Well, Wisconsin, it’s official. You’ve made it so incredibly difficult to want to work in the UW-System, nearly everyone is now looking for jobs if they hadn’t been already. They’ve finally reached their breaking point. As Karen Herzog notes, “Already dismayed by prospective cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, higher education observers now suggest the state could become an academic pariah if the Legislature scales back two treasured tenets of academia — tenure and shared governance.” Academic pariah. Further, “The impact would be far-reaching if language in a GOP plan that expands the reasons tenured faculty could be laid off or terminated wins support of the full Legislature and becomes law, said Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors. ‘That effectively will be the end of tenure in Wisconsin,’ Fichtenbaum said. ‘I’m not aware of any state that has gone this far. …I can’t imagine anybody taking a job there unless they can’t get a job anywhere else. People who can leave, would leave.'”
And yes, they are leaving. So to you, dear readers, I offer a brief list of the current UW faculty who have gone on record now as saying they’re officially leaving or currently looking for better opportunities, and what Wisconsin will be losing in talent and funding due to their departures. If I’ve left anyone out, please let me know and I will add them to the list.
Mahesh Mahanthappa: “Graduate school tuition has roughly tripled during his tenure, cutting into his research grants because he pays the freight for his roughly 10 student employees. Support staff have been cut, making equipment procurement and the training of junior researchers in using specialized equipment more time-consuming and difficult. The combination of factors prompted the tough decision to move his family and his research lab — which brings in $600,000 a year in outside funding — to Minnesota.”
Frank Keutsch: who is “moving his atmospheric chemistry lab to Harvard University.”
Sara Goldrick-Rab: “‘They changed the conditions of our employment overnight,’ said Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy studies and sociology. She said she is deeply disappointed in the roles UW System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank played in exposing such foundational tenets of the university to attack through their unsuccessful pursuit of the reorganization of the university into a public authority . . . . ‘I don’t feel like I’m going to be able to do my work in the way that I have,’ Goldrick-Rab said in an interview Monday. ‘I don’t’ feel like I’ll be able to teach freely, speak freely — do the kind of critical scholarship that I do here. I’ve already done more than enough that an insecure chancellor would let me go.’ In addition, she claimed, ‘Those of us that have stayed in this crazy state with all of this political stuff and really low wages, considerably, have stayed because it was different and our voices mattered. And they’re taking that away. I never wanted to leave. I have so many good reasons to stay. But I can’t stay where I can’t speak. And believe me, I cannot speak without tenure,’ she said. ‘I will be let go so fast and so many people in upper administration will be applauding because I challenge their systems every day.'”
Jesse Stommel: “‘I’m intensely loyal. I don’t abandon ship, but I looked around today and just saw water—no ship’ . . . ‘The current threats to tenure … change the institutional climate—making it even harder for new scholars and teachers to receive the support they need to go out on a limb with their own work,’ said Stommel. ‘The erosion of tenure makes University of Wisconsin a less desirable place to work and learn,’ he said. ‘Work in higher education, and in education more generally, depends upon the ability to have critical conversations. In our work as teachers and scholars, we must leave no stone unturned, and suddenly there are snakes under some of the stones. And, in order to do our work, some of us now have to put our jobs at risk.'”
Mark Karau “Along the way I have published two books and had an article selected for inclusion in a collection of the best naval history articles of the 30th century. I’ve done it all because I love my job. Which begs the question, why am I leaving? I do not have the heart or desire to watch this system that I love collapse so I decided, in March, that I would leave the system within the next year or two. In truth I decided back in February that if we ended up having to lose faculty because of the budget that I would volunteer to take the hit and be cut if I could save another’s job by doing so. I have spent many long hours agonizing over these issues in the last several months and, as of this past Friday, I had planned to return for at least one more year and perhaps two or, on the outside, three. The decision of the Joint Finance Committee to remove tenure from state law has changed my mind.”
This list may seem short, but keep in mind these are only those who have gone public or on the record as looking for new jobs, or who have currently accepted positions elsewhere. This does not include the many who are currently seeking other opportunities, dusting off their CVs, and quietly looking so as to keep the job they have. Nor does this include the many who have left in the years prior to 2015. And this is just the beginning. I leave you with this, dear readers. A warning that what is happening in Wisconsin is currently coming to a state near you. As a good friend mentioned today, “I can’t help but think this is a testing ground for legislature (it’s often done in Florida and California) because of the symbolic nature of WI. The labor movement was sparked in WI. Other university systems are modeled after the UW system (SUNY and Penn to name a few). When you break the back of two public protecting institutions it sends a clear message to the United States. I can’t help but feel it’s going to get uglier before it gets better.”
Indeed. As Mark Levine states, “It is not surprising, then, that conservatives — who have long attacked the notions of tenure, shared governance and academic freedom more broadly — would now set their eyes on Walker’s Wisconsin (it’s worth noting here that Walker did not graduate from college) as the moment to break the institution of tenure, based on the same corporate-dominated neoliberal principles that supported the near fatal weakening of unions a generation ago. In fact, as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee English professor Richard Grusin wrote on his blog, Ragman’s Circles, the ‘daisy chain of Republican power‘ now extends from the governor to the regents he appoints, the system president they appoint and the chancellors he appoints. There is little doubt that, should Wisconsin succeed, corporatized boards of private universities and state legislatures in the majority of Republican-governed states will jump on the bandwagon and move with lightning speed to remove tenure protections, shared governance and, ultimately, academic freedom protections from their universities. On this 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Association of University Professors, when the principles of academic freedom were first expounded in the midst of another ‘great’ war that history looks upon with horror, the renewed threat to tenure represents not merely an attack on the minority of academics who today enjoy the privilege but also on the bedrock principles upon which America’s system of higher education was built. If faculties across the country don’t take a very public and aggressive stand in defense of their colleagues in Wisconsin, there will be little to stop the process of complete corporatization of higher education, with all the damage to the quality and diversity of teaching, research and knowledge production that this will produce. With the United States and the rest of the world facing so many unprecedented natural and human threats and challenges, destroying the one edifice that protects independent thinking and knowledge for its intellectual class could prove even more costly than destroying the unions upon which America’s unprecedented postwar prosperity was built.”
Expect this list to grow exponentially in the coming months. And expect those vacancies to go unfilled as the dismantling of public education in Wisconsin continues. “‘It’ll be impossible for us to attract and retain people if we’re the only one that has such a weak protection of tenure,’ said Donald Moynihan, a professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has been at the institution for 10 years and was among hundreds of faculty members in recent days to sign a letter opposing the changes.” I wish I could leave on a more positive note, but there’s nothing positive about any of this. It will take years to rebuild what has been done by this administration, and even longer to restore Wisconsin’s good name. The worst? Most of these professors have stated that they would have stayed here forever, but again, they, we have reached our breaking point. Exit stage anywhere but here.