Tag Archives: austerity

UW Struggle: Gong Show Edition

In anticipation of the full faculty meeting at UWM to consider a no confidence resolution in the UW System President and Board of Regents on Tuesday, May 10, we bring you this blog post by UW-Green Bay’s Chuck Rybak, republished with his permission. The original is here.

chuck_barris

What if I told you that someone with responsibility literally brought a red button to a meeting? What if I told you that this person, while his subordinates were making test-run presentations, would push the button and the words ‘no whining!’ would be ejaculated as a sound effect? Again: this is not a metaphor. This is real.

So I’ll ask: Who is this person? What do you imagine the setting to be? Are we talking about adults? Younger people? A gimmicky corporate setting? Friday night neon bowling?

No. That would be the President of the UW System and the subordinates would be our campus Chancellors, who were asked to describe the campus effects of another quarter of a billion dollar cut to state support. They were instructed not to whine (as faculty have been told to not be emotional), and upon further review, the presentations themselves were cancelled. I know what you’re thinking: this can’t be true, no way, this is the president of a university system, we knew you were close and you’ve finally lost it!   I know; that’s what I thought as well. Here is the incident in question detailed by Nico Savidge:

“[The presentations] should be factual, not whiny,” Cross wrote in his message.

Cross insisted on this point — he said in the interview he brought a red button to the meeting to be used if he felt a chancellor was complaining too much in a presentation. When he pressed the button, a sound effect shouted, “No whining!” (emphasis mine, because wow)

What, were hand buzzers and bottles of seltzer spray unavailable? You couldn’t find someone on a unicycle to ride up and poke them in the eyes? Look, I miss Benny Hill too, but I have access to YouTube.

Still, this can’t be true. So I asked Nico on Twitter to confirm—Nico was tweeting a lot about the Final Four, thus I assumed he was brained by an errant chicken wing when the North Carolina Won’t Make Donuts for Gay Heels (see Glazed 3:15) went down at the last moment—he assured me that his mental state was not the problem:

Can you imagine, just for a moment, being a Chancellor of a university—a position with an enormous amount of responsibility to an incredibly wide range of stakeholders—and have someone interrupt you with a ‘No Whining!’ sound effect while you are trying to describe how many staff members you’ve had to lay off and what programs you’ll be cutting, with no end in sight? Would you have an existential moment of crisis where your inner voice conceded, “Oh my god, I’m an adult”? Well, I guess the ‘flexibility’ everyone wants for Chancellors doesn’t apply to their actually speaking without permission and an approved message.

For the record, I really respect my Chancellor and want him to be able to speak freely and honestly about his responsibilities. He is far too classy to ever complain about such a stunt, but I have no class, and thus at the first press of the button I would have immediately gone over the table and engaged in the full Indiana. What is the full Indiana? Behold:

Unfortunately, none of this is a joke.

Right now, the Board of Regents is meeting on my campus, pleasantly hosted by a great number of people they just stripped earned job protections away from. They will have the best parking spots and eat for free. A large portion of the Cloud Commons, where just two night ago students had to wait in line past 9 p.m. to cast their votes, will be blocked off and reserved for this meeting—the Regents will wait for nothing.

What is today’s meeting all about? The continuance of the big lie(s). Right now, a few of those include:

  1. The most important strategy for our future budgets is tone policing. Nico Savidge reported that the presentations were cancelled “after consulting with some Regents and considering, among other factors, the System’s next two-year budget.” False. Reducing money for all things public is a feature, not a bug, andmore cuts are coming no matter what we say or do. Don’t believe me? I suggest you begin making regular stops over at Jake’s place, where he dives into the deep, deep numbers, like this coming disaster: “If the tax-season months of March and April don’t have a bounce-back and stay below trend, it will be likely that the 2016-17 fiscal year budget will have to be repaired…even with $726 million in unspecified lapses built into that budget.”
  2. We have “comparable” and “often better” tenure policies than our peers. This lie has been repeated so often that it’s moving past “big.” We don’t have tenure anymore. We wear a button that says “tenure” until that button is taken away, for any reason you can imagine. That’s been the point all along. That’s also why, whether we whine or not, whether we are emotional or not, more cuts are coming. The reason you strip away everyone’s job security, other than welcoming them to the 21st century, is to begin removing those people. That removal will be dressed up in the language of “necessity” and “tough choices,” i.e. budget cuts. But I get it: the illusion of prestige will be necessary for some to come to work.

