All posts by Joel Berkowitz

About Joel Berkowitz

Center director, teacher, theatre historian, translator, co-founder of yiddishstage.org. Proud supporter of the Wisconsin Idea.

Formal Retraction of Statement Regarding Public Utterances by Dr. Betsy Schoeller

On July 5th, the UWM AAUP chapter issued a statement regarding comments made by Dr. Betsy Schoeller on Facebook and the ensuing events surrounding those comments. The statement was subsequently removed because (a) it was inadvertently posted prior to being vetted by all members of the Executive Committee, contrary to normal procedures; and (b) in calling for sanctions against Dr. Schoeller, it went beyond the limited role the AAUP should have in such cases, which would be to ensure that established faculty governance procedures are followed in case formal grievance proceedings were initiated against her.

Chapter leadership acknowledges the poor decision in posting such a statement before it had been properly discussed and deliberated upon, and apologizes for this misstep and any grievance it may have caused Dr. Schoeller. We also emphasize that the retracted statement does not reflect this chapter’s view on how any controversy that might arise out of an instructor’s public utterances should be handled in future.

Selected Resources to Help Teachers, Students, & Others Weather the Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of our lives, from how, where, and even whether we work or study right now; to how we socialize and entertain ourselves; and even to how we shop for our daily needs. Some of those changes may be temporary, though many of us are already talking of having lost track of time, since the schedules most of us previously had in place have gone out the window. Other changes will be long-lasting, in ways that feel difficult to imagine right now.

One thing we know for certain is that higher education, and indeed K-12 education along with it, operates at least for the moment in markedly different ways than it did even a week ago. Again, countless people–instructors, students, parents, administrators, support staff–are scrambling to figure out the implications of these changes on a daily basis. At the same time, we find ourselves turning simultaneously into armchair epidemiologists, learning how the disease works and spreads; overnight experts in distance learning, whether that be by teaching courses, taking courses, or helping our children learn–or possibly all three at once; practitioners of social distancing, figuring out how to foster the bonds that are so fundamental to our humanity even when they’re devoid of literal human touch; navigators of a world whose brick-and-mortar businesses are increasingly scaling back or shutting down; and players of numerous other roles we never imagined playing until recently.

These cataclysmic changes have sparked many lively conversations among academics suddenly figuring out — often with extraordinary support from pedagogy and IT staff — how to move face-to-face courses online for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. The logistics and implications of that dramatic shift in turn spark many other ones. We in the UWM AAUP therefore thought it would be helpful to offer the list below of resources for tips on online teaching, information about the pandemic, and other tools for simply getting through the day with body and mind reasonably intact.

All of us in the UWM AAUP send best wishes during this challenging time.

Teaching, learning, UWM responses, & higher ed more broadly

Academic Preparedness for Teaching and Learning | UWM Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online

UW Extended Campus COVID-19 Teaching Resources

Move Your Course Online for Spring 2020 (self-paced course)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PlagueAverse/ (tips/discussions for moving from f2f to online)

Home – 2019 Novel Coronavirus Information [UW-Milwaukee’s responses to the crisis]

Coronavirus Information for Higher Ed: higher-ed and other resources from the AAUP

Resource List for Distance Learning & Research (Hesburgh Libraries, Notre Dame)

Activities for parents, kids, and everyone else

Wisconsin coronavirus: Spectrum offers students free internet access

12 Museums From Around the World That You Can Visit Virtually | Travel + Leisure

Great list of ideas for family activities 

Live Stream Schedule | 58th [Ann Arbor Film Festival, March 24 – 29]

Mental and physical well-being

Wellness Resources for Students by Kristin Kiely 

Beat Your Isolation Loneliness (The Happiness Lab podcast) 

A Pause for Your Wellness

Resources for information and updates about COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 [World Health Organization] 

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

COVID-19 #CoronaVirus Infographic Datapack

How to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus When Grocery Shopping

Tips on Studenting While Quarantined

British Columbia COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool

Comic relief

Welcome to Your Hastily Prepared Online College Course

If Coronavirus Doesn’t Kill Us, Distance Learning Will (an Israeli mother’s rant) 

Lavatevi Le Mani… (humorous Italian PSA)

Response to Babson College’s Firing of Mr. Asheen Phansey

The UWM AAUP is deeply concerned by the news of Babson College’s termination of Mr. Asheen Phansey, who had taught there as an adjunct professor in its MBA program since 2008, and Director of Sustainability since early 2019. The college fired Mr. Phansey just days after he posted sardonic comments on his Facebook page in response to Donald Trump’s threat to bomb 52 sites of cultural significance in Iran should that country attack any American citizens or assets. In response, Mr. Phansey wrote, “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?”

It is clear that Mr. Phansey’s remarks on a social media site in no way advocated violence. Just as Jonathan Swift was not advocating the poor be eaten in “A Modest Proposal,” commenting on the childhood squalor in 18th-century British-ruled Ireland, it is abundantly evident that Mr. Phansey’s remarks were a commentary on the threat made by President Trump to destroy cultural sites in Iran. This threat was later rescinded by President Trump by his own recognition that such an act would have been illegal. 

