All posts by Rachelida

About Rachelida

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

Insights on the Benefits Survey

-from a colleague with some expertise who prefers to remain anonymous

“The survey company is paid by the regents, ultimately, and so presumably is acting according to the regents’ strategic goals. This is standard practice for short-term consultants in the business world. In my opinion, the regents want empirical support for the notion that UW employees would gladly relinquish the current level of benefits (pension, income continuation, and family/sick leave) in order to gain other tangible and intangible goods. So the survey asks people to rank the relative worth of benefits against other goods (e.g., salary, job flexibility, the opportunity to perform meaningful work, desirable location, etc.). That is really the basic template of every single question. The questions differ from each other only insofar as they give respondents different opportunities to devalue benefits — many different comparisons (pensions vs. A, B or C) and many different hypothetical scenarios (Why did you choose to work for UW? What keeps you at UW? etc.).

“The survey company will be able to mine this data and present it adroitly in order to support the (foregone) conclusion that UW employees would be willing to trade off benefits for other goods. Well, that’s my cynical reading, but survey design does involve the ‘dark art’ of slanting the questions, in order to run a biased analysis, in order to reach the desired conclusion.”

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WI Department Employee Trust Fund Survey

Colleagues: you will have received an email from Human Resources regarding an impending “Employee Benefits Preference Survey.” Conducted by the private Mercer Consulting at the cost of $300,000 to the UW System, this survey purports to be “aligning” employee benefits.

However, UWM AAUP observers who participated in an October “Teleconference about Employee Benefits” convey the sense that this survey may well be an attempt to obtain employee buy-in on another round of benefit cuts. While retirement and health care are currently off the table, other benefits may be affected.

From Mercer’s “Preliminary Total Compensation Philosophy Guiding Principles”: “Recognition that the UW can no longer rely on benefits as a primary driver of attraction and retention.”

We are currently working with others on campus to gather further information about this survey.  If you receive it before receiving further information from us, we suggest that you hold off on responding to it.  We will follow up as soon as possible with specific suggestions about what issues to consider about how and whether to respond.

As always, we are happy to hear from all faculty, staff and students.  Join us to become informed and take action!

Higher Education in the Era of Swift Technological Evolution: A Response to the UW-System’s Dismantling of the Liberal Arts Curriculum

Image result for university of wisconsin

National studies have underscored the value employers place on the analytical and communication skills that training in the humanities and social sciences, cornerstones of a liberal arts education, is focused on developing. And the national press has repeatedly highlighted liberal arts education as particularly suited to contemporary professional, social, and political challenges. So why is the UW System moving to deprive students of the broad liberal arts curriculum that is broadly acknowledged as the foundation of lifelong professional success?

If the formula for professional success were black and white, it would simply be a matter of training students to memorize simple facts, giving them a flow-chart for their chosen field, and sending them off to prosperity. But such an approach to education has never resulted in a trajectory of continuous professional advancement, and it never will. The reason why is simple: human life is multidimensional, and all its dimensions are continuously evolving and interacting. As a result, perhaps the most critical capability for higher education to develop in our students is adaptability.

Adaptability – to give a mundane example – is what enables an employee to watch a short training video on upgrades to software utilized by their employer and immediately apply the improvements to their daily responsibilities. Those who possess such adaptability and combine it with a strong work ethic become prized employees with opportunities for advancement. Those who become industry leaders in this age of rapid technological evolution typically take adaptability one step further, to the point of imagining and manifesting the future. College and university campuses have long served as hubs of this sort of innovation, precisely because the culture of inquiry fostered by a broad liberal arts curriculum confronts us, students and professoriate alike, with a wide array of intellectual contexts (the sciences, cultures, languages, and histories that define human existence) and challenges us to adapt to different modes of learning, knowing and communicating.

To take an additional mundane example, email currently dominates communication in nearly every professional field; facility in written communication thus has a significant impact on success, regardless of one’s choice of career. But the liberal arts emphasis on writing goes beyond simple mastery of a professional skill to developing the ability to learn new skills. As John Bean so cogently phrases it, “When we make students struggle with their writing, we are making them struggle with thought itself.” His observation is based on the realization that effective written communication depends upon firm conceptual knowledge, and that sloppy writing is often a symptom of poor understanding. The struggle to communicate concepts and ideas effectively, which is at the heart of writing incorporated into a liberal arts curriculum, does more than merely enable students to craft appropriate emails. It promotes the conceptual mastery of new knowledge that goes hand-in-hand with successfully adapting to challenges in rapidly evolving technical professions.

