily basis. This has changed since our chapter formed in August. Sure, in good part I have been too busy to worry. But it’s also that I am inspired, on a daily basis, by how brilliant, committed and principled our colleagues across the campus and the system are.

And together, we are making a difference. We may not win every battle in the long struggle we have undertaken, but our presence changes the story, changes the possibilities.

If you haven’t already, join us in 2016! We need all of us to truly be: One Faculty!

We Now Know, or, Another Semester Older, Deeper in Debt: Takeaways from the UW Struggle, 2015

If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It: the Joys of Academic Labor

It’s 1 pm on a Monday and I am still at home. I just finished my class preparation for my seminar later this afternoon, made myself a tuna melt and took the dog for a walk around the block. Presently, I will change into teaching clothes, walk up to my office to hold office hours and finish some grading before my class starts.

Yep, that’s right: I was at home on a weekday, working in my pjs. If this be treason, make the most of it. There are actually private consulting firms that university administrators pay  to advise faculty not to be seen grocery shopping or walking dogs in the middle of the day. Because, I guess, it might look like we are enjoying ourselves too much?

I know: putting “joy” and “academic” anything in the same subtitle is asking for trouble these days. Those of us who work in the university are instructed to frame our work strictly in terms of its utility to generating revenue for the region. We are repeatedly cautioned that “the public” doesn’t understand what we do: that any freedom we enjoy in our work lives makes people outside the university “angry.” Heaven forfend that joy enter into it!

These warnings contain elements of truth. From public education to clean public transit to a comfortable retirement, the social warrant is currently under siege. It’s tough to discover, for example, that tuition has increased exponentially in the UW system, making affording a college education a stretch for most and out of reach for many. There are a lot of reasons to be disappointed and angry these days. A lot of that ill will winds up being mustered against the very public institutions hardest hit by policies of austerity.

So here it is, and if it’s treason, do by all means make the most of it: despite all terrors, I love my job. I am honored to teach UWM students, who brilliantly juggle work, school and family and still manage to be insightful in and outside of the classroom. And I am grateful for my dauntless colleagues: faculty, staff and graduate students.

It is in the spirit of my commitment to the UW system and public higher education that I offer the following, possibly treasonous, assertions:

1. It’s not illegal to like your work, or not yet anyway. But it may incriminate me further to say first that I choose my career intentionally, because I was attracted to the freedom of academic labor; and second, that I devoutly hope that both my students and my children have access to similar choices.

2. This freedom is also known as workplace democracy: the idea that workers and employees should have some say over the conditions of their labor. And workplace democracy is scarce in this era of precarious employment and diminishing labor rights. But, as fast food workers all over the country have shown in their “Fight for Fifteen” campaign, precarious work conditions necessitate a struggle for better wages and workplace democracy.

The erosion of workplace democracy – at the university, of academic freedom and democratic governance – serves no one. As a place that trains students to think and prepares them for their futures, the university should also model workplace democracy.

3. Yes, I do try to change my students’ minds. I do this in every class, each semester. I try as hard as I possibly can to come up with things that will jostle my students out of their complacency about how they see the world. A good education challenges students to rethink their worlds.

And you know what happens? Reliably, every semester: some students tell me that the class changed their lives. Some students argue with me. Others engage little, eking out a low grade or dropping the class. Regularly, students praise how “balanced” the class is on their evaluations.

Because here’s the thing: students are not blank slates, upon whom faculty can impose our ideological agendas. They are students: they come from particular places, have their own points of view. The job of an educator is to get students to put what they already think into the broad perspectives afforded by education. This breadth is why education is so central to democracy.

4. Because of this connection between education and democracy, I oppose further tuition hikes, because they would put the wonderful resources of the UW system out of reach of even more of our students. Not only that: I think the UW system should be free for everyone. Students should be able to earn their degrees joyously, without incurring life-altering levels of debt and/or holding down two or three jobs, as they do now.

5. Yes, free public higher education would be supported by taxes. That is how, in past generations, a college education was available to most people: universities were heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments.

The assumption was that this support was an investment: in our young people, in our collective future. The current regime of austerity imposed on public education is short-sighted and mean: it penalizes young people who are, after all, the future.

