All posts by Rachelida

About Rachelida

Writer, historian, mother; public employee in the embattled UW system

Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights

Law Balance Icon PNG Transparent Background, Free Download #10041 -  FreeIconsPNG

Fall, 2020

As we all adjust to the rapidly changing climate of higher education during a global pandemic and the associated economic duress, we, as academic workers, demand the strongest possible democratic process in system- and campus-wide decision making. Security in our positions, safety in the work environment, autonomy over instruction, and faith in the administration to support academic workers and engage in democratic decision-making permit us to better serve students so they can be put front and center in our work and service rather than fighting for our livelihoods. The principles set forth in this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights align with the calls for a radically welcoming campus and the values of equity and social justice that have been set forth by UWM administrators.

Academic workers include tenured and probationary faculty, contingent faculty, teaching academic staff, lecturers, librarians, support staff, and graduate students. Longstanding AAUP policy holds that anyone who has worked at the same institution, or within the same University System, at 50% or more for 6 years should have job security analogous to tenure. 

Decisions affecting academic workers should be made with the maximum amount of input possible. We need to go beyond the rhetoric of town halls and ritualistic consultation with governance leaders to a democratic process that elevates and equalizes the diverse voices of campus. All academic workers need direct engagement in any decision making process resulting in furloughs, layoffs, and other related quality of life issues.

It is in this spirit that we put forward this Academic Workers’ Bill of Rights:   

  1. Prioritize Protecting Faculty, Academic Staff, and Graduate Students:

At a time of furloughs and fiscal austerity, we assert the need to protect the most vulnerable members of the university community from pay cuts and layoffs. Tenured and tenure-track faculty have a stake in protecting those who labor without the benefit of tenure and its protections; these colleagues teach classes and perform service that allows our academic units to function.

Precarious faculty and graduate students are the most likely to suffer the consequences of immediate austerity measures.In anticipation that GA/TA positions may not be renewed due to budgetary constraints, precarious faculty and graduate students shall not be asked to carry the burden of work resulting from non-renewed positions without compensation, including uncompensated teaching, research, or service work; we are particularly concerned that graduate students who have lost appointment due to funding cuts not be forced to continue the work uncompensated.

We oppose layoffs and additional furloughs that respond to austerity by penalizing the least compensated members of the university community.

Flexibility: We seek maximal flexibility for academic programs/units/organization to be creative in how they protect academic faculty, staff and graduate students; this will allow individuals and units to strive, for instance, for cooperation and shared sacrifice as a way to resolve budgetary needs

  1. Right to Choose Individual and Public Health Without Penalty:

Many academic workers and students are particularly vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions, family, and/or age. Everyone should be able to choose to protect their health; no one should have to choose between risking their health and being employed or engaged in study. Moreover, workers have the right to make this choice without threat of penalty or punishment, including negative impact on performance and merit evaluations, progress toward degree (for graduate student workers), and so forth. They should be able to make their decisions without having to justify them on the basis of age or pre-existing condition. This is particularly true for uniquely vulnerable classes of workers, such as graduate students who have the right to decline supervisor requests for in-person work that may put their health at risk without negative impact on their academic standing.

  1. Right to Respect for Academic Freedom:
    • Instructors, along with their departments and programs, must be entrusted to make the right decisions for their courses and their students, in dialogue with established curricular governance channels.  
    • Academic workers maintain the right to make decisions about course content and class procedures as long as expectations for accreditation can be fulfilled and student rights remain protected.
  1. Right to Respect for Academic Labor and Time: While the mandated furloughs reduce work days and hours, the workload required of staff and faculty remains the same regardless of furlough days. We therefore propose modifications to expectations for administrative duties, university service, teaching, and research for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Certain time-consuming administrative and bureaucratic duties, such as required trainings,the post-tenure review process, and staff/academic staff annual evaluations be suspended for the duration of the furlough period.
    • Faculty may bank furlough time toward a course release after the furlough period ends or toward accumulated sick leave. 
    • Research expectations during the furlough period should be lightened.  Tenure-track faculty must be able to choose to slow their tenure clocks for as long as the pandemic lasts.  
  1. Right to Respect for Knowledge Production: 
    • Academic workers should retain intellectual property rights for courses that are put online.
  1. Right to Earn a Living Wage Even in a Time of Austerity:

