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

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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 Faculty Senate Resolution Demanding UW System President Ray Cross Protect and Respect Shared Governance

On February 15, 2018, the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee unanimously approved this resolution.

WHEREAS UW System President Ray Cross has publicly declared his support for shared governance, promising at one point on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus to resign his position if he failed to protect shared governance;

WHEREAS it has now been publicly disclosed that President Cross disparaged and intentionally circumvented shared governance in decreeing that the University of Wisconsin System be restructured, having emailed Regent Gerald Whitburn that he was “Getting hammered by the ‘shared governance’ leaders because they weren’t involved in the process; however, had they been involved we wouldn’t be doing anything!!”

WHEREAS shared governance is ultimately responsible for implementing UW System President Cross’s hasty, top-down decision that the UW Colleges be broken up and merged with four-year, comprehensive, and research universities;

WHEREAS shared governance is an essential mechanism to guarantee the accountability, transparency, and high quality education we have come to expect from the University of Wisconsin System;

WHEREAS shared governance was instrumental in helping UWM to achieve its R1 status by starting new PhD programs and raising the university’s research profile;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, hereby demands that President Cross honor his earlier pledge to protect and respect shared governance in all relevant administrative decisions regarding the UW System and its campuses.