In 1765, twenty-nine year old Patrick Henry responded to hecklers in the Colonial Assembly of Virginia by asserting: “If this be treason, make the most of it!” His speech was not recorded, so no one knows what else he said.

What we remember about the speech is Henry’s fire in defense of freedom. At a time of massive assault on public education nationally and in Wisconsin, we can muster no less.

If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It: the Joys of Academic Labor

‘We’re Here Because You Were There’: Refugee Admissions After the Paris Attacks

I try to imagine it, but I can’t, quite: the sudden necessity of leaving home, the arrangements to flee. Maybe there is time to grab passports and other necessary documents; maybe these vital things have perished in a fire; maybe they never existed. For those lucky enough to survive the treacherous Mediterranean crossing: the landing, the endless walking, the multiple encounters with border guards, soldiers, police. Sleeping in the cold, carrying children, trying to keep the group together; hunger, thirst.

Now it’s November; getting chilly in the refugee encampments and detention centers of Europe. That chill became all the more menacing this past Friday, when a string of coordinated attacks terrorized Paris, killing at least 129 people and injuring hundreds more.

Increased scrutiny of asylum seekers and the closing of borders in many European nations preceded the Paris attacks. But now there will be increased pressure to further secure and militarize national borders.

Already there are calls on both sides of the Atlantic to restrict refugee admissions from Syrian and elsewhere in the Middle East. Already there are allegations that allowing asylum to predominantly Muslim refugees might be dangerous to the nations that receive them. Here in Wisconsin, Governor Walker joined several other state governors in calling for states to exclude Syrian refugees, even though refugee admissions are the purview of the federal government.

The fates of displaced persons are at this very moment being transformed, solely on the basis of their religion and national origins. Moustafa Bayoumi describes this as the mapping of “geographies of suspicion.”

The current refugee crisis has been triggered by decades of warfare waged by the United States and its allies in the Middle East. As journalist Max Blumenthal points out, one of the few ways to escape constant war and terror in occupied Gaza is to join the refugee stream and take passage across the Mediterranean.

Historian Vijay Prashad points out that the month of October, 2015 saw 714 casualties, in Iraq alone as a result of violent terror. The monthly death rate remains constant over the past twelve years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The escalation of violence by the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria is only the latest chapter in a tangled and bloody history.

The “pitiless war,” now to be pursued by France and quite likely other nations, including the United States, will kill and displace thousands more. Because they hail from Middle Eastern geographies of suspicion, refugees from the coming wars will have a hard time finding asylum in the west. There will be increased surveillance at the borders, there will be enhanced detentions and deportations.

Prompted by the displaced persons crisis in Europe after World War II, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirmed the right of all people to “security of person” and “freedom of movement” as well as outlawing discrimination based on religion or national origin. In 1950 the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) began the work of resettling the refugees created by World War II and the European holocaust.

The founding Convention of the UNHCR recognized basic rights for those seeking asylum in other countries, including access to courts, to education, and to necessary travel documents, including passports. The Convention recognized that the seeking of asylum would inevitably involve the breaking of national immigration regulations, but it also forbade the expulsion or return of refugees against their will.

Shaped around the figure of the European displaced person, the UNHCR only gradually expanded its work to incorporate all of the world’s refugees. Along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has never been ratified by the United States, the UNHCR Convention remains a statement of principles for the treatment of those forced by war and persecution to flee their homes. Today, circumstances for refugees on the ground are often far from these high-minded principles.

Much more visible in the corporate media than bombings in Beirut and Baghdad that also claimed lives last week, the attacks in Paris have already inspired a military response. As many more people are forced to flee their homes and join the migrant stream, they should be able to claim the rights vouchsafed to refugees by the UNHCR. Military response to ISIS attacks in Europe is certain to create more loss and displacement.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, even more people will be driven to leave their homes. How do we ignore the fear-mongering of political leaders and news media, remembering instead that the vast majority of these asylum seekers want only safety and security for themselves and their loved ones? They enter new nations not as agents of terror, but because of the consequences of it.