Current UWM policy protects certain categories of academic labor (graduate students, non-FTE employees, post-docs) from the furlough, and stipulates that furloughs will not be applied to those making below $15/hr, or $30,000 a year if the appointment is full-time. This is a step in the right direction. The floor should be higher, exempting those who make less than $50,000/year from furloughs.Under the current policy, upper administration will take a 10% pay cut. Again, this is a step in the right direction but needs to go further. Furloughs for UWM’s most well-compensated faculty and administrators should be imposed to the maximum allowed by law to minimize layoffs to the institution’s most vulnerable employees.  

  1. Right to Health Insurance Coverage for All Workers: 
    • Health insurance should continue for all employees, regardless of furlough status, for at least the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Graduate employees who may have lost their appointments due to declining enrollment should retain their health insurance and eligibility for tuition waivers.
    • In the event of a layoff, expanded workplace-based healthcare coverage must include a commitment of 6 months beyond the end of employment or until the employee has secured alternative insurance coverage, whichever comes first. This would involve the university providing a layoff package that includes sufficient payment for 6 months of premium payments for COBRA continuation coverage (or an alternative health insurance plan of the employee’s choosing). 

Statement on Failed UW President Search

The announcement of a single finalist, Jim Johnsen, in the search for the next University of Wisconsin System President is the failed result of a flawed search process that excluded faculty, staff, and student representatives from the beginning. It constitutes nothing less than an insult to the people of Wisconsin.

Johnsen’s record as president of the University of Alaska, which includes massive program-cutting proposals and votes of no confidence from faculty and students, is deeply concerning. The faculty at both the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the Alaska system voted no confidence in Johnsen’s leadership in 2017, and the Anchorage faculty called on their Board to suspend Johnsen in 2019. Basic norms of decency and respect toward our colleagues in Alaska dictate that we oppose Johnsen’s candidacy in the strongest possible terms.

The problems are compounded by the search committee’s decision to name Johnsen as the sole finalist. This is a departure from accepted academic norms, which stipulate nomination of at least two finalists for consideration and transparency about why other candidates were deemed unsuitable as finalists. It is also a violation of AAUP standards of faculty governance.

The Regents chose to pursue an unprecedented search process that excluded faculty, staff, and students. This is its predictably egregious result.

We will not allow a new System President to pursue an agenda of consolidation and closure of programs and campuses. That is Johnsen’s track record in Alaska, and it will be his charge from the Regents here in Wisconsin. Should the Regents persist in installing Johnsen, we will advocate for him to be removed as soon as Walker appointees lose their majority on the Board next spring.

We reaffirm our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and to bringing the fruits of higher education to the hardworking people of Wisconsin all over the state. We invite the Regents to join us in championing the mission of the UW System.

Socially Just Grading: A Compassionate Path for COVID-19 Impacted Students

Before you do anything, stop and recall the face of the weakest person you have seen, and ask yourself: Is what I’m about to do going to help him or her regain control of their destiny?

– Mahatma Gandhi

This Ghandhian philosophy (also referred to as “the last girl”) is a social justice orientation in which communities and institutions center equity and justice in their decision making by thinking of the individual who suffers the most, has the most barriers, or who comes in last due to institutional barriers.

