The No Confidence Movement


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.


The No Confidence Movement

Fear Itself


It’s hard to explain the constant fear to folks living outside of the particular terrordrome that UW has become in the past year and a half.

I frequently wake up in the middle of the night, terrified that I will lose my job: because of the program closures now legitimated for educational OR economic considerations; because of something I have said publicly; because of something I don’t even know about yet but that is out there and coming for me, for my job, for the economic security of my family. Recently, during one of these night terrors, my husband, also a UWM professor, listened to my fears of reprisal for being outspoken at a campus meeting and then said, consolingly: “Oh, baby. That’s not why you’re going to get fired.”

As a tenured professor I have much more job security many other UW employees. Because of the funding cuts, many contingent faculty and staff stand imminently to lose their appointments, or economically vital percentages of them. But the current onslaught against academic freedom, shared governance and general funding for public education makes all university labor more precarious, regardless of professional status.

I am not alone in this fear. A lot of us UW employees lay awake in the night, worrying: What does the future hold for us?  Should we be looking for other jobs? Other fields? Other lives entirely?  Each announced departure of cherished friends and colleagues makes those of us sticking it out wonder what on earth we are doing.

History, at least, names the rats clever enough to leave a sinking ship. Those who stay on board are not mentioned.

In his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously addressed the fear gripping many in the United States because of the Great Depression.   He described “the nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” and then proceeded to diagnose the nation’s woes as the result of economic inequality. FDR prescribed a course of hard work: collective action for national recovery.

Maybe FDR was right about that.  At least, since the wave of no confidence resolutions began two weeks ago, I have been sleeping much better.   It is like something familiar is suddenly missing, like when you lose a tooth and your tongue continually drifts to that part of your gum, searching for it.  However temporarily, the fear is gone.

Let me be clear: I do not think a wave of no-confidence resolutions will fix eighteen months of direct assault on UW, nor the decades of underfunding that preceded them. I do not underestimate the forces arrayed against public education, public employees in general in this state, nor the fact that Wisconsin policymakers crib from a well-funded and widely shared playbook on austerity politics and shock doctrine. Which is to say, I am confident that this hiatus is temporary and that my well-f0unded fear will return.

But what we have seen in the past two weeks is precisely what FDR called for in his inaugural address: an enhanced spirit of solidarity, or what Roosevelt called “interdependence.” Across the UW system, different campuses with widely divergent resources have thrown in together to strategize and craft no-confidence resolutions. This work has been recognized in the media as well as on the street. Suddenly the idea that budget-cutting politicians speak for a public that “hates” the university and is unwilling to support it is much less viable.

Across the UW system, across the state, across K-12 and higher education, the most important resource that we have in this long and difficult struggle is one and other.  That is how we will survive this time, or even sleep through the night.

It takes courage for people to organize and vote for no confidence resolutions. But these votes are how we begin to stand together to defend democratic public education against the cruel inequality FDR diagnosed over eighty years ago. Like the man said, the only thing to fear is fear itself.




Fear Itself

No Confidence!


Last week, faculty at UW-Madison, La Crosse and UW-River Falls voted in favor of resolutions of no confidence in University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents. A wave of such resolutions will sweep across the state in coming weeks, on the docket in faculty bodies in  Milwaukee, Green Bay, Superior, Stevens Point and at the UW-Colleges.

A symbolic action, these resolution highlight faculty alarm over the effects of fiscal austerity on the university system.By publicly decrying the current direction of the UW system, we collectively affirm the best and most democratic values of the Wisconsin Idea: maximum access to education for everyone.

Like many of my colleagues, I have had no confidence in the current regime for over a year: from the first announcements of the massive budget cuts in January, 2015, to the passage of Act 55 in June of that year, to Ray Cross’ ill-starred advocacy of turning the university into a public authority, to the false governance promises of faculty bodies convened, and then deliberately ignored and downright circumvented by the Board of Regents.

But we are used to the slow process of shared governance. So we have been patient, assessing the situation, trying to actively participating in improving it: waiting it out.

We are no strangers to hard work.We have attended listening sessions and meetings, participated in task forces and organized teach-ins, researched and written op-eds and fact sheets and press releases.

And now, in concert with colleagues across the system, with consciousness of all we have lost and stand to lose,  it finally makes sense to say it: No Confidence, rippling across the state, and beyond.

Voting for these resolutions, faculty reject the austerity imposed by the Wisconsin state legislature on public higher education.  For example: state monies funded 40% of UWM’s budget in 1996; currently, they account for 13%, making UWM more reliant on tuition than some private colleges. Dwindling funding of our public university system has resulted in a terrible math, in which education becomes a  politically imposed zero sum game. In order to survive the spread sheets, each campus, each college, each department and program must calculate immediate savings above any long-term endeavor or educational objective.

In the cruel political calculus of austerity, a state-mandated freeze on tuition has responded to widespread and justified discontent with the increased cost of a college education.  But because this freeze has been accompanied by radical cuts to public funding, students are likely to pay the already too-high tuition, only to find their access to the resources they need to succeed in college severely limited. This, in turn, compels them to spend more time completing their education, which then costs them more in tuition.  Funding the freeze instead would mean increasing state appropriations for education to lower tuition and increase student access to the fine education still afforded by the UW system.

The terrible math of austerity is accompanied by a moral language that begins with the state legislature and Board of Regents and reverberates on down, through  regents, system and campus administrators into departments, offices and classrooms. As my colleague Chuck Ryback points out, this moral language elevates supposed fiscal values like the much-vaunted “flexibility” over non-market based, educational calculations. The moral language of austerity pits education and educators against budget-slashing legislators and those who carry their water, like the Board of Regents and the UW System administration.

By voting no confidence, faculty lift up an alternative moral language to the one imposed by fiscal austerity.  Universities in states like Missouri and Alabama have recently repudiated austerity in favor of funding public education.This is possible for Wisconsin as well.

We affirm that it is a sacred trust to work as a public employee, because it means that our labor serves and is funded by the people of our state.  In light of that sacred trust, we assert the values of the Wisconsin Idea: that maximizing access to an education driven by the fearless “sifting and winnowing” of research is part of a functioning democracy .

Over the long course of the past year and a half, we have seen countless examples of democracy in action, in defense of the UW system and of public education in our state.  Widespread public outrage caused Governor Walker to falter in his initial attempt to change the language of the Wisconsin Idea. Across the system, students have protested the effects of austerity, rallying against the cuts and tuition hikes. In February, forty  Blackout protesters attended the Board of Regents to advocate for students of color at UW; they were not allowed to speak or even to give their list of demands to the convened body.

By voting no confidence, we side with the students,  who know that austerity limits their futures.  This moment belongs to all of us. Our dynamism and creativity stands against the  grim horizon offered by undemocratic, corporate vision of the Board of Regents and President Cross.

A vote of no confidence is a vote for a democratic future, a vote to lift the pall that has fallen over our state in the past five years.  It is at once a small, symbolic act and the beginning of a sea change: a hope for unity and vision against the regime of cynicism and cruelty.




No Confidence!

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