But somehow this is all a joke or a gag, worthy of a buzzer; was someone actually tasked with securing a “no whining” button? I can’t help but think what this models for our students and communities, and whether or not anyone cares anymore. We did, after all, just elect a supreme court justice whose main workplace skill/qualification is intolerance. The Rebecca Bradley apologists sang a constant chorus that is relevant to this blog post: those were just college rantings, who wants to be held responsible for their silly college-age thoughts? We grow out of that.

The implication: what college students say should not be taken seriously. But not only is it our job and responsibility to take them seriously, it is our mission.

What students think and feel matters today and it will matter tomorrow. When students interrupted the previous Board of Regents meeting with a chant of protest, the Regent who was speaking at the time rolled his eyes. I was watching the livefeed. He rolled his eyes at students who dared to speak out of turn. When the meeting resumed, the Regents gave themselves yet another round of applause for their hard work, which amounts to a speck of dust when compared with the tenure dossiers of the faculty they swiftly moved to devalue.

So what are we being taught by our central leadership?

Speaking honestly about the effects of another round of brutal cuts is whining. Fighting to preserve job protections, which are an earned property right, is being emotional. (What, after all, is a life’s work worth anyway?) And if you’re a student, or worse, a graduate who has significant debt…learn to be responsible! And these complaints about race and gender issues…silly young coddled college kids.

What is the value of a coordinated message that pretends that everything is okay? At what point is it just blatantly dishonest and who, outside of the UW, will point that out?

I’m not asking for miracles because I’m a realist and I know what is coming. Still, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our system President to take us seriously, to not belittle the beleaguered, to not scold the scapegoated, and to consider, just once, standing with UW employees even if it means stepping out from behind the great “thank you” emblazoned on our flimsy, rhetorical shield.

A friend of mine posted the following photo the other day from her campus. But there’s nothing to see here, so let’s not whine about it.

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Telling Our Story

panther statue

During the last spring of impending budget cuts, campus leaders regularly invited students, faculty, and staff to “keep telling our story,” often by sharing official university publications with others via social media. This was a communication solution to a political problem. Ultimately the audience for our story was not only the institution, its community, and the people of the state, but the powers that be, i.e., the Republicans in control of state government. The real desired effect from this outpouring of narration was to lessen the budget pain to be meted out by the legislature. By hearing our story, they might be persuaded of our value and spare us some of the inevitable trauma.

The story we were encouraged to tell came from University Relations, which produces promotional news items, videos, and other uplifting UWM content. The campus also tells it story in advertisements, such as the one I often heard last spring claiming that UWM has 28,000 students with an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Many of the videos in the IAMUWM YouTube series, which are around a minute long, center on individual undergraduates, like the gay mechanical engineering major from Brazil who says, ”I feel like I can do anything,” and the psychology major who conquered her fear of flying with the help of a professor. These videos often tell stories of inspiring life choices and goals, some with tenuous links to academic achievement. Much of this PR is obviously directed at prospective freshmen and their parents, whose tuition dollars (many of them borrowed) are essential for our continued existence now that at least four-fifths of our expenditures are tuition-funded.

The campus twitter feed also aims at both current and prospective students, with its regular retweets of new students like this one expressing their excitement over attending UWM.

The new  panther statue in front of Enderis Hall is all about making the campus a fun place for undergrads. Everyone will want a selfie with the panther.