Whether one applauds or approves of Mr. Phansey’s sense of humor is beside the point. Long-established standards of academic freedom, as well as due process, make it clear that the college’s actions are both wrongheaded and hasty. The AAUP’s 1964 “Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances” speaks to key issues at play in Mr. Phansey’s situation:

The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for continuing service. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s record as a teacher and scholar. In the absence of weighty evidence of unfitness, the administration should not prefer charges…

Babson’s administration claims to have undertaken a “thorough investigation” of Mr. Phansey’s comments before reaching its decision to terminate his employment. That claim cannot be taken seriously. The Facebook post that prompted the “investigation” appeared on January 5. The college announced on January 8 that it was suspending him with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation. The next day, it announced that it was firing him for his statement.

Committee A’s 1964 statement speaks to obvious due-process violations here as well. “In cases involving … charges [that a faculty member has breached obligations to the institution in his or her public utterances], it is essential that the hearing should be conducted by an appropriate–preferably elected–faculty committee…” The college would not have had time to assemble such a committee in this case, much less give that committee the time and space to carefully review all the facts before considering whether to terminate a colleague’s employment.

For the above reasons, we join the chorus of voices calling for Babson College to reconsider its actions and restore Mr. Phansey to the positions he previously held there.

Our Response to the UW System’s Title & Total Compensation Plan

The UWM AAUP deplores the recent announcement of imminent changes to UWM instructional academic staff job titles under the UW System’s Title and Total Compensation (TTC) plan. This initiative, being carried out through a reported $900,000 arrangement with Mercer Consulting, plans to collapse the three titles of Associate Lecturer, Lecturer, and Senior Lecture into the single title of Lecturer. The process that has led to this plan is deeply flawed, and the plan itself riddled with worrying implications and unanswered questions.

The plan to fold three job titles into one has not given the lecturers themselves—those who best understand their own jobs and are most directly affected by these changes—a voice in the decision-making process. Neither the lecturers nor their colleagues on the faculty, most of whose academic programs cannot function without the work our lecturers do, have been offered an opportunity to offer feedback on these proposed changes. The path to this plan thus subverts long-established norms of due process and shared governance.

Communications to academic staff from HR professionals have raised more questions than they have answered. Administrators have failed to offer a compelling rationale for:

  • why a trio of titles, each clearly defined and with a clear path to promotion from one level to the next that is accompanied by a significant boost in pay, should be collapsed into one;
  • what mechanism will exist in future to give these professionals a path to advancement, in terms of both higher compensation and titles befitting their professional achievements;
  • why professionals who have earned the title of Senior Lecturer—through years of hard work and a rigorous peer-review process—should now have that title taken from them: in essence a demotion, even if it does not affect their paychecks in the short run;
  • why lecturers have been denied an opportunity to explore, through a reasonable feedback process, the other potential negative consequences of these changes to lecturers, their students, and their academic programs.

It is little wonder, then, that numerous lecturers, at all three exisiting ranks, have come away from recent information sessions with HR staff feeling disrespected, dismissed, and demoralized.

We share our colleagues’ dismay and support a decision-making process that gives them a voice, recognizes their countless contributions to UWM, and addresses many questions that have yet to be answered. We urge the UW System to refrain from reaching a final decision on possible changes to lecturers’ job titles until all of these vitally important goals are achieved.

In solidarity with UWM instructional academic staff,

The UWM AAUP

Autocracy in the Upper Midwest

At protests on Dec. 14 over Viktor Orban’s labor ‘reforms’ in front of Budapest’s parliament. The author with Zoltán Tibori Szabó, Director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca.

by Jeffrey Sommers

Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Global Studies

UW-Milwaukee

Dear Chancellor Mone, Provost Britz, and Colleagues, 

I could not attend this week’s Faculty Senate meeting as I was in Riga, where I ran an event designed to thwart corruption, in cooperation with the US Ambassador and the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Incidentally, while I was there, everyone from the US Ambassador on down asked me (in astonishment), “What is happening to Wisconsin?” I am in Budapest this weekend. The purpose of this travel is to convene a meeting of an event at Hungary’s Central European University, funded by the Open Society Foundations, for a project I co-direct on threats posed to democracy by authoritarian governments. Such governments have increased their reach in recent years and typically have used (and abused) constitutional procedures to advance and ensconce their power.

As you might know, this week Wisconsin was described as “Hungary on the Great Lakes” by one of the New York Times’ s top columnists. Moreover, Wisconsin billionaire ‘job creator’ Sheldon Lubar (with whom I have corresponded this past week) wrote Governor Scott Walker to decry the “conniving” (his word) of the Wisconsin GOP and the Governor’s cooperation with them as they abuse their power in acting against the public will by trying to hamstring the state’s newly elected Democratic governor, Tony Evers. Wisconsin is presently the most gerrymandered state in our republic. And here too, in Budapest, people are asking in disbelief, “What is happening in Wisconsin?” Today, as Governor Walker (against Mr. Sheldon Lubar’s counsel) signed our gerrymandered state legislature’s bills to limit democracy, I received emails from around the world from figures of note asking, “What is happening in Wisconsin?”