‘We’re Here Because You Were There’: Refugee Admissions After the Paris Attacks

Escalate Peace!: “Welcoming” AIPAC to Milwaukee

front of museum

The only recognizable feature of hope is action.                   – Grace Paley

On a brisk Monday evening, members of Milwaukee Jewish Voice for Peace, joined by our allies from Students for Justice in Palestine, the Antiwar Committee of Milwaukee, YES! (Youth Empowered in the Struggle) and the Overpass Light Brigade, stood outside the Milwaukee Art Museum, where the annual Wisconsin AIPAC gala event was being held. We were there to greet AIPAC with a message: in consistently advocating war and security over peace they do not speak for us.

Outside, our signs projected a luminous hope: ESCALATE PEACE. Inside, a grim confabulation of the Jewish star with the stars and stripes was projected onto one of the walls of the museum.

Working for peace, we also protest and mourn the recent violence in Israel/Palestine, particularly, lately, in East Jerusalem. Jewish Voice for Peace opposes the collective punishment of Palestinians. We see this as a result of the ways that the mass media dehumanizes Palestinians. Further, we see the current violence in Israel/Palestine as the outgrowth of 67 years of dispossession and state violence. Only by addressing this history will we find true peace.

Having representatives from YES! – an organization advocating for immigrant and undocumented student rights – resonated deeply. Throughout Jewish history, Jews have often been “strangers,” with all the loss of full rights that entails. Ironically, when Jews found a national homeland in 1948, Palestinians became refugees on their own lands. Currently, Israeli security technology companies are doing research and development at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jewish Voice for Peace supports the right of return of Palestinians and all refugees. We also support full equality for all residents of the United States and of Israel. And we recognize that the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean is the legacy of U.S.-backed military conflict in the Middle East.

AIPAC, with its insistence on United States support for Israeli militarism, adds to the violence in the region. We oppose U.S. aid to Israel, most of which goes directly to military and security forces. These directly contribute to violence in the occupied territories. Increasing militarism in Israeli society relates directly to incidences of violence and hate crimes against Arab, African, progressive and LGBT Israelis.

With the help of the Overpass Light Brigade, we call for the escalation of peace, not violence and division. We stand with Palestinians and Israelis against the violent status quo, and with Palestinians fighting for their freedom. We seek justice, equality, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians, and for all people.

Escalate Peace!: “Welcoming” AIPAC to Milwaukee

A Home at the End of the World: More Stories of UW and Loss

A crisis can end what you thought was ongoing. My husband and I moved to Wisconsin eleven years ago with our two young daughters, to take jobs teaching at UWM. We put down roots here. We made the kind of ‘family of choice’ you make when your family of origin lives thousands of miles away: people we celebrate holidays and life events with; friends whose names I put on emergency contact forms.

The son of a small town high school basketball coach, my husband had moved nineteen times before I met him in graduate school. Together, we moved three more times for academic positions. When we got to Milwaukee, he declared that he wanted to stay here: no more moving around. That seemed like a good idea, at the time.

It felt like coming into something, like making a life. Sometimes things shifted as we grew away from friends, or as new people came into our lives. Occasionally there would be going-away parties as someone moved on. But the bass line of community steadied us.

We moved here when our older daughter was 4. Now 16, she has had the same best friend since. I lucked out, rediscovering an old friend who had moved to Madison. We reconnected and now text each other several times a day, frequently meeting up halfway between our two cities. She and her partner are the goddess mothers of our two daughters. We frequently congratulate one and other on our good fortune, knowing that a friendship like ours is rare.

My mother, now 80, tells me that hardest thing about living a long time is all the people she has lost along the way. I imagine her in her tall apartment building in Manhattan, the lights in the other apartments blinking out, one by one. That is the crisis of my mother’s old age.

But the crisis we are now experiencing at the University of Wisconsin is not a matter of inevitable aging and loss. It is a crisis caused by intentional political action: the assassination by a thousand cuts of the once-vaunted system of public education in our state. This crisis has been deliberately manufactured by a decade of declining state investment in public education, by legislative assaults on public employees, and by the targeting of education in a kind of open season called austerity. And this imposed austerity threatens the horizons of communities around our state.