All of this is telling our story: that we’re an exciting place to go to school, but also that we can train you for a job (engineering, or whatever), or open your eyes to new horizons.

Of course UWM is a place of many stories, some of which we are seldom encouraged to tell. Some are stories that could hurt our status with the powers that be or inhibit enrollment — or so think our leaders. Since the cuts have dropped while enrollment has decreased and tuition has remained frozen (and not very affordable despite that), we can tell a story of a campus in financial crisis, uncertain of its future. We can tell a story of an institution where administrators give themselves raises and hire more subordinates while faculty lines go unfilled and raises for academic staff and faculty are mentioned only with many eye-rolls. We can tell the story of students who have to work so many hours, and often care for family members as well, that they don’t have enough time to succeed in school. We can tell the story of our dismal rates of retention and graduation, especially for those from less privileged backgrounds. There are so many stories, and so many that are excluded from “telling our story.”

One story we might tell more often is the political saga of a far-right state government decimating its fine education institutions for ideological reasons and to please outlandishly wealthy masters, constricting the public sector and cancelling the social contract. In response to this austerity regime, which was entirely manufactured through the agency of the state government, did our leaders say “stop this political attack”? Either out of sympathy for the ideology, or of pleasure at the new power it gives them over a subordinate and flexible workforce, or of fear of losing their own jobs, they said instead, “Thank you.” They thanked the powers that be for delivering a smaller cut than had been planned. It was like a patient saying, “thanks, doc, for not amputating all of my fingers. I really appreciate being left with the one. This is great.”

Lately, campus leaders have introduced another phrase employed in crisis management and downsizing: “investing in growth areas.” When the painful cuts to come are addressed during meetings and presentations, we are told that we will not only be cutting, we will also be strategically investing in growth areas. (Especially the ones that lead to new revenue streams, which are the holy grail of administration at the moment.) Investing in growth areas will also become our story, when we find out which areas are to be so blessed with investment. (Perhaps the cuts that “investing in growth” distract from will also figure into our story somehow.) Growth areas will be identified by a market logic: what will bring in revenue, what will yield return on investment, what will keep us out of the red. We’re not talking about growth of intellect, growth of citizenship, growth of community ties or commitment to social justice. Criteria of value will be economic even if they are also curricular. 

As a scholar and critic of the narratives of popular culture (this is my “story”) it strikes me that “telling our story” is an endeavor quite central to traditions of humanistic inquiry. Narrative is a topic of interest to a wide array of interdisciplinary scholars from English and media studies to psychology and medicine. But its reputation is squarely as a liberal arts concern. Will storytelling, and the liberal arts more generally, be among our growth areas? It could depend on which story we are interested in telling.

Michael Newman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies and an executive committee member of the UWM AAUP chapter.

Austerity at UWM: CCOET

This post is by Nicholas Fleisher, VP of the UWM AAUP chapter, and is cross-posted from Language Politics.

Budget cutting is in full swing at UW-Milwaukee. Beyond the loss of meaningful tenure protections (underscored by recent developments with the Regents’ Tenure Policy Task Force) and the gutting of shared governance, UWM faces a looming financial crisis. The crisis is the result of the massive 2015–17 biennial budget cut in combination with a variety of other factors. UWM’s chancellor, Mark Mone, has convened two groups to deal with the crisis: the Budget Planning Task Force, which has dealt with allocating the $30 million in cuts to UWM over the 2015–17 biennium, and the Chancellor’s Campus Organization and Effectiveness Team (CCOET), which is tasked with making recommendations for long-term structural changes to shrink the institution.

The bottom-line goal for CCOET is to cut $15–$20 million from UWM’s annual budget, permanently. CCOET has thus become the visible locus of austerity on campus. Its meetings, which are open to the public, are starting to attract crowds. Transparency, inclusion, and openness are the watchwords. The reality is a bit more complicated.