The work of academics historically has been to pose difficult, sometimes uncomfortable questions, not in a gratuitous, but in a serious, fashion. The search for “truth” and “improving the human condition” as articulated by UW President Charles Van Hise in 1905 are central to UW’s mission, and extend back to the Greek philosophers of antiquity. My uncomfortable question is: “Might it be incumbent upon us to review all UW policies comingfrom the System level or higher given what has been revealed as the undemocratic character of our current state government?” It’s not only UWM that is watching how we answer our current crisis of democracy, but the nation and the world. How will we respond? Make no mistake, this is a historic juncture.

Serving at Cross’s Purposes

by Richard Grusin
Distinguished Professor of English

On Pearl Harbor Day, 2018, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents dropped its own economic bomb on the people of Wisconsin, approving raises ranging from $14,421 to $72,668 for 10 of the UW System’s 13 chancellors. In the days following the December 7 meeting, social media has exploded with expressions of the emotional damage inflicted by these oversized raises.

Many University of Wisconsin faculty and staff, whose pay has remained static for roughly a decade, and who took de facto pay cuts in 2011 when Act 10 peremptorily increased individual retirement contributions by roughly 7%, filled Facebook and Twitter with complaints, shares, and retweets about these obscenely inflated raises.  Over and over again, faculty and staff decried the injustice of chancellors like UW-Madison’s Becky Blank and UW-Milwaukee’s Mark Mone receiving raises ($72,668 and $49,419 respectively) greater than the salaries of many assistant professors and full-time instructors.

Interestingly this outrage was not shared by the news media, who seemed more concerned with the possible injustice of two chancellors not receiving raises because they were being punished for actions that the Regents did not approve. In an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Karen Herzog reported, “The chancellor who hosted the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents on his campus this week has been denied a $25,600 performance raise after his reprimand for inviting a pornstar to speak to students during free speech week a month ago. The regents also did not award another chancellor, whose husband was banned fromher UW campus and stripped of an honorary, unpaid position after an investigation concluded he had sexually harassed female employees.” No mention was made in the Journal-Sentinel of the unseemliness of the large chancellor raises, nor was there any suggestion that“punishing” misbehaving chancellors was in any way problematic.

This stark divergence between local news coverage and the responses circulated widely on social media is worth examining, in part because both responses overlook what I take to be the fundamental problem with the logic of employee compensation entailed in the Regents’ decisions. For me the most troubling element of these raises is not their disproportionate size no rthe financial punishment of the chancellors who had displeased their superiors. Although I am in complete and total agreement with my fellow UW System faculty and staff at being outraged by the dollar amount of the oversized raises given to 10 of the 13 UW System chancellors, I am not surprised. And you shouldn’t be either.

Why am I not surprised?  Because as anyone who has been paying attention knows, the chancellors have been carrying water for UW System President Ray Cross and the Regents for several years now. These outsized raises are financial rewards for their not having opposed or obstructed a single top-down edict from Cross and the Regents–for their having carried out his orders like good soldiers or middle managers are expected to do. 

Put differently, what both the raises and the punishment reveal is that these raises are payoffs, ex post facto bribes, or quid pro quo rewards for UW System chancellors having accepted without objection the destruction of tenure and shared governance; repeated massive budget cuts; unfunded tuition freezes; and the break-up and distribution of the UW Colleges and Extension to the four-year, comprehensive, and doctoral campuses, aka the UW System merger.

Why didn’t chancellors object last year to this merger? Could it be because their jumbo-sized raises were made possible by money freed up by the elimination of the UW Colleges/Extension chancellor position upon their top-down dissolution? As Karen Herzog dutifully reported, these raises didn’t require an infusion of new salary money but were funded by dividing up “the $270,774 salary of former UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen, whose position was eliminated in the sweeping UW System merger.”

This might very well explain why UW System chancellors have quietly gone along with the absurdly sped-up timetable for this merger. Could it have something to do with the fact that the funds freed up from eliminating Chancellor Sandeen would be used to reward those very chancellors? You don’t really think that Friday was the first time UW System chancellors heard that those funds would be used this way, do you? I certainly don’t. 

What I find most scandalous about these raises is not how grotesquely large they were in the context of the multiple financial needs of a seriously strapped university system, nor how raises were withheld from chancellors who have earned the disapproval of Ray Cross and the Regents. No, what is most troubling to me about the economic logic of these raises is that they reveal once and for all that the role of the chancellor in the University of Wisconsin System is not to represent the interests and needs of his or her university to the UW System, but to carry out the marching orders handed down from above.

Sadly, we now have no other choice but to believe that chancellors like Becky Blank or Mark Mone have not been acting as independent academic leaders, charting the best course for their universities in difficult times. Rather UW chancellors have become little more than well-paid marionettes, whose strings are being pulled from above by Ray Cross and the Walker-appointed Board of Regents. If money indeed talks, these raises speak volumes about the true nature of academic leadership in the University of Wisconsin System.