If we are inclined to make compassionate, socially-just decisions with the most vulnerable students in mind a Universal Pass should be considered as the most equitable option, followed by University/College-wide opt-in pass/fail. Universal Pass standardizes a passing grade for all students so that employers, graduate schools, or other external evaluators cannot stigmatize students who chose to take a pass, deeming them less competent than their peers who took a letter grade simply because they some students may struggle more than others in this transitional, dynamic crisis. If not a universal pass, a pass/fail grading system can still provide relief for students.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I oversee a course for students who are struggling academically and who are some of the most vulnerable on campus. Our basic task is to get them to pass their courses, get off probation if applicable, and re-enroll next semester. I think of those 90+ students (and the hundreds of others on academic probation and not enrolled in the course) and the wonders that a universal pass policy could do for them and their likelihood of return to campus in the fall.

I can say with confidence–and this is often affirmed by the folks working in student services with whom we closely collaborate–that academic ability/proficiency is rarely the primary factor impeding success.

Instead, we spend most of our time helping students overcome mental health challenges caused by recent or historical trauma that hinder their ability to “do school”. We spend time helping them navigate the burden of financial strains; some still can’t find a way to buy the math ALEKS program halfway through the semester because their financial aid had to be used for a family emergency. We spend time empowering them to self-advocate and navigate a system riddled with a hidden curriculum, because the ivory tower wasn’t historically built for them.

The issues these students face are now exponentially compounded. A universal pass policy this semester affords them an equitable path forward in their education.

But it is not just the historically vulnerable students to whom we must attend. We must now consider students who are newly vulnerable. This testimony from a grad student makes this clear:

I initially thought the extended break period would make it easier to get assignments completed, I was wrong.

All of my immediate and extended family is living in California where, as you know, the COVID situation is significantly worse. I have immediate family members who went outside of the U.S prior to the spread of the COVID virus; now we are trying to figure out if they should remain abroad or return to California. Many people I know are very low-income workers with no benefits and very likely to be left without income in the coming days.

The situation is impacting me economically and emotionally in ways that I had not expected while immersed in my privileged graduate school bubble.

There is absolute, unequivocal relief that a compassionate, socially just grading system would give all our students this semester, but especially those historically and newly vulnerable. If we have any hope of helping them bridge this crisis into next semester, let us choose the most equitable path that will allow students to regain control of their futures.

Jacqueline Nguyen

UWM AAUP Executive Committee

Academic Jubilee: The Case for Clemency in a Time of Crisis

This is the first of a planned series by UWM AAUP members and allies about how universities and instructors might respond to the pandemic crisis in our teaching and, in particular, grading.

The practice of jubilee suggests a once-in-a-lifetime clemency for all things: slaves are freed, debts are forgiven, sentences are commuted.  A biblical tradition that has been practiced over time in many different contexts, jubilee may suggest a useful alternative for higher education during our current, extraordinary times.  Specifically, we might pursue a jubilee in terms of grading, and take that pressure off of ourselves and our students.  On my campus, we are beyond the point in the semester where individual students can change their grading options. Therefore, we need broad action on the part of campus administration.

At universities across the country, campuses have been shuttered. Employees are encouraged to work remotely; most if not all courses have been put online.  Feeling pressure to provide the full course experience, instructors not previously inclined to teach full online courses hasten to figure out the intricacies of remote delivery, parsing questions of technology, synchronous or asynchronous delivery, access to internet service for all students.

At the same time, many students must evacuate their living quarters in dorms and apartments, confronting financial, logistical and emotional challenges in doing so. Carefully constructed plans of study seem to evaporate into thin air at the same time that many of our students function as caregivers for relatives.  In light of campus closures, many students lack internet access and will be relegated to figuring out what they can do on their phones.

All of this takes place at a time of unprecedented pressure.  The advent of global pandemic conveys anxiety even for those fortunate enough to be healthy.  Many students and faculty are parents, with kids marooned at home by school closures and social distancing protocols.  And we don’t yet know what the full impact of the pandemic will be on ourselves, our friends, colleagues, students, and academic units.

Academic labor selects for those who tend towards studiousness. Many of us may well find comfort in reading and writing and planning classes. Others find concentration elusive at this time of crisis.  We may urge ourselves and our students to buckle down, thinking we owe it to them and to ourselves to do the best jobs possible with the remainder of the semester, whatever our circumstances or modes of delivery.

It’s worth being mindful that this crisis is just beginning, that we don’t know how we or our students will experience it, and that a little bit of grace goes a long way under fire. Alternate approaches to our teaching may provide some relief for ourselves and our students.  The unprecedentedness of this time, while catastrophic on many levels, also suggests that we reconsider questions of rigor, particular in terms of grading and evaluation.

As Rebecca Barrett-Fox suggests in a widely circulated blog piece: “Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.”

As faculty overhaul courses to put them online, it might be prudent to consider a grading jubilee. One possibility is that students could be offered a pass-fail option. Those who are on track to getting grades they are satisfied with could pursue them; others would be apprised of the minimum standards necessary to complete the class for credit.

Alternately, instructors could implement a “universal pass” option, as Yale University publications have recently endorsed. Students would receive a “P” on their transcripts with an explanation of the context.

The semester we invested in and planned for is effectively over.  While our courses continue during this extraordinary Spring, let’s think about our collective survival.

Rachel Ida Buff, UWM AAUP

UWM AAUP Statement on DACA, November 2019

We assert our continued support for undocumented students, whether or not they are currently certified by the DACA program.  We call upon our campus and UW System administrators to strengthen existing practices and create additional, viable practices that ensure the collective well-being of all our students, and that continue to extend the “beneficent influence of the university to every family in the state.”

Undocumented student access to public higher education in our state and across the United States is crucial. Nowhere in the Wisconsin Idea’s assertion of wide access to the resources of the University of Wisconsin system is citizenship status specified as a prerequisite.

The federal assault on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program violates the spirit and practice of the Wisconsin Idea. We recognize this as an attack not only on foreign-born communities, but on the continued vitality of public higher education. Undermining DACA discourages broad student access, resulting in declining enrollments and further disinvestment in public education. This assault on tuition equity and student access weakens education for all.

Of Predators and Police

-Benjamin Balthaser

I didn’t think it could happen to a student of mine.  I know the statistics: the United States incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet, both per capita and in total numbers.  There are nearly two and half million people behind bars in our country; currently 65 million Americans have criminal records.  These shocking numbers are further intensified if one is poor, black, trans, and/or Latinx.  African-Americans, for instance, are 10 times more likely to be arrested in Berkeley, CA than white people; African-Americans are 5 times more likely to be in prison than whites; in African-American suburbs such as Ferguson, MO, there are more arrest warrants than people.

One can know these things, and yet, when one of your own students is arrested and brutalized by the police, it is a gut punch.  I spent finals week, poring over papers and exams in a daze, wondering what, if anything, the novels and films I discuss in class do to protect students from the night sticks of police or other slow, and often more subtle violences of class and race.

I know, the idea that I might shed a special tear for a college student over anyone else might strike one elitist — after all, everyone has the right to be safe.  And yet, I teach first-generation students, working-class students, students who may have known precious little safety or security as high schoolers.  For every daughter of professors or lawyers who want an affordable education closer to home, I have students who are former sex-workers, ex-convicts, students returning to school after bouts of unemployment, students for whom college is their one chance to escape poverty and violence.

That a university should serve not only as a place to learn but as a safe place to experiment, grow, even play, is central to my idea of its function, even for a small state college.  It is even more radically crucial when the mission of the campus is to allow the poorest Hoosier at least once chance to see what doors, and worlds, will open if granted the security needed to explore books, ideas, and self-discovery.

Tiara Nelson is one such student.  By her own description, she grew up in rough neighborhood in Detroit — she deeply identified with the young characters we read about this term in Mike Gold’s Jews without Money, immigrants who lived among the hustlers, gangsters, and corrupt landlords of what were 100 years ago the tenements of New York City.  And yet Tiara showed up every day to my creative writing class wearing a bow-tie, suspenders, and crisp button up.   She sat in front, always ready to deliver her insights on a classmate’s poem or the story we read for the week.

She described, in one of her short-stories,  “a fourteen year old boy, as quiet and subtle as the rotation of the Earth,” the same story narrating the life of a sensitive teenager who would rather “count the holes in the ceiling” than do his homework.  In my multi-ethnic literature class, she wrote about W.E.B. Du Bois’ theories of “double-consciousness” and the middle-class African-American family in Ann Petry’s “The New Mirror.”  She could quote literary critics in the same essay as Kanye lyrics, all the while making subtle points about politics, racial identity, and literature.  She told me the pride she felt reading books while her friends watch TV or play sports.

And yet, this is the student who wrote me last week to let me know she could not turn in her final paper because she had been arrested by the Elkhart Police Department.  After I asked if she were OK, she revealed over email that she had been bruised, arrested without charge, forced to use a hole in the floor to urinate.  She was stripped naked in front multiple police officers, some of whom were male.

According to a friend’s social media post, Tiara related this story to her with tears streaming down her face.  Needless to say, her academic career has been derailed, while she attempts to recover from this violence, this horrific sexual assault.

The week prior Tiara and I discussed her going to graduate school for creative writing; now I am frantically emailing colleagues to find resources for sexual assault survivors and survivors of police violence.

That this is the Elkhart PD should come as little surprise to readers.  As has been extensively reported on by the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica, the Elkhart PD has long been mired in allegations of abuse, excessive violence, criminality, and negligence.  According to a November, 2018 story 28 of 34 supervisors have been disciplined or suspended, charged with crimes; seven have been involved in fatal shootings.  The year prior, two officers had been video-taped beating a suspect in handcuffs – an incident which the chief described as “a little overboard.”

This violence was defended by the outgoing chief as the necessary role of a “thin blue line” defending citizens from “garbage” and “predators.”  I would like the outgoing chief and the Elkhart PD to know that the “garbage” and “predator” in this case happened to be a young creative writer, an “A” student in my classes, and someone who – after the carework by her loved ones and family to undo the harm enacted by the police  – should by all rights go on to a bright future as a gifted writer.

Her charges, not that it matters, are for non-violent misdemeanors.

It makes one wonder who the “predators” of our society really are.  And while I will leave that question to the reader, I will pose another one that I will answer:  what lesson are we teaching our bright young people, struggling to make a better life for themselves, if that can be whisked away in a second by a police officer who believes the real lesson students should learn is that some people are “garbage” and can be brutalized at whim, because of their race, because of their sexuality, because of whatever a police officer feels like?  I would like to assign my students to read The Great Gatsby or American Pastoral, but Tiara’s is the real story of this country, should anyone care to hear it.


Benjamin Balthaser is associate professor of multi-ethnic U.S. literature at Indiana University, South Bend. 


Letter on White Nationalism & Anti-Fascism @ UWM

by Lane Hall

I read this at UWM faculty senate last week. It was not on the agenda. It is too long. People indulged me. This is in response to “Swastika Boy” at UWM last Monday. What is happening makes my heart ache and twists my gut. Maybe this is too long for you to read. But maybe you will read it anyway.
I work closely with a grad student who is a TA, the instructor of record, of one of our English Department’s core composition courses. The white supremacist student who held the swastika poster last week is one of his undergraduate students in the course. The other students in the course were freaked out by these events and felt seriously threatened. My graduate mentee was freaked out, and he felt he had to cancel classes because of the extreme risk of an unsafe environment. He felt that there was no one to turn to that would understand their fear, after reading the official UWM statement about the incident. This is what I feel is lacking in our institutional understanding. I continually witness this argument of the complexities of and protections for ”free speech,” when it is genocidal speech, murderous speech, as if such acts are without historical and current contexts that set dark and dangerous precedent. The symbol of hate isn’t just a violence in itself, which it is, but a signifier of rightwing grooming for larger acts of hate, of escalating violence that results in Poway, Pittsburgh, Oak Creek, Christchurch. We, as an institution and as intellectuals, need to understand the rise of neofascism in our times. These are not disconnected, stochastic events, but are campaigns on the dark-web, grooming sessions for disaffected and alienated young white men who everyone can disavow as “crazy,” “disturbed,” “attention seekers,” “losers…”. Until the next one, and the next one, and the next one that comes ready to “go all in.”

Here’s what I don’t understand about UWM policies: 1) We don’t allow guns on campus. 2) We don’t allow smoking on campus. 3) We don’t allow dogs (except in specific circumstances) on campus. 4) We would probably have issues with nudity on campus…. Yet, we proclaim the importance and necessity of allowing concrete and specific acts of hate speech in forms that are known to be both corrosive to civility, but also, and more importantly, constitutive of direct violence against specific people and groups of people. These are campaigns, not individual instances, and they are coordinated, with escalating consequences.

I am not referring here to controversial or extreme political positions. I am referring to concrete acts, signs, symbols and language that are premised upon the past, present, and projected future, slaughter of innocent people.

In conclusion, I propose that we set up a serious investigation into this rise of rightwing nationalist populism, in order to understand its recruitment strategies and dynamics aimed at colleges and universities. We are contextually blind without this knowledge. I propose that we create specific mandates about speech guidelines in our public and classroom spaces regarding expressions specific to the killing of other people, and I propose that our administrative response in the future is less equivocal and more emphatic about these issues, not framing them as a vague understanding of the rights of a few disaffected individuals, but as the threat to our core values, and to the safety of our community that will not be tolerated.


Letter from a Graduate Instructor: Why We Need a Union @ Marquette University

by Steven Vickers

Twenty visits to a doctor, thirty-two tests or screenings, six doctors, and countless pills: this is my new reality. In the summer of 2018, I began feeling flushed and nauseated. I would wake at 3am and run to the toilet to empty the contents of my stomach. I would go purchase diapers for my newborn daughter and get so overwhelmed by the urge to vomit that I could barely stand. The worst part: I had no insurance. I am a graduate student and teaching assistant at Marquette University, and I do not have healthcare through my employer. We did once, but in the three years since I began working as a teaching assistant, I have witnessed the cost of insurance skyrocket, only to be taken away entirely. I can barely get by on the $16k a year stipend; I certainly cannot afford to pay hundreds a month out of pocket for insurance. So, I have gone without. Imagine how thrilled I became when my uncontrollable bouts of nausea and vomiting was joined by intense abdominal pain.

It took a few months after symptoms appeared for me to finally be approved for Medicaid, my only option since my employer denies me access to healthcare. Of course, I only qualified for Medicaid because my employer’s “discounted” child care rates are more than $1,000 a month, which meant that my wife stopped working to take care of our daughter. I’m lucky she made that decision, because once I had my Medicaid card in hand, I visited my doctor. It turns out that my spleen, normally around four inches, is nearly nine inches long, and after six months of tests and scans, the reason why it is enlarged remains a mystery. Both of my hematologists believe I could have an incredibly rare form of cancer that does not show up in bone marrow biopsies, which I have endured. So, I now await the results of the most recent blood tests, hoping they tell me why I am sick but also hoping I don’t have cancer. If they come back negative, the next step is a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which may or may not accept my government insurance. If the Mayo Clinic does not accept my insurance, I may be forced to turn to GoFundMe to help end my torment. Without insurance and without addressing the underlying issues, the cost of removing my spleen alone is more than $67k.