It’s unfortunate that “liberal” has come to have a distinctly negative political connotation for many and that the origin of liberal arts in unrestrained ingenuity has been largely forgotten. The unrestrained ingenuity fostered by a broad liberal arts education is precisely what leads to professional success in our current era of swift environmental, economic, and social change. It’s a crime to deprive students at Wisconsin’s public universities of this foundation and the opportunities it brings.

Renee M. Calkins, Ph.D.

Executive Committee, UWM AAUP

 

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone on the Proposed Tax on Graduate Tuition Remissions

 

To our region’s graduate students and everyone who is impacted:

UW-Milwaukee is quite concerned about current legislation that includes provisions that remove the deduction for interest paid on student loans. Adoption of this legislation would significantly increase the tax liability of our – and all – graduate students. This is not acceptable.

We are advocating for changes to the tax reform bill so students are not adversely affected. Keeping graduate education accessible and affordable is among our highest priorities.

We have been in direct contact with our Congressional representatives this week on Capitol Hill. We shared a statement from one of our graduate students regarding the bill’s impact and Congresswoman Gwen Moore included that statement in her speech to the House of Representatives.

We have joined forces with the UW System and federal relations lobbyists for Marquette, UW-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin to collectively make the case against the provisions of the tax reform bill. Last month, our University Relations office and Graduate School prepared an advocacy letter with resources and information that our students and greater community have used to communicate their concerns. Further, our distinguished professors issued a letter to the UW System, our Board of Regents and our congressional delegation.

In the week ahead, we will reinforce our lobbying efforts after the Senate and House conference committee is appointed to work out a compromise.

More broadly, we are concerned by how this bill could affect graduate education and many other elements of higher education. We join you in solidarity for the sake of higher education as we know it.

 

Board of Regents Activities This Week!

 

poster for rally

  1. Help Illustrate Our Campus for the Board of Regents and President Cross!:       Chalking Party: Weds 6/8 @ 7pm Spaights Plaza
  2. Thursday @ 1:15: We will go together to Chancellor Mone’s address to the Board of Regents in the Wisconsin Room, UWM Student Union..  Wear t-shirts if you have them. ** If you want to purchase a t-shirt, email rachelida15@gmail.comand I will deliver it to you before Thursday. ***
  3. Friday @ 8 AM: Community Mobilization for Public Education, K-PhD, Spaights Plaza. We will rally @ 8 and then march together into the BOR meeting @ 9.

      *** A big turnout for this rally signals to the BOR and UW System that we are not alone; we have public support. Bring your friends, your family, your neighbors. We need all of us!!!!

R1 is as R1 Does: L&S Budget Cutting Practices Threaten both Governance & Quality

As we take a moment to celebrate our recent R1 status and the successful no confidence vote in President Cross and BOR, there is still much to be concerned about…Beware the budget cutting committees!

Over the last year UWM has faced numerous budget crises related to the confluence of historic cuts in state aid and declines in enrollment. Together these have contributed to a roughly $40 million operating deficit for the campus as a whole, and a $5 million operating deficit in UWM’s largest college: Letters & Science.

In response to the budget situation, campus administration has put pressure on L&S to address its deficit over three years. We maintain that the degree of cuts that are occurring in the College and the time frame for these cuts will do irreparable harm and threaten both our R1 designation and dual research and access missions as well as our ability to remain a community engaged university.

We also object to the L&S ad hoc committee that was formed this year to address these cuts.  Although we recognize the dire budget situation in the College and the urgent need to address the budget situation, UWM AAUP maintains several objections to the composition of the committee, its charge, and the current actions taken by this non-governance committee:

1)      This committee operates outside shared governance bodies, yet its charge, focus and recent decisions have huge implications for reshaping the College and University and impacting university employees and program array.  In addition, the composition of this committee is unrepresentative of the breadth of units in the College and should be broadened to reflect the full range of interests that are affected.

2)      Decisions made by this committee have been made without formal adoption by any governance group, and no written record has been established that lays out the rationale or nature of those decisions.

For example: the committee has defined certain principles that are guiding their work, such as the idea that the core of the College is made up of departments and that programs and centers remain outside this core and thus are expendable and will lose College support. A direct action drawn from this logic (which was never publicly debated or approved by any governance body and which goes against key principles identified in UWM’s mission) has been the defunding of all academic research centers, to zero out their 101 funding support from the College.  Such a dramatic cut would threaten the very existence of most centers and will likely lead to layoffs of academic staff who work in those centers.

