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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


Protect the Role of the Humanities in Public Life!

From the National Humanities Alliance:

The most recent Presidential Budget Request calls for the elimination of

  1. the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  2. the elimination of the National Historic Records and Publications Commission, a critical source of grants for preserving our heritage and making it accessible to the public;
  3. the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), along with other cultural agencies;
  4. and the elimination of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays!

Take action to oppose these proposals!

Join us at these exciting upcoming events!



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EVENT 1: AAUP Organizing and Training Event with Monica Owens, Department of Organizing and Services, AAUP National


9 AM- 12 Noon

Location: Curtin 175


            9-11 am             Recruitment strategies and chapter organizing

            11-12 noon     Student allies

Bring 3 friends! Monica Owens, based in Washington D.C., is an organizer with wide-ranging experience, specializing in campaigns and advocacy for K-12 and higher education.


EVENT 2: Roundtable discussion


12:00 PM

Location: UWM, Honors House 196

Open to all UWM and UW-System faculty, staff, and students


EVENT 3: Bagel hour lunch with graduate students


12:00 PM

Location: UWM, Center for 21st Century Studies, 9th floor Curtin Hall

Open to all graduate students


EVENT 4: Dean’s Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities, followed by reception


4:00 PM

Title: Does the U.S. Need Public Universities?

Location: UWM Golda Meir Library, 4th floor conference center

Free and open to the public



UWM AAUP Applauds the College of Letters and Science’s Decision to Include Academic Staff in 2018 Pay Plan

By Nicolas Russell, UWM AAUP

In November 2017, UWM’s College of Letters and Science announced that its fixed-term Academic Staff would be excluded from the UW Pay Plan and would receive no salary increases. This decision struck many in the College of Letters and Science as completely unjustified given the pay plan guidelines and more broadly given the vital contributions of UWM’s fixed-term Academic Staff to the University’s mission.

UWM’s AAUP Chapter, in collaboration with faculty and staff from other UWM governance groups, argued that, in excluding Academic Staff from the UW Pay Plan, the College of Letters and Science was not adhering to the pay plan guidelines, as specified in the pay plan memo sent to UWM’s Chancellor, Vice Chancellors, and Academic Deans by Provost Johannes Britz (8 November 2017). The Provost’s guidelines specified that “non-budgeted positions for 50% FTE or more [were] eligible for a pay plan increase.” The only case in which they could be excluded was if the school or college had an established and published pay schedule (referenced in appointment letters) that states that non-budgeted employees are not eligible for pay plan increases. The College of Letters and Science has no such pay schedule for non-budgeted positions.

UWM’s AAUP Chapter argued, moreover, that UW-Milwaukee has been increasingly relying on fixed-term Academic Staff to fulfill its mission. The Academic Staff Committee (Academic Staff Document 103 – Sept. 2016, p. 3) found that 80% of Instructional Academic Staff are on fixed-term contracts, including many long-term employees who have been repeatedly rehired to meet ongoing instructional needs at the University. These employment practices are not generally consistent with UWM and UW-System policy: many of these Instructional Academic Staff members should already have received probationary or indefinite status. As tenure lines and positions with “indefinite status” have disappeared, fixed-term instructional academic staff have become a de facto part of UWM’s core faculty and essential to fulfilling its mission, but the university treats these positions as provisional. Excluding fixed-term Academic Staff from the current pay plan would have constituted a failure to recognize the essential work that they do in the College.

In December 2017, we were happy to hear about the supportive response from the College of Letters and Science. The College acknowledged that excluding fixed-term Academic Staff from the current pay plan was a mistake, and it changed its policy to include them.

The victory for equity in this case resulted directly from engaged collaboration between tenured/tenure track faculty and instructional academic staff. This kind of collaboration makes us stronger in defending our collective interests.
We invite all faculty, staff and graduate students to join us at our coming organizing workshop: February 9, 9-12, Curtin 175.  We are stronger together!