There have been predictions about people fleeing Wisconsin. And that is happening: people leave and are not replaced, like the windows in a tall building going dark. The lecturer whose position was discontinued; the administrative assistant who took early retirement; the professor who looked for and found a position in another state. Some of them might have left even without the war against public education. But all of them would not have.

My scholarly research is about the history of migration. I have found that it is rare for people to opt, for no particular reason, to leave their homes. No: people flee wars and economic deprivation, they depart because of repression against them or out of fear for the future. When things are bad, people look for something better. When he was coaching high school basketball in small town Arkansas, my father-in-law often had to move on after a bad season, or to pursue a job in a school with better resources for the team.

A steady home provides an anchor even for people who choose to leave. Home defines us, remaining a place of imaginative and actual return. But when a lot of people leave, when there is a mass exodus of university workers and public school teachers from the state, that changes things at home.

It’s easy to focus on the ones leaving: their reasons for going, how things worked out in the new place; whether it was better. Immigration historians like me do it all the time. I hadn’t thought all that much about what happens to the people and places left behind. Now I am staring that question right in the eyes.

The gathering exodus of university and public school workers promises to transform our public institutions. Not only that: it will and is changing the lives of people in our state. People like me: as friends and colleagues leave and talk about going, I find myself being more careful about reaching out and making connections, wondering if it is worth it. When students come into my office, inspired to pursue jobs teaching history, I want to both encourage and caution them. It’s a good life, I want to tell them. Or: it was.

The human networks we create are vulnerable. In my mother’s story, mainly to the inexorable forces of time and mortality. In Wisconsin, the destruction is willful and locally sourced. We all lose when talented and committed people flee the state, or when promising students realize that it would be unwise to pursue a career in teaching.

As my mother’s story points out, part of living a long life is mourning those who don’t. In Wisconsin right now, we are faced with mourning the possibilities that have been deliberately erased from our collective horizons.

A Home at the End of the World: More Stories of UW and Loss

No Tuition Hike!

Around UWM and, I imagine, around the UW-System, a glint appears in the eyes of certain administrators when talk turns to “lifting the cap” on tuition. Sometimes they say it openly: a 3% raise in tuition would “solve” all of our current fiscal woes.

Yet this is the rare instance in which Governor Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin state legislature have it right. Both fiscally and morally, raising tuition makes no sense.

The UW System has been hit hard by a combination of budget cuts and state policies. Passed in July, Act 55 weakened both job security and academic freedom. A vicious $250 million in budget cuts followed more than a decade of declining state investment in the UW system. The ensuing regime of austerity threatens the very heart of the Wisconsin Idea: the ability of the university system to serve all residents of the state.

Public funding of education has declined markedly across the country. As a result, universities have become increasingly tuition-driven, raising the price tag of a college education. Universities compete for international and out-of-state students, because these students are compelled to pay more for education.

Increasing tuition costs have already resulted in dramatically escalating student debt. At a certain point, public universities will simply price themselves out of the market.

In the past couple of years, the crisis of declining public investment has been amplified by a drop in enrollment. There are fewer students applying, and more competition across the system for these students.

Here is where the hoped-for raise in tuition makes little fiscal sense. A raise in tuition would diminish the pool of students who could afford to pay for college. Even after the current demographic dip in enrollments corrects itself, continuing to increase tuition will make a college education beyond the means of many high school graduates in Wisconsin.

Raising tuition contradicts the very idea behind public higher education in Wisconsin. The lofty principles articulated in the early 20th century Wisconsin Idea held that the university should benefit everyone in the state. In the vision of the Wisconsin Idea, the university was to serve the people by providing useful knowledge through research. Importantly, the university would also instruct the broadest cohort possible. Sometimes, in the early days, professors would ride horses to remote corners of the state in order to instruct farmers in the newest agricultural innovations.

At UWM, our mission is to be the urban campus of the UW System. Applied to an urban university, the Wisconsin Idea means that UWM should seek to educate the broadest and most diverse cohort of students possible, including those in Milwaukee. Serving all of the state means extending our access to more rather than fewer students from urban public school systems. Since these districts have high rates of poverty, that means keeping tuition as low as possible.

