Statement on Proposed Revisions to Chapter UWS 17

(Note: The following is cross-posted from the AAUP Wisconsin blog with the author’s permission. A pdf version is avalaible here.)

In October 2017, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents adopted Regent Policy Document 4-21, which prohibits “misconduct that materially and substantially disrupt[s] the free expression of others” and “[p]rotests and demonstrations that materially and substantially disrupt the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” RPD 4-21 specifies a mandatory punishment regime for students found to be in violation of those prohibitions—a one-semester suspension for a second violation, expulsion for a third—and the Board of Regents now seeks to bring the Wisconsin Administrative Code into line with its own policy by amending Chapter UWS 17.

AAUP Wisconsin opposes the mandatory student punishment measures found in RPD 4-21 and urges that the proposed modifications to Chapter UWS 17 be rejected. Far from ensuring safe spaces for free expression, the policy institutes a targeted speech suppression regime aimed at curbing student protest. The policy’s broad wording virtually ensures highly selective enforcement. The net effect will be a chilling of free expression on campus, precisely the opposite of the policy’s ostensible goal.

The policy’s history points to its highly partisan and political nature. In June 2017 the Wisconsin Assembly passed AB 299, a bill based on model legislation from the conservative Goldwater Institute that sought to regulate student protest under the guise of protecting free expression on campus. The bill died in committee in the Wisconsin Senate. The Regents nonetheless chose to enact much of AB 299’s content as Regent policy in the form of RPD 4-21. The proposed amendments to Chapter UWS 17 thus must be understood as part of a nationwide partisan policy agenda, one that ill serves our public universities.

In the interest of preserving free expression for students throughout the UW System, we urge the rejection of the proposed changes to Chapter UWS 17 and the rescission of RPD 4-21.

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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.
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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 https://uwm.edu/secu/cgs-finalists/, 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

UWM Faculty Senate Votes to Consider Service to AAUP Chapter as University Service

APRIL 18:  The UWM Faculty Senate today voted to support a resolution that service to the UWM AAUP Chapter should count as service to the university, for the purposes of tenure, promotion, and post-tenure review. The resolution, now known as UWM Faculty Document #3230, is posted below.
What this means:  all faculty are free to use the portion of their workload devoted to service to further our collective interests through supporting AAUP’s signal issues of academic freedom and faculty governance.  So, if you’ve been waiting to join us, now is the time!
We will be posting information for our spring meeting soon. Please come and get involved. All are welcome: graduate students, faculty and academic staff.
We need all of us!
University of Wisconsin
Milwaukee Faculty Document No.3230
,
April 4, 2019
University of Wisconsin
Milwaukee Faculty Senate:
Resolution to Count Service to UWM AAUP as Service to UWM
WHEREAS
democratic and representative faculty governance has suffered severe setbacks from
the political climate and consequences created by Act 55 in 2015; and
WHEREAS, under the Wisconsin Idea, the public university is mandated to foster
academic freedom and to serve all people in the state; and
WHEREAS UWM AAUP was founded in 2015 to preserve academic freedom and faculty
governance in the UW system and has struggled mightily
and effectively to this end,representing the interests of tenured and tenure track as well as teaching academic staff; and
WHEREAS faculty have seen an escalation in their workload and professional expectations,emanating from the increasing pressures of the tenure track as well as the newly imposed system of Post Tenure Review; and
WHEREAS,it is therefore difficult for faculty to balance university service, teaching, and
research with the important work of UWM AAUP;and
WHEREAS, nevertheless, many faculty spend numerous hours working to uphold the values of academic freedom and faculty governance through supporting UWM AAUP; and
WHEREAS this labor resembles other kinds of university service in the kind of
work and dedication required, as well as its utility to maintaining the university’s function;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee directs the Chancellor to support our campus by endorsing the following policy:
Recognizing the value of the labor of UWM AAUP members, the Chancellor endorses the policy of including service to the organization, in the form of committee membership, as a form of service to the university, and advises academic units to count it for tenure, promotion, and post-tenure review.
Further, we ask that the UWM AAUP be included as a reporting unit to Faculty Senate, and report once a semester to that body