This is now the third time I’ve written about being harassed for being an educator, but clearly the message isn’t getting through, so I will try one more time to reason with those who spend their lives making it their duty to share their opinions regarding my profession, my areas of expertise, and the work that I do in places they have no business sharing their opinions.
In my “Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers,” I recounted this lovely incident that happened in July:
“I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: ‘Looks like gas prices have gone up!’
Me: ‘Um, yep? I guess so?’
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) ‘If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.’
I was dumbfounded. A good friend noted, ‘Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it around into mistaken and misplaced class rage. That is truly sociopathic.‘ Agreed. This man, this complete stranger, felt it necessary to make sure I knew how much he hated me. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I know it has happened to others. Example? One friend got punched in the face at a bar by a 70 year old man for simply trying to correct misinformation regarding faculty salaries. Let me repeat that. Punched in the face by a 70 year old man.”
In August, I wrote about this message which appeared in my inbox:
“‘I saw online that you are leaving UW because of working conditions. I had a look at your ‘areas of expertise’ and I have to say I am delighted you are leaving. People with your ‘areas of expertise’ are like roaches, destroying what used to be great in American universities. I hope other states copy Governor Walker’s reforms — they may actually save higher education. -Rachelle.’ Yes. You read that correctly. A complete stranger tracked down my email address and sent me this message. I did not reply to her. I guess ‘Communication Studies’ is now what is destroying great American universities. And, to those of you who don’t believe that those in education aren’t harassed on a daily basis, demonized, and have to put up with this *simply because we are teachers* you are living in a fantasy world. The actual blog is here, and nowhere did I mention personally leaving the UW System because of working conditions–I was writing about all the great faculty, one of my dear friends in particular, who are leaving because of the hostile political climate towards educators in Wisconsin. Thank you, Rachelle, for proving my point.”
And now this morning, on my second day of work, I received this:
“Dear Ms. Wilz, I read your letters on the mass exodus of academic employees from the UW System and I find your views to be disappointing and immature at their best. Education is about teaching, not money, not tenure, etc. for those who chose the occupation to serve others. The private sector does not enjoy the benefits that teachers such as yourself enjoy. This is tough times for our country financially and the educational system is broken, including the UW System. I recently had a conversation with a previous UW Educator who like others you mention has “jumped ship” for a MI Univ. and sadly brought others with him to the university. I no longer support my old alma mater that is being led by people who are selfish and closed minded. I recently moved back to MI after living in Wisconsin Rapids for 15 years. I am a registered nurse with a background in oncology. Nursing is and never will be an easy job. We don’t enjoy a lot of the benefits that you enjoy as a teacher, but I did it anyway. I chose the field to serve others, not myself. Sincerely, Nancy J Coffeen P.S. If you are going to put your opinion out there, I don’t think you should complain when others do not share yours as you highlighted in the most recent column. P.S.S I do believe pride comes before the fall.”
Granted, of all these encounters, this one was definitely the most “tame,” but again filled with misinformation, assumptions, generalizations, and overall disdain for me, my profession, and anyone who would dare to consider “jumping ship” (her words) during a time like this.
To put this in context, it was incredibly difficult to go to work yesterday. The week before was filled with meetings where much of the work we plan to do may be completely meaningless when the full implementation of the regionalization of the UW Colleges kicks in. We were told that revenue is down because enrollments are down (maybe we should have rethought the idea of eliminating all those recruiting positions), and that one answer to that would be to *create apps* that we could sell to the public. That this is not a time of uncertainty, but opportunity!
I, like so many of my colleagues right now didn’t want to go to work yesterday. Because all I have left are my students. All I have left is getting to interact with them and the minute I step out of the classroom, reality sets in, and I dread even opening my inbox.
So when you are already in a mindset where simply being on your campus causes you stress and anxiety, the last thing you need is strangers entering that territory and adding to that. The last thing you need is strangers entering your inbox.
Governor Walker, I have to hand it to you–you have done a bang up job at convincing the citizens of Wisconsin that teachers are responsible for all of societal’s ills. They feed on the misinformation you gave them, and it gets uglier with every year that goes by. So given that there still remains (as evidenced by this lovely email) gross misinformation regarding benefits, tenure, and why someone would dare leave a state that has consistently shit on them for a number of years, let me attempt to also rectify some of the myths regarding those of us who teach in higher education in the hopes that even if I’m preaching to the choir, that choir will have some accurate information to share with our educator hating strangers. My wonderful friend took the time to break down Nancy’s email, and with his permission, I’ll share that here to point out the logic behind some of her claims:
Let’s break this down:
“…The private sector does not enjoy the benefits that teachers such as yourself enjoy.”
Therefore, if I can’t have it, you shouldn’t.
“This is tough times for our country financially and the educational system is broken, including the UW System.”
Clearly it’s caused by those greedy professors who hog all the tenure and make all that sweet sweet dough.
“I recently had a conversation with a previous UW Educator who like others you mention has “jumped ship” for a MI Univ. and sadly brought others with him to the university.”
Yeah, you never talked to anyone because if you did you would know how bad the job market is.
“I no longer support my old alma mater that is being led by people who are selfish and closed minded.”
You mean like yourself? Someone who doesn’t want other people to have tenure because she doesn’t and who refuses to see the issue for what it is?
“I recently moved back to MI after living in Wisconsin Rapids for 15 years. I am a registered nurse with a background in oncology. Nursing is and never will be an easy job. We don’t enjoy a lot of the benefits that you enjoy as a teacher, but I did it anyway. I chose the field to serve others, not myself.”
Did you write the whole pride goes before the fall thing for yourself because that previous paragraph seems pretty self serving.
“Sincerely, Nancy J Coffeen P.S. If you are going to put your opinion out there, I don’t think you should complain when others do not share yours as you highlighted in the most recent column.”
Then you should not get upset if she posts your name in public.
“P.S.S I do believe pride comes before the fall.”
See previous paragraph about how you go on and on about what a great person you are for helping people and not getting tenure for it.”
Next, let’s talk about those benefits.
1) Pensions and healthcare: Another very intelligent friend of mine reminded me that “The pension is deferred compensation, and is 100% funded by money earned by the person benefiting. It’s not a freebie. And employer-subsidized health insurance actually is a standard benefit for employees of big companies. The level of total compensation for educators is quite a bit less than those with comparable education, training, and credentials receive in the private sector. And employees of private corporations don’t have to dip into their own pocket for supplies they need do their job like educators.” In addition, as another wonderful friend pointed out, “Many private sector employees also benefit from matched contributions to a retirement account, bonuses, and paid vacation time.” Facts!
2) The need and importance of tenure: See my blog here. Also, to see how tenure works now, please read my friend Chuck Rybak’s blog on “pretendure.” As points out, “By pointing out that tenure has become ‘pretendure,’ Rybak is staking a rhetorical claim to combat political theater. His position is not altogether wrong. Though tenure still formally exists, it has been hollowed out and rendered toothless. Tenure is too often mistaken for a sinecure, i.e. a job in name only, whereas its true function is to protect intellectual freedom for those whose work challenges prevailing power structures. Given that in April 2015, a gag order was placed on the entire staff of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, forbidding them from ‘working on or even talking about climate change on state time,’ it is not inconceivable that an atmospheric scientist at Madison could be summarily fired simply for collecting data measuring the earth’s temperature.” Need more evidence of the importance of tenure and academic freedom? Read this. All of it.
3) Those six figure bloated faculty salaries: as I’ve stated now more times than I can count, “This year state employees were informed that our main out-of-pocket health care costs will double next year to avoid the ACA tax on ‘Cadillac Benefit Plans.’ However, unlike other state employees across the nation who have the right to collectively bargain, this decision was just made and will be implemented in January of 2016 with no say from faculty or staff. This, is essentially, yet another pay cut. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t make a six figure salary nor will I ever if I spend the rest of my lifetime working in the Colleges. Starting salaries of a professor with a Ph.D. remain at $43,000 and have stagnated. The highest paid professor with a Ph.D. at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, after 23 years of experience and service to our campus, makes $65,521.00. Most of my colleagues have second jobs, some at other institutions and others in any part time job available. Several who work full time on my campus and at other institutions are eligible for food stamps and reduced priced lunch programs for their children. They live paycheck to paycheck, working as line cooks and waitresses. They continue to pay off student loans and will do so for the next 25+ years at our rate of pay. Just the other day, a tenured faculty member asked if I’d be a reference on her application to Family Video. I bartended for several years during the summer to help pay off my student loans and make sure I didn’t find myself further in debt. As awkward as it was to have my students see me behind a bar, sadly, I couldn’t afford to leave that job because I made more serving alcohol than teaching in the UW System.”
I did not go into teaching for financial gain, however, as one friend put it, “Did you miss the form where you took the vow of poverty to be allowed to serve the public?”
So to those who feel incredibly inclined to fill our inboxes with your opinions, don’t. Really, just don’t. You only reinforce what we in education know to be true–that there is a plethora of anti-intellectualism/anti-educator sentiment here in Wisconsin and across the nation.
So if you feel the urge to fill my inbox, or the inboxes of my fellow colleagues, take a breath, take a step back, and please adhere to the following rules:
1. In a blog, there is this thing called the “comments section.” If you disagree with what I/we post publicly, on my blog or elsewhere, this is where it is appropriate to share your views.
2. It is not appropriate to email me or others with whom you disagree at work and share your views there. In fact, every time you choose to engage in this behavior, you are proving our point regarding the hostile climate towards educators in Wisconsin and across the country.
3. If you still feel it necessary to email me and my colleagues at work and “share your views,” know that I will post them publicly, here.
4. I receive roughly 100 emails a day (on a slow day), and will not respond to you because it is not a constructive use of my time. Clearly, you believe taking time out of your day to email me is a constructive use of your time. I’m sorry you seem to feel that way. It is not.
5. If you think by emailing me you will intimidate me or my colleagues into not writing, you are wrong. In fact, if you’re lucky enough, you will probably make it into my next blog. Congratulations, Nancy!
In truth, this is despicable behavior and I have no tolerance for it. Again, I choose to be a public figure, to put myself out there, and expect comments and those who will inevitably disagree with me. I also recognize the harassment I have received is tame compared to other colleagues who receive emails like this *every day.* To journalists and bloggers who receive death threats and worse. But it’s unacceptable. And it’s time to stop. Be a human being. What is your end goal? To quote another friend, “So if you dare to voice an opinion, you are deserving of vitriol and personal public condemnation, as well as weirdly threatening closing statements? What do people expect you to say? Oh wait! I am totally convinced that we should all stay in Wisconsin and submit to a well-earned (by receiving such benefits as health insurance and not getting paid in the summers while being expected to work) drubbing from anyone in the state who has ever heard of public education (although who has clearly never worked in the field).” If your goal is to silence us, it won’t work. We will continue to write and voice our opinions regarding what we see as the decline and dismantling of a system we hold so dear.
So to educator hating strangers, I beg of you, please stop. It’s hard enough out here. And if you really, really need to get those opinions off your chest, again, there is a comments section for that. At least at work, where I’m trying to just do my job and get through the day, please, please stay out of my inbox.