When asked about the relationship of CCOET to existing shared governance groups on campus, administrators have emphasized the degree to which CCOET’s membership includes representatives from those groups: the University Committee, the Faculty Senate, the Academic Staff Committee, the Student Association, and even our campus AAUP chapter all have members on CCOET. This is a canny way of constructing a committee whose membership is, in the end, dominated by administrators. Somewhat more troublingly, administrators’ responses to date indicate that this sprinkling of representatives is meant to serve as a kind of proxy for actual shared governance. It should be lost on no one that CCOET is, from a governance perspective, simply an extension of the chancellor, and that it therefore bears exactly the same relationship to other governance bodies that the chancellor himself does.

Sitting as it does in this uneasy space in the new shared governance landscape, CCOET’s role and powers have taken on a shape-shifting quality, changing to suit the purpose at hand. On the one hand, the committee is obviously meant to hash out the gory details of the campus’s downsizing: the task is enormous, with huge consequences for the institution, and all the heavies are there. On the other hand, the committee co-chairs often step back and remind us that they are simply generating recommendations to submit to the chancellor, as if to establish plausible deniability in the face of questions about adherence to established governance practices. The chancellor, meanwhile, indicated at today’s campus budget forum that he hopes to begin implementing CCOET’s recommendations within a matter of weeks after they are submitted to him in February, a timeline that holds out almost no hope of a meaningful vetting by the Faculty Senate or any other shared governance body.

The substance of those recommendations, meanwhile, remains a major unknown. CCOET has exhorted the campus community to give it its best ideas about how to restructure the campus to save money. Those calls ring hollow in the absence of detailed, interpreted, publicly available financial data on which to base such ideas. CCOET has trumpeted its transparency, and it is certainly to be commended for holding open meetings and posting meeting notes and selected data presentations on its website. But CCOET, or a subset of its members, is very obviously working with far more financial data than has been shared with the campus. This is, to some extent, inevitable: university budgeting is complex, and even the best-informed CCOET members have remarked publicly on the ways in which they have only belatedly come to understand certain aspects and implications of the data. It is not in and of itself a problem that CCOET has more data, or a clearer interpretation of the available data, than everyone else does at this point. What is a problem is that CCOET will soon be making detailed proposals on how to proceed, without the campus community (or, if last week’s meeting is any indication, even the entirety of its own membership) having had access to that same set of interpreted financial data. How can CCOET’s members, much less the broader campus community, assess the merits of a funding formula with very disparate impacts on UWM’s different schools and colleges without having had the chance to consider other possibilities? The accelerated timeline and the asymmetry of access ensure that only a select few will have an adequate factual basis for making recommendations; everything else is moot.

Meanwhile, CCOET’s recommendations will come on the heels of the FY16 and FY17 cuts enacted by the Budget Planning Task Force. The FY16 cuts were decided on over the summer, but, rather amazingly, the campus administration still does not have a comprehensive picture of what has actually been cut. Those FY16 cuts were one-time cuts in the amount of $15.7 million, coming in part from spending down the campus’s now almost entirely depleted reserves. The chancellor has now accepted the BPTF’s recommendations for the FY17 cuts, which are permanent base-budget cuts of $14.5 million, $8.8 million of which will come out of Academic Affairs. Details of the FY16 cuts have now been collected and will be shared with everyone soon; units have until Dec 23 to provide details on how they will handle the FY17 cuts. Meanwhile, CCOET is working on further permanent cuts of $15–$20 million, doing the bulk of its work without any detailed knowledge of the cuts that have gone before.

So, we are rushing headlong into an extraordinary budget-cutting process that, for all its invocation of inclusiveness and transparency, will be decided by those few who have both the information necessary to make concrete recommendations (or something approaching it) and the power to enact them. Top administrators and CCOET members insist that the research mission of the university is not on the table; but it is hard to avoid the feeling that CCOET’s work amounts to flinging the entire institution against the wall and seeing what sticks. Meanwhile, rumblings about cuts to the UW System in the 2017–19 biennium have already begun.