In all the months since summer 2018 that I have sat through the fatigue of the tests, the visits, the continued symptoms, and the stress over financing it all, I never failed to complete my duties as a teaching assistant. I lead discussions. I grade papers and exams. I cover lectures when the professor is out of town or ill. I meet with students inside and outside of office hours to help them understand difficult material. I complete all reading assignments given to the students and take extensive notes so that I know the material well enough to teach or clarify. I hold review sessions after normal school hours to give students one last chance to ask a question or have material explained before the final exam. Despite my work as a teaching assistant, I continue to rely on government assistance for basic access to healthcare, something my employer should provide. I, like my fellow graduate workers, put our hearts and souls into our jobs to ensure the success of our students or the research projects to which we are assigned. Yet the administration refuses to acknowledge us as workers.

As universities increasingly rely on part-time contingent employees to keep personnel costs down, they also deny them basic rights they are owed as employees. Non-tenure track faculty and graduate assistants teach classes or conduct research, being paid a fraction of the cost fulltime faculty with the same teaching or research load. They are denied standard benefits like healthcare and childcare. Perhaps most importantly, they lack a voice in the administrative processes that oversee their employment, and they have no security that their jobs or stipends will remain from one year to the next. This is where a union is necessary. United, we have an equal voice in determining our contracts and work conditions. We can work together with the administration to create a better working environment for all employees. Marquette NTT and graduate workers do not want to stand in opposition to the administration but to work in partnership with them. That is what a union does. It will grant employees an equal responsibility to guide the success of the university as both an institution of learning and a fair and respectful workplace for all employees. I, for one, hope the administration will give us a fair process to win our union and will meet us at the bargaining table in good faith.

A Pyrrhic Victory

by Nerissa Nelson – Librarian/Professor

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

My campus, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, has had a tumultuous year of dealing with a budget deficit of $8 million over the next three years. It started as an announced administrative “document/plan” to cut 13 liberal arts majors, followed by a “reduced plan” to cut six majors and tenured faculty, and then ultimately a “pulled-back plan” not to cut those majors or layoff tenured faculty. All of this on top of an unplanned merger with two of the UW Colleges back in October 2017.

The recent news that nothing would be cut is being extolled as a victory for UWSP faculty and staff. But it comes at a great cost: the pain of the past year is not being covered in the media. The great cost is in those who have resigned, retired (with an emphasis on how retiring would help the campus in this budget crisis – good will exploited by administration), were not retained, or have been let go. Right now, the campus is going through requests for proposals to see which entities on campus may be outsourced, such as Dining Services or the University Store/Bookstore. Outsourcing, in turn, will likely result in the further attrition of the UWSP community and privatizing services.

Our campus does not have a true comprehensive plan. The administration forms committees, conducts siloed conversations within certain colleges, hires consulting firms that use a “play book” to save money when they often do not understand the complexities and politics of the organization they are working for, gathers data that seems to be inaccurate, deficient, or inconsistent, fails to build consensus, and, strangely, introduces “campus conversations” through the media. Put these things together and you leave a campus feeling unsteady. More than unsteady. Rather unstable. And angry. Or rather furious.

There is a lot of pain here. Pain that has destroyed the livelihoods of many. Pain that is the human cost of those who left because they could not afford to have their families be put through the “not knowing” if they would be fired or their program eliminated. Many relocated here, committed to the campus, and established roots in this place. Many considered UWSP their permanent home. The pain of what became a “divide and conquer” mode of operation where people started fighting for survival of their departments, undermined our collective voice. Dividing and conquering broke many friendships. The difference between personal and professional criticism became blurred. These experiences caused physical and mental pain for some. The pain of seeing years of hard work and study in a discipline you feel passionate about being stripped away as history or philosophy or art had no purpose for the “21st century university where we need to innovate.”

People deal with pain differently. Some may put on their boxing gloves and are ready to fight at all costs. Others must step back because they cannot manage to fight while trying to teach, parent, or deal with personal issues (cancer, death of parents, ill relatives). Some choose to not be involved, while others are legitimately afraid to speak out. It can also create a strange pattern of internal communication when you refer to a policy, such as the UW Board of Regents Policy 20-24 where tenured faculty can be laid off due to program elimination, and where Stevens Point was the first test case, and some faculty had never heard of the policy before, even while we were knee-deep in it.

The hours faculty and staff put into committees this past year attending to this crisis could have been put into their teaching and research in what was likely thousands of people hours. Doing this work is frustrating, because the results are rarely fully heard by administration. There was never a response to reports, proposals, or recommendations that were put forth. We felt essentially ignored while simultaneously being told by administration that they had “robust conversations with departments.”

There is no “hard evidence” to prove that all our work had any effect on the outcome of what the administration has now proposed – to retain the majors and not layoff tenured faculty. The “victory” is that the mounting pressure from these groups, faculty, staff, students, the media, and professional associations over the last year likely had an impact on that decision. But it is not the type of victory where one stands up and jumps for joy. It is a sobering pyrrhic “victory.”  Mistrust is deep and has grown. That does not dissipate over one announcement. It may be more a momentary relief.

We are now being told how important it is for us to have positive stories and “our positive message” for the media to retain people and attract them to come here. That can only happen if people feel there is something based in reality to feel optimistic about. But the reality of the last year has been a disaster. Many feel there is incompetence at the helm, and we are suffering for it. Any attempts by groups who have signed open letters to the UW System calling for a new administration, or expressing dissatisfaction, failed. Even the media has been suspect because it has been one-sided in its portrayal. Media stories, for the most part, seem to be based on UWSP press releases rather than the voice of the workers. It feels as those in power are controlling the narrative, and that is easier to do in a time when media concentration is the norm.

The future here is hard to predict. Higher Education, as we all know, is in a crisis and has been for quite some time. Every day there is an announcement of some campus closing, departments or programs being eliminated, faculty being laid off. The reasons are plenty – neoliberalism, anti-intellectualism, reduced budgets at the state and federal levels, smaller enrollments, demographics, cost of higher education, lack of career-focused programs, and the list goes on. Campuses tend to deal with these issues when they are amid a crisis, not necessarily before, or at least not planning in any productive way beforehand. It can be difficult to plan for a crisis when that critical period, crunch, or catastrophe is unpredictable. But there are certain benchmarks that are predictable that can be planned for in a comprehensive way.

I asked our chancellor recently what upper administrators at the UW System level discuss when they talk about the higher education crisis. He said they don’t. Their time is spent putting out fires and dealing with immediate situations at hand. I believe him. But if the people at the top are not having these discussions about the state of higher education, who is? How many more campuses may lay off tenured faculty, eliminate programs, or close altogether? Those are the stories we do hear in the news. The untold stories are those where stress has affected health, tears families and friendships apart, forces people to relocate, and students suffer with fewer options and choices for their futures and careers. Those are the stories we do not often hear. People suffering in silence.

The Search for a Dean for the College of General Studies

Here are the finalists for the Dean position for the College of General Studies. The person hired is going to be an important member of the UWM community. So worth checking them out when they visit campus:

The candidates will visit campus in May. Their CVs are now online at, and more details will be shared as they become available. Campus interview dates and open forum sessions are listed below, and complete visit schedules will be posted when finalized. A live webcast of each open forum presentation will be available for those unable to attend.  Webcast links will be posted on the main finalists page.


Zahi Atallah

Visit Dates: May 6-7, 2019

Open Forum: Monday, May 6, 11 a.m.-Noon, UWM Union Fireside Lounge


Donald Williams

Visit Dates: May 8-9, 2019

Open Forum: Wednesday, May 8, 11 a.m.-Noon, UWM Union Fireside Lounge


Simon Bronner

Visit Dates: May 14-15, 2019

Open Forum: Tuesday, May 14, 11 a.m.-Noon, UWM Union Fireside Lounge