The current regime of austerity challenges our system of public education. But raising tuition to keep the UW system afloat threatens both the fiscal health and the founding ideals of higher education in Wisconsin.

No Tuition Hike!

Learning to Be Brave: Back to School Edition

The author, practicing.

The author, practicing.

I did not become a college professor because I am particularly brave. I started a Masters’ program in American Studies at the University of Minnesota twenty-five years ago, thinking that it would enable me to teach community college, to piece together what the writer Jackie Regales calls “A Patchwork Life” of writing and teaching. I stayed on for my PhD because I fell in love with the work of university teaching.

You could describe me as opinionated. And I am quick on my feet, a quality that has proven quite useful in the classroom. But learning to be brave came later.

It is strange to have to point this out, but bookishness is the defining quality of most of the people who wind up working in classrooms and libraries. We like to read, which means we spend a lot of time doing that: quietly, by ourselves. We believe that books and ideas are important: so we spend our lives reading, writing and planning classes.

Truth to tell, important doesn’t begin to cover it for me. I stuck around for the PhD because I saw the ways that education opened the world for many of our students at Minnesota. In almost twenty-five years of university teaching, I have seen it repeatedly: reading and sharing ideas is transformative and empowering.

I think about the delight on the faces of three young women in my first U.S. history survey class when they figured out that people like them could be found in the pages of history books. “This is our history!” one of them exclaimed in surprise. I devoutly hope that the world was not quite the same for these students afterwards, that finding people they recognized in a history course changed what they thought was possible for themselves.

Maybe this transformative power explains the current war against bookishness. Maybe bookishness has always had the capacity to impart bravery. We learn from books to imagine the world otherwise than it is, to question things that are presented to us as facts. And perhaps this learning is dangerous.

My colleague Kelly Wilz of UW Marshfield/Wood County has written powerfully and bravely about this war, about the ways that our state lawmakers as well as ordinary citizens have come to see their problems embodied by education, teachers in particular. The war against bookishness is part of a broader assault on public education taking place around the United States and around the world.

In this war, students and teachers are held accountable for an economic emergency largely created by fiscal policies that devalue public institutions in favor of private profit. We are constantly told that we are irresponsible and wasteful. The very ideas that empower and transform our students are increasingly seen as extraneous to an education narrowly defined as vocational training.

The current demonization of education targets all educators as suspect, as lazy. Now, I teach American history, so I am familiar with the phenomenon of a particular population being demeaned in this way by mass media and public policy. This has happened to indigenous nations, to people of color, and to the foreign born since Europeans set foot in the New World. But as a white person, I am not accustomed to the feeling of being constantly suspect. The war on bookishness, like most such assaults, operates by making its targets feel alone and powerless.

It’s odd that bookish folks like us, often represented in children’s literature by mice, have come to seem so very dangerous. But given what is at stake in the current conflict over public education, I have decided to study bravery: a bookish approach, if ever there was one.

And here are my preliminary findings: being braver helps. When the state budget was announced last winter I was terrified. I have had tenure for over a decade, which makes me much more secure than a lot of other university employees. But still I felt the threat to my workplace, to my colleagues, to the universe in which I have invested my life’s work, such as it is.

My study is not yet conclusive, but the evidence is mounting: the courage it takes to continue speaking and writing and organizing to protect public education has the power to vanquish fear. The flowering of this kind of creative work in Wisconsin since 2011, with new blogs and organizations, protests and alliances and relationships, attests to this.

Being brave doesn’t mean we get to win. But it does mean continuing the process of creative transformation that the current powers that be oppose so virulently. The flowering of creative work in our current climate is itself a form of public education, keeping the faith in a time of war.

