No Confidence

Today at an unprecedented full faculty meeting, a resolution of no confidence in UW System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents passed unanimously. Coverage in the Journal Sentinel notes that almost 300 faculty attended in a room with a 175 capacity. And there’s this:

Chancellor Mark Mone said after the meeting that in his nearly 27 years as a faculty member on campus, he had never seen anything like it. “There has not been anything so important and heartfelt in that long,” the chancellor said.

Preceding the reading of the resolution, two officers in the UWM chapter of AAUP spoke. Here are their remarks:

Rachel Ida Buff, President, UWM AAUP

Colleagues:

We gather here today as bearers of a sacred trust. As stewards of the University of Wisconsin, we are the keepers of the Wisconsin Idea: that crucial, democratic notion that the “beneficent influence of the University (should) reach(es) every home in the state.”

Because of our dual mission of access and research, the Wisconsin Idea takes unique shape at UWM. And we have distinguished ourselves, earning esteem as a Research One and Engagement campus.

The Wisconsin Idea promotes educational democracy: the university is funded by and serves the public. Through our renowned and exemplary practices of shared governance, the University of Wisconsin has been a model of functioning democracy.

BUT In the past eighteen months, our ability to carry out our stewardship of the Wisconsin Idea has been impaired by a legislative assault on shared governance and academic freedom. This political assault has been accompanied by unprecedented fiscal cuts, impairing our ability to educate and serve our students.

We are no strangers to hard work. We are used to the slow process of shared governance. We have been patient, trying to actively participate in improving the situation. We have attended listening sessions and meetings; participated in task forces and surveys; researched and written analyses and op-eds and fact sheets.

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.

A vote for no confidence is a symbolic action:

By voting no confidence we assert that the current direction pursued by the Board of Regents and facilitated by UW system President Cross undermines the future of our university and of the Wisconsin Idea;

By voting no confidence we insist on the central role of shared governance, even in times of extraordinary difficulty. Without our inclusion in decision-making, we cannot believe in the integrity of the process nor work for a better outcome;

By voting no confidence we protest the intentional destruction of our internationally recognized university system. This destruction affects each of us professionally.

I have no confidence in the unprincipled duplicity of the Board of Regents and President Cross;

I have no confidence in the increased managerial control, the “flexibility” promoted throughout the UW system that compromises our collective job security and freedom of inquiry.

I have no confidence in a Research One/Engagement campus so deracinated that it cannot fulfil its vital missions.

But I have confidence in you, my colleagues. Together, we can affirm our sacred trust as public university employees, and the principled aspirations of the Wisconsin Idea.

Thank you.

Nick Fleisher, Vice-President, UWM AAUP

We are here today because we wish to speak with our System leaders and with the public about the course that UW System leadership has charted.

We are here because the course they have charted harms research, teaching, learning, and access.

In the past year, we have seen President Cross champion a hasty conversion of the UW System to a public authority, despite a near-total lack of detail on how the new entity would have worked.

We have seen the Board of Regents expressly decline to ask the Legislature to remove non-fiscal items affecting the UW System from the biennial budget.

We have seen a Tenure Policy Task Force that recommended policies which were never endorsed by its own members, and which were subsequently adopted by the Board of Regents despite their failure to comply with AAUP standards.

Thanks to intrepid reporting by Wisconsin journalists, we have learned that President Cross and the Regents worked actively to limit faculty input into those policies.

We have learned, most recently, that President Cross wrote approvingly to Regent Behling about “the real value of removing tenure-related policies from statutory language.”

He added that tenure should not protect faculty “when they are no longer needed in a discipline,” all while supporting policies that allow financial considerations to determine the educational needs of the institution.

And he falsely attributed to faculty the view that tenure is a “job for life,” a talking point repeated by Governor Walker in a press release issued earlier today.

All the while, our campuses have been dealing with unfunded mandates on top of massive budget cuts that harm our students’ education.

We have seen no sign of a plan from President Cross or the Regents for how to stem the tide of state funding cuts.

On the contrary, we have seen new policies meant to enable managerial flexibility: far from appeasing the Legislature, such policies are an invitation to further cuts.

Through all of this, we have seen President Cross and the Regents characterize our continual state of fiscal austerity as if it were an inevitable force of nature, rather than a deliberate political choice.

Such leadership inspires no confidence.

If we lack confidence in our leadership, we must not be afraid to say so publicly.

We must not let fear of reprisal prevent us from bringing our concerns to light.  To do so would be an abdication of our duty to the public whom we serve.

So today, we are here to advocate for those things that have made our university great and that will sustain it in the future.

We are here to advocate for those things that ensure student access to a world-class education in Wisconsin, and that affirm the University of Wisconsin as a truly public good.

Academic freedom and tenure, which is its guarantor; shared governance of the institution; access and affordability for students: these are matters on which there can be no flexibility.

To all appearances, and to the University’s great detriment, President Cross and the Regents have acted as if to carry out the designs of those who appointed them.  Today, echoing the recent comments of the president of the Association of Governing Boards, we call on them to remember “their responsibility as fiduciaries to care for the system.”

Together with students, staff, and colleagues across Wisconsin, we stand in defense of a great public University that is under attack.

Thank you.

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