3)      This committee is deliberately operating in a non-transparent way. For example, no agendas or minutes have been posted since its inception despite repeated requests. College administration has repeatedly stated that decisions have not been made when center directors have been told otherwise and required to meet before the committee.  In response to concerns about this committee, Dean Swain has said any decisions made by the L&S ad hoc budget cutting committee would go through the APGC, but to date nothing has come before the APGC related to this committee’s decisions.

4)      The logic applied by this committee is precisely the approach taken by the Board of Regents regarding its new tenure policy and using the broader financial basis for program discontinuance rather than the narrower and more appropriate academic basis that faculty and AAUP advocated for and continue to support. In other words, the decision to defund/eliminate centers rests purely on a financial basis; it is not a reflection of poor performance or relevance as defined by some metric, but simply the fact that it is a center and in this budget environment based on the principles the committee has adopted that privilege departments, centers are considered a luxury the College can no longer afford.

5)      The decision to single out centers for defunding/elimination is entirely non-strategic and inconsistent with UWM’s mission and often-stated goals to be more cost-efficient.  Centers in the College work with hundreds of community partners (e.g. CED, CLACS), are engaged in community development work to address urban problems and provide policy expertise in the region (e.g. CED), represent an important source of student scholarships and support (e.g. CLACS, CED, C21), provide high levels of visibility in the community through their work and events (e.g. CLACS, CED, C21, Jewish Studies), foster collaboration and interdisciplinary research such as the authorship of books, fellowships, speakers, disciplinary cross-fertilization (e.g. C21, CLACS, CED, Jewish Studies), and represent an important source of gifts, grants, and contract revenue (e.g. CLACS, Jewish Studies, CED).  These centers are important for recruitment of faculty and graduate students and a form of distinction for UWM.  To put it bluntly: the decision to defund L&S research centers is reckless and should be stopped before this committee does irreparable harm to UWM.

6)      Academic research is supported through 101 funds in other ways beyond centers in the College, such as through financial support for labs and lab supplies, but little or no attention has been directed at cutting these funds.  Why not other research activities on campus?  Where is the data for these expenditures?  Why only the focus on centers? Before dramatic cuts are made to research centers that threaten our R1 status, a full accounting of all research expenditures should be undertaken.

7)      The decision to defund centers is not following the approach that already exists to evaluate and discontinue centers, one that was actually approved by governance bodies after years of work by faculty and governance groups (Document S-71 RESEARCH CENTERS AND INSTITUTES APPROVAL AND EVALUATION PROCEDURES)

http://www4.uwm.edu/secu/faculty/senate/agendas/15-16/upload/S71-Research-Centers-Institutes-approval.pdf

This committee, therefore, constitutes a violation of UWM’s well-established protocols of shared governance, and is pursuing actions harmful to the university and College without respect to public debate and our culture of shared governance. These actions to defund centers (and possibly programs in the future) threaten UWM’s dual mission and sacrifice our community engagement and visibility.  They ignore the impact on alumni and donors and the ability to generate grant and contract revenue, as well as the significance of scholarly collaboration and interdisciplinary research, our recently achieved R1 status, and the importance of a diverse array of programming, particularly for underserved students and underrepresented fields. They also fail to recognize the many ways in which the contributions of our academic centers are intertwined with the work of our departments, and the damage that will be done to the latter by defunding the former.  Finally, these decisions to defund centers will also impact our ability to recruit students and faculty and maintain areas of prestige and distinction in the College consistent with our newly designated R1 status.

For these reasons, we demand the following:

  • Do not defund/eliminate academic research centers. Instead, follow existing procedures for evaluating centers; any budget cutting that goes beyond proportional cuts should be strategic with reference to UWM’s mission as a key criterion as well as the notion that a “whole UWM is better.”
  • Utilize existing shared governance bodies to consider any recommendations proposed in the L&S ad hoc committee.
  • The L&S ad hoc committee should have broader representation to include center and program directors.  In addition, we request that an AAUP committee member be included on this committee similar to what Chancellor Mone agreed to for CCOET.
  • Post both agendas and minutes to meetings of ad hoc budget cutting groups and follow legal procedures for ad hoc committees.  If the L&S ad hoc committee wishes to invoke its legal authority to go into closed session under Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(1), as it has done, it must follow the attendant legal obligations for governmental bodies under Wis. Stat. sec. 19.83 and 19.84.
  • Provide full disclosure of all data that is being used to inform discussion and recommendations, and a fuller breakdown of costs within the College.  These data should be made public in an easily accessible place such as on the main page of the L&S website.  We also call on the Dean and his committee to present data on all College research subsidies with 101 funds to examine the full extent of research costs and College support for them.