Learning to Be Brave: Back to School Edition

Don’t Mourn….Keep on Keeping On

Here I take up where an earlier post, Don’t Mourn (May 30), left off. In that post, I argued that the impending passage of Act 55, with its evisceration of tenure and faculty governance in the University of Wisconsin system, would give faculty and staff new grounds to organize broadly across the university. Access to the security of the tenure track has been limited over the past twenty years; growing numbers of contingent university faculty and staff work with far more limited protection. The attack on the UW system, then, creates an opportunity for tenured and tenure track faculty to work together with academic staff: to take care of each other.
In that post, I wrote: “Without tenure, all faculty become contingent laborers. Regardless of rank or tenure, we can all be laid off or terminated for ‘budgetary or programmatic’ reasons created by the Chancellor and administration. These ‘reasons’ will be determined outside of the oversight of faculty governance. We will have little power to resist these decisions. Unless we stand together.”
This post considers the question of organizing after our rights to do so have been abrogated at the state level. Where did those rights come from, historically? How might the historical origins of political power direct us to new sources of it?

Workers in Wisconsin no longer have a state-certified right to form unions and to have a say in the conditions of our labor. The loss of collective bargaining happened for public employees – teachers and city bus drivers, university professors and sanitation workers, graduate students and state park rangers– with Act 10, introduced as one of the first acts of the newly elected Governor, Scott Walker back in 2011. Subsequently, after he was re-elected in 2014, Walker introduced so-called “Right to Work” legislation, which effectively terminated collective bargaining for those working in the private sector.

UW faculty and staff in the UW system lost the right to collective bargaining in 2011, along with other public employees. In addition, faculty governance has now been eviscerated by Act 55, which effectively takes tenure and faculty governance out of state statute and places them in the hands of the Board of Regents. It renders faculty governance merely “advisory,” thereby potentially truncating our power to participate in setting the university policies that govern the conditions of our labor.

Clearly, these policies target workplace democracy. The policies that curtail collective bargaining and governance intend to silence the voices of all those who work in Wisconsin. A state without collective bargaining and faculty governance is a state in which administrators and employers reign, unchecked.

Wisconsin has a long tradition of democratic university governance and labor representation. The first civil service, public employee union formed here in 1932: the Wisconsin State Employees Union. In 1935, this union benefitted from the national Wagner Act, which certified the role of the federal government in protecting the rights of workers to organize. Landmark legislation, the Wagner Act recognized unions as partners with employers and government in maintaining safe and productive workplaces. While it excluded domestic and agricultural workers, many of whom were people of color and recent immigrants, the Wagner Act became a bulwark for the ongoing attempt to create workplace democracy.

Like collective bargaining, faculty governance has deep roots in Wisconsin. Early in the twentieth century, the University of Wisconsin received national renown for the central role played by faculty in setting academic policy. During the worst of the Great Depression, as the university contended with economic emergency, the role of faculty governance expanded. Shortly after the creation of the vast University of Wisconsin system in 1971, the state legislature passed a Merger Implementation Act (1974). Based on the evolution of faculty governance on the separate campuses that came to form the system, this law created a gold standard for the participation of faculty in university affairs.

Rights to collective bargaining and university governance evolved out of existing practices. Employees concerned about their job security in 1932 did not wait for the state or the federal government to ratify their right to organize: they formed a union. The eight-hour day and the weekend enjoyed by many American workers over the course of the twentieth century were secured by labor unions without the benefit of federally approved collective bargaining.
Similarly, by 1974, UW faculty and academic staff had been attending faculty meetings and participating in decision making on Wisconsin campuses. The Merger Implementation Act ratified the rights of faculty and staff to do what they were doing already: to participate in the decisions shaping their workplace.

Both the Wagner Act of 1935 and the Merger Implementation Act of 1974 responded to what was already happening. These important acts did not give us the right to self-governance: they recognized these rights because workers were already asserting them.

With the founding of the UWM chapter of the American Association of University Professionals, faculty, academic staff and graduate students, together, commence the work of asserting our rights, even in the difficult political climate of Wisconsin. We organize under the aegis of the well-respected national AAUP, which has so often been an arbiter of just practices in higher education.

We come together to defend and continue the proud tradition of the Wisconsin Idea: the notion that a democratically run university serves the interest of the entire state. In the UW tradition, we will strive to maintain workplace democracy at the university.

Join us!

Don’t Mourn….Keep on Keeping On