An Open Letter to Those Who Hate Teachers

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When I graduated from college, I, like many graduates, had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  I was medically cleared to go to West Africa to join the Peace Corps.  I’d applied to seminary and to graduate school.  Grad school took me first, I took it as a sign, and started on a path to get my Ph.D. and become a college professor.  At no time on this path did anyone warn me that at some point in my life, I would be hated, despised, loathed, and treated with contempt for the occupation I chose.  I don’t know that it would have made any difference, but a heads up would have been nice.

When I grew up, I loved my teachers.  I loved my professors.  I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been in classrooms with some of the most gifted teachers who inspired me, taught me what it means to teach, and were not only amazing teachers, but scholars and activists as well.  I truly learned from the best.  When I finally landed a job as a college professor, I was excited to pay it forward–to give my students all that I had learned during those years.  But once I actually began teaching, I was stunned and deeply confused at the very vocal resentment towards those who had chosen to work in the field of education.  When Act 10 was passed, to say it divided Wisconsin would be an understatement.  We were called lazy, overpaid, greedy, and undeserving of the benefits we had bargained for in lieu of lower wages.  At the time, I thought this was hurtful and it made me incredibly angry.  Then, Governor Walker got reelected and we saw an increase in the vitriolic rhetoric towards educators when they began to speak out against his proposed budget.  Admittedly, I have put myself in the spotlight through Facebