Wisconsin: The Bagman Cometh

As the faculties at one University of Wisconsin system campus after another vote “no confidence” in the leadership of system head Ray Cross and the Board of Regents, new evidence has emerged to demonstrate that, despite public claims by Cross that under his leadership “the substance of tenure was simply moved from statute to board policy,” behind the scenes he and the regents knew quite well that this was not true, writing to each other that “the program discontinuance debate has exposed the real value of removing tenure-related policies from statutory language.”  But I’ll let University of Wisconsin-Green Bay English professor Chuck Rybak’s blog explain: 

UW Struggle: The Bagman Cometh

Posted on May 9, 2016 by Chuck Rybak

I’m going to keep this relatively short, which is rare. Why?

I only have one point to make, and regardless of how this whole UW kerfuffle turns out, it’s important that Wisconsinites know one thing: faculty were right, all along, without fail, about the intentions and purpose for the striking of tenure from state statute. This is irrelevant in regards to how you feel about the actual nature of the changes; that is an entirely different debate. Here is what is not debatable: one side has been consistently honest and open about their concerns and intentions, and the other has not been. Period.

How do we know? Over to you Pat Schneider, who will now directly quote UW President Ray Cross’s email to Regent John Behling: 

Cross-EmailIf you haven’t been following closely, this email directly contradicts previous statements about what was being done with the tenure changes and why. (Not to mention, faculty have never/nowhere argued they should have a “job for life.” That is a legislative soundbite. Also, a “union argument”…What?)

Again, faculty were right all along. How?

Public Cross: “It’s frustrating to me that the emotional reaction on the part of some folks failed to realize the substance of tenure was simply moved from statute to board policy.” (Emphasis mine)

Email Cross (above): “This program discontinuance debate has exposed the real value of removing tenure-related policies from statutory language.” (Emphasis mine)

Any questions?

Public Cross: Faculty have an “emotional reaction” to an inconsequential change.

Email Cross: Our goal is to get rid of people who “are no longer needed in a discipline.”

Any questions?

Again, the point here is not whether or not you despise professors and think these changes are actually good, don’t go far enough, etc. The point, which I believe is important because the Wisconsin Idea makes a reference or two to truth, is this: faculty were honest, and when all was revealed, right about what is happening, why it is happening, and what the real agenda is. UW Central and the Board of Regents were not honest about this and there is no denying it.

Faculty and staff are simply not respected as employees or people. We are just another rhetorical front to be managed. Let’s just say that, like many faculty members, it’s hard to read such an email from your leader and see your concerns so completely diminished and the integrity of your efforts taken so lightly. It hurts, a lot.

Still not convinced? Let me, as a humanist, quote the text one last time:

Public Cross on process of creating a new tenure policy: “UW System President Ray Cross said after the meeting that the regents are still open to suggestions for wording changes.”

Behind closed doors?: “Emails obtained by the Capital Times through an open records request reveal that staying on message and tamping down opposition on the tenure issue were priorities for top UW system officials….Regent Tim Higgins messaged Behling and regent president Regina Millner that day about putting off the entreaties of the UW-Whitewater leader of a system-wide effort to amend tenure policy proposals before the vote. ‘I believe that it’s important that all Regents support the task force recommendations as presented,’ Higgins wrote.”

Again, any questions?

Look, you can say a lot of things about faculty, I get it, I really do, but you can’t say we lie. We have honestly and openly made our arguments, with evidence, about this situation. Whether right or wrong, we were the only genuine contributors and that demonstrates a lot about who the public should be listening to and trusting right now—we’re honest about our work, and more importantly, we’re honest when we go to work. There is no mystery about our intentions–just refer to the Wisconsin Idea.

I can only add that how the “UW kerfuffle turns out” is far from settled.  Faculty at Wisconsin have not sat idly by as their rights and, even more important, the quality of education they can offer Wisconsin students are assaulted.  And they will continue to engage these issues with the support of the national AAUP.  Of course, faculty are not brakemen, who by the way were indeed laid off, and tenure is not a “job for life.”  Moreover, speaking of job tenure, Cross would be well advised to begin preparing for the much-desired end of his. 


4 thoughts on “Wisconsin: The Bagman Cometh

  1. Shameful behavior and intent on the part of Cross, the Regents and legislators. Thank you for publishing the excerpts and pointing out the differences in what was pretence and what was actual.

  2. While it is gratifying to see Cross and the regents exposed, I think their intentions were never in doubt. And I doubt that much can be done to stop this attack on tenure, which is being replicated in various ways across the country. Here at NYU the attack has taken the form of a proclamation by the administration that salary is not a tenure issue and that economic security does not guarantee any specific salary; therefore the salaries of tenured faculty can be reduced at the discretion of the administration. Attempts by the faculty to intervene have thus far failed, and a recent lawsuit against NYU for breech of contract was dismissed. The decision is being appealed with the help of the AAUP. I feel that what we need now is a national effort in addition to the efforts at individual colleges and universities.

  3. This is a momentous week at UW as the cascade of no confidence moves along. But the ‘faculty were right all along narrative’ does not sit well. It’s more like, faculty have been pulled into their own struggle finally, lead at times by graduate students and staff who already know how precarity feels and have been there, sometimes risking more. That’s ok. We have a unique opportunity to organize now and I’m glad a line in the sand has been drawn. Like all workers (*gasp*) sometimes faculty will lead and sometimes they will follow in the fight. We’re in this together.

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