All posts by mznewman

Telling Our Story

panther statue

During the last spring of impending budget cuts, campus leaders regularly invited students, faculty, and staff to “keep telling our story,” often by sharing official university publications with others via social media. This was a communication solution to a political problem. Ultimately the audience for our story was not only the institution, its community, and the people of the state, but the powers that be, i.e., the Republicans in control of state government. The real desired effect from this outpouring of narration was to lessen the budget pain to be meted out by the legislature. By hearing our story, they might be persuaded of our value and spare us some of the inevitable trauma.

The story we were encouraged to tell came from University Relations, which produces promotional news items, videos, and other uplifting UWM content. The campus also tells it story in advertisements, such as the one I often heard last spring claiming that UWM has 28,000 students with an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Many of the videos in the IAMUWM YouTube series, which are around a minute long, center on individual undergraduates, like the gay mechanical engineering major from Brazil who says, ”I feel like I can do anything,” and the psychology major who conquered her fear of flying with the help of a professor. These videos often tell stories of inspiring life choices and goals, some with tenuous links to academic achievement. Much of this PR is obviously directed at prospective freshmen and their parents, whose tuition dollars (many of them borrowed) are essential for our continued existence now that at least four-fifths of our expenditures are tuition-funded.

The campus twitter feed also aims at both current and prospective students, with its regular retweets of new students like this one expressing their excitement over attending UWM.

The new  panther statue in front of Enderis Hall is all about making the campus a fun place for undergrads. Everyone will want a selfie with the panther.

All of this is telling our story: that we’re an exciting place to go to school, but also that we can train you for a job (engineering, or whatever), or open your eyes to new horizons.

Of course UWM is a place of many stories, some of which we are seldom encouraged to tell. Some are stories that could hurt our status with the powers that be or inhibit enrollment — or so think our leaders. Since the cuts have dropped while enrollment has decreased and tuition has remained frozen (and not very affordable despite that), we can tell a story of a campus in financial crisis, uncertain of its future. We can tell a story of an institution where administrators give themselves raises and hire more subordinates while faculty lines go unfilled and raises for academic staff and faculty are mentioned only with many eye-rolls. We can tell the story of students who have to work so many hours, and often care for family members as well, that they don’t have enough time to succeed in school. We can tell the story of our dismal rates of retention and graduation, especially for those from less privileged backgrounds. There are so many stories, and so many that are excluded from “telling our story.”

One story we might tell more often is the political saga of a far-right state government decimating its fine education institutions for ideological reasons and to please outlandishly wealthy masters, constricting the public sector and cancelling the social contract. In response to this austerity regime, which was entirely manufactured through the agency of the state government, did our leaders say “stop this political attack”? Either out of sympathy for the ideology, or of pleasure at the new power it gives them over a subordinate and flexible workforce, or of fear of losing their own jobs, they said instead, “Thank you.” They thanked the powers that be for delivering a smaller cut than had been planned. It was like a patient saying, “thanks, doc, for not amputating all of my fingers. I really appreciate being left with the one. This is great.”

Lately, campus leaders have introduced another phrase employed in crisis management and downsizing: “investing in growth areas.” When the painful cuts to come are addressed during meetings and presentations, we are told that we will not only be cutting, we will also be strategically investing in growth areas. (Especially the ones that lead to new revenue streams, which are the holy grail of administration at the moment.) Investing in growth areas will also become our story, when we find out which areas are to be so blessed with investment. (Perhaps the cuts that “investing in growth” distract from will also figure into our story somehow.) Growth areas will be identified by a market logic: what will bring in revenue, what will yield return on investment, what will keep us out of the red. We’re not talking about growth of intellect, growth of citizenship, growth of community ties or commitment to social justice. Criteria of value will be economic even if they are also curricular. 

As a scholar and critic of the narratives of popular culture (this is my “story”) it strikes me that “telling our story” is an endeavor quite central to traditions of humanistic inquiry. Narrative is a topic of interest to a wide array of interdisciplinary scholars from English and media studies to psychology and medicine. But its reputation is squarely as a liberal arts concern. Will storytelling, and the liberal arts more generally, be among our growth areas? It could depend on which story we are interested in telling.

Michael Newman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies and an executive committee member of the UWM AAUP chapter.

Austerity at UWM: CCOET

This post is by Nicholas Fleisher, VP of the UWM AAUP chapter, and is cross-posted from Language Politics.

Budget cutting is in full swing at UW-Milwaukee. Beyond the loss of meaningful tenure protections (underscored by recent developments with the Regents’ Tenure Policy Task Force) and the gutting of shared governance, UWM faces a looming financial crisis. The crisis is the result of the massive 2015–17 biennial budget cut in combination with a variety of other factors. UWM’s chancellor, Mark Mone, has convened two groups to deal with the crisis: the Budget Planning Task Force, which has dealt with allocating the $30 million in cuts to UWM over the 2015–17 biennium, and the Chancellor’s Campus Organization and Effectiveness Team (CCOET), which is tasked with making recommendations for long-term structural changes to shrink the institution.

The bottom-line goal for CCOET is to cut $15–$20 million from UWM’s annual budget, permanently. CCOET has thus become the visible locus of austerity on campus. Its meetings, which are open to the public, are starting to attract crowds. Transparency, inclusion, and openness are the watchwords. The reality is a bit more complicated.

