Monday, March 21, 2016

...Now the bad stuff going on at UW-Madison, and the other UWs

While I and many others in these parts are fired up over Bronson Koenig’s shot and Bucky’s surprising rebound from 9-9 to the Sweet 16, that doesn’t mean all is well up on Bascom Hill. The declining situation on the academic side of the university is getting national attention, as Slate’s Rebecca Schumann published an article today titled “The End of Research in Wisconsin.”

Schumann discusses the ongoing concerns from UW faculty with the diminishing of tenure, the fact that appointees of college dropout Walker make up 16 of the 19 members of the UW Board of Regents, as well as other anti-UW moves by the Walker/WisGOP regime. This includes the state spending fewer dollars today on the UW System than it did when the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began 5 years ago, and Schumann points out that the lack of support from the Legislature and Board of Regents makes Madison and other UW schools have to pay more to hold onto the talent they have.
So, what’s the problem here? Is spending money to retain brainpower a bad thing? Obviously not. However, as long as tenure remains so weak in Wisconsin, the regents will have to keep doling out cash to stave off poachers if they want to remain a top research university.

But how they’ll recruit new superstars to a university that can’t promise proper tenure to anyone remains a mystery. Make no mistake: If anyone thinks that these professors’ jobs are anything but gilded hollow husks of their former selves, they are deluded. (For their part, even many of the faculty who decided to stay told the [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel they were “still nervous about the flagship university’s future.”)
For example, UW-Madison has had to pay $9 million in addition salaries and benefits for faculty and staff to prevent quality from being poached away by other schools, and taking the $18 million in federal grants that faculty and staff have generated with it.

Schumann goes on to note the bigger concern that comes with budget cuts and politicization of what types of research a university should look into- heading down the road to the “Brawndo School of Medicine."
But the situation in Wisconsin is worse than your garden-variety corporatization. You might assume it’s no big deal for superstar researchers to be competed for, hired, and fired like executives—and for everyone else to “just get a better job” if they don’t like what they’ve got. That might be how it works at your job, if you are lucky enough to have one. I understand this impulse to look around at your own likely weak labor protections, and wonder why those obnoxious hoity-toity professors think they deserve better than you….

Wisconsin professors simply do not want research limited by the whims of 18 people appointed by a governor with an openly stated anti-education agenda. And you shouldn’t, either. Think university research doesn’t affect you? You’re wrong. Hundreds of technological and social advances that you depend upon have been made thanks to the research of some brainiac at some university somewhere: what kind of cities to plan; how (and where) to alleviate poverty and hunger; what kind of diseases to treat; what kind of drugs to invent (or make obsolete); what kind of bridges and roads to build (and where). If professors are not protected from disagreeing with the agenda of their “bosses”—whether that be Dow Chemical, Gov. Walker, or President Trump—the consequences will go far beyond one person’s paycheck.

For years, higher-ed watchers have been warning against the corporatization of the American university. Students as “customers.” Amenities over academics. Loan debt of $250,000 for a transcript full of courses whose A’s no longer mean anything. For the most part, these warnings have been met by dismissal, scorn, or glee. Will anything change now? What’s happening in Wisconsin is a worst-case scenario come to life, and $9 million will do nothing to stop the demise of the integrity of research produced there—and everywhere else, too, if we don’t start electing lawmakers who actually value research.
We need to have academics at our public universities be rewarded, not just with proper pay and respect for the job they do, but also in having the freedom to study issues that may lead to inconvenient truths. But this goes along with the ALEC/Koch plan to reduce the concept of any kind of public good, and have a corporate-approved agenda that may not teach students very much about how things really work, but it will increase the influence of corporate doctrines, which is all those oligarchs really care about.

This denigration of Wisconsin’s great higher education system is why I will be tempted give a giant “FUCK YOU” to any ALEC-owned WisGOP politician this week who tweets out “Go Badgers” before Friday’s game with Notre Dame, because it is that Wrecking Crew that knocked UW-Madison out of the top 10 of another key ranking, the top public schools in America. And while Bucky’s hoops success gives some nice short-term goodwill (and a helluva thrill last night), it won’t do nearly as much for helping Wisconsin and society as the research, information, and technological advances that come out of the university that they represent. This is something they think in reverse in SEC-land and other backwards places in America, where universities are viewed as conduits for athletic programs, while academics is slighted and sold out to the higest bidders. It makes me very angry to see my alma mater trending in the same Idiocratic direction.

It's also a big reason why I bought tickets to see the new documentary "Starving the Beast" at the Wisconsin Film Festival next month. UW-Madison is one of several schools profiled as it takes a look at how ALEC, the Kochs, Wall Street bankers and other corporate interests are conspiring to degrade public education, and make the next generation beholden to their interests. It's an issue that needs to be hit, and hit hard, because in Wisconsin and in many other states, the promise of affordable, quality college education is quickly being taken away.


  1. And the cuts are comin' even bigger at the comprehensives. Most made by toady administrators behind closed doors, cutting programs this year, leading to tenured faculty cuts next year.

    Hey Wisconsin! Yes, you! You don't need no history, languages, music!

    You don't need no education!

    1. You're absolutely right about the comprehensives (the 4-year schools not in Madison or Milwaukee). They're the ones most at risk because they don't have the outside research dollars coming in to pay for some of these faculty and staff. And with tuition frozen, that option is also taken away.

      In addition, all UW schools outside of Madison rely on student fees and general fund dollars to help with their Athletics. So expect to see sports being cut around the WIAC, and I do wonder if it'll hamper the competitiveness of UWM and UWGB to pay for and keep up with the rest of the Division 1 Horizon League.

  2. "UW-Madison has had to pay $9 million in addition salaries and benefits for faculty and staff to prevent quality from being poached away by other schools"

    Looking into it this seems to only cover a 6 month period. Well, there go more than the entirety of the compensation reserves for the 2015-17 Budget.

    (2009-11: $143.2m, 2011-13: $110.7m, 2013-15: $211.8m, 2015-17: $29.3m).

    1. What Geoff is telling you is that there was practically no money for raises or salary adjustments throughout state government, and now UW-Madison is using most of whatever was left.

      Oh, and there are $726 million cuts in tge next 15 months yet to be announced

  3. What makes this all worse is the fact that Ray Cross not only completely abandoned us, he's on board (he donated to Walker). We simply have no advocate. Every job candidate who visited my campus (to replace those who fled) asked, "How long until I'm back on the market?" But here's the thing that really angers me--this constant drumbeat for a vocational university that simply trains people to do jobs we need. First, those jobs don't exist and the employers who "need" them sure don't mind suppressing wages, not paying state taxes, or paying to train people. But second, the hubris--that's a GOP trademark; somehow we know everything at any given moment. We magically know what we need and simply streamline its quick production. We have no idea what we will need in the future and what fields those people will emerge from (we started encouraging people to learn web design, oh, over a decade after the emergence of a graphic web). Given climate change, we should probably be training more medievalists, fast.