When asked about the relationship of CCOET to existing shared governance groups on campus, administrators have emphasized the degree to which CCOET’s membership includes representatives from those groups: the University Committee, the Faculty Senate, the Academic Staff Committee, the Student Association, and even our campus AAUP chapter all have members on CCOET. This is a canny way of constructing a committee whose membership is, in the end, dominated by administrators. Somewhat more troublingly, administrators’ responses to date indicate that this sprinkling of representatives is meant to serve as a kind of proxy for actual shared governance. It should be lost on no one that CCOET is, from a governance perspective, simply an extension of the chancellor, and that it therefore bears exactly the same relationship to other governance bodies that the chancellor himself does.

Sitting as it does in this uneasy space in the new shared governance landscape, CCOET’s role and powers have taken on a shape-shifting quality, changing to suit the purpose at hand. On the one hand, the committee is obviously meant to hash out the gory details of the campus’s downsizing: the task is enormous, with huge consequences for the institution, and all the heavies are there. On the other hand, the committee co-chairs often step back and remind us that they are simply generating recommendations to submit to the chancellor, as if to establish plausible deniability in the face of questions about adherence to established governance practices. The chancellor, meanwhile, indicated at today’s campus budget forum that he hopes to begin implementing CCOET’s recommendations within a matter of weeks after they are submitted to him in February, a timeline that holds out almost no hope of a meaningful vetting by the Faculty Senate or any other shared governance body.

The substance of those recommendations, meanwhile, remains a major unknown. CCOET has exhorted the campus community to give it its best ideas about how to restructure the campus to save money. Those calls ring hollow in the absence of detailed, interpreted, publicly available financial data on which to base such ideas. CCOET has trumpeted its transparency, and it is certainly to be commended for holding open meetings and posting meeting notes and selected data presentations on its website. But CCOET, or a subset of its members, is very obviously working with far more financial data than has been shared with the campus. This is, to some extent, inevitable: university budgeting is complex, and even the best-informed CCOET members have remarked publicly on the ways in which they have only belatedly come to understand certain aspects and implications of the data. It is not in and of itself a problem that CCOET has more data, or a clearer interpretation of the available data, than everyone else does at this point. What is a problem is that CCOET will soon be making detailed proposals on how to proceed, without the campus community (or, if last week’s meeting is any indication, even the entirety of its own membership) having had access to that same set of interpreted financial data. How can CCOET’s members, much less the broader campus community, assess the merits of a funding formula with very disparate impacts on UWM’s different schools and colleges without having had the chance to consider other possibilities? The accelerated timeline and the asymmetry of access ensure that only a select few will have an adequate factual basis for making recommendations; everything else is moot.

Meanwhile, CCOET’s recommendations will come on the heels of the FY16 and FY17 cuts enacted by the Budget Planning Task Force. The FY16 cuts were decided on over the summer, but, rather amazingly, the campus administration still does not have a comprehensive picture of what has actually been cut. Those FY16 cuts were one-time cuts in the amount of $15.7 million, coming in part from spending down the campus’s now almost entirely depleted reserves. The chancellor has now accepted the BPTF’s recommendations for the FY17 cuts, which are permanent base-budget cuts of $14.5 million, $8.8 million of which will come out of Academic Affairs. Details of the FY16 cuts have now been collected and will be shared with everyone soon; units have until Dec 23 to provide details on how they will handle the FY17 cuts. Meanwhile, CCOET is working on further permanent cuts of $15–$20 million, doing the bulk of its work without any detailed knowledge of the cuts that have gone before.

So, we are rushing headlong into an extraordinary budget-cutting process that, for all its invocation of inclusiveness and transparency, will be decided by those few who have both the information necessary to make concrete recommendations (or something approaching it) and the power to enact them. Top administrators and CCOET members insist that the research mission of the university is not on the table; but it is hard to avoid the feeling that CCOET’s work amounts to flinging the entire institution against the wall and seeing what sticks. Meanwhile, rumblings about cuts to the UW System in the 2017–19 biennium have already begun.

The Fight for $15: 10 November Day of Action

12188958_696428507159244_6760403511958066342_nOn Tuesday 10 November, there will be a Day of Action to support the Fight for $15 movementTo educate our membership and interested readers about this struggle and action, UWM AAUP invited a student activist from YES! (Youth Empowered in the Struggle) to write a guest post for our blog. This activist has requested that the post appear without attribution.

The Fight for $15 is a movement that has galvanized workers organizing for higher wages and union recognition. The Fight for $15 movement began several years ago by brave McDonald’s workers from New York. These workers demanded higher wages or “livable wages” from the giant multinational. Despite the fact that many of these employees had been working for McDonald’s for years, they still struggled to provide for their families. With the help of organizers and fellow workers, they were able to spark a national and international movement—the Fight for $15.

There have been multiple days of action that Fight for $15 workers have organized in the past several years. One of those days of action occurred earlier this year on April 15th, 2015. The Day of Action occurred in many cities throughout the U.S. including here in Milwaukee. Fast food workers and home care workers came out in support of the Fight for $15 movement. The April 15th Day of Action culminated with a rally outside of the UWM Student Union. Students, faculty, staff, and other community members from uwm attended this rally. University faculty and students showed great solidarity for the Fight for $15 movement. The Fight for $15 movement needs educators and students to unite with workers in order for the struggle for higher wages to be palpable.

On November 10th, 2015 there will be another Fight for $15 Day of Action in Milwaukee. The Day of Action will include a march from the MATC downtown campus to the Milwaukee City Hall. Now is the time for educators and students to unite with workers. Increasing the wages of fast food workers and other workers will bring positive change to our community. Workers will be able to provide for their families which will help reduce the high poverty rates of Milwaukee. Now is the time to improve our communities. Let’s show these workers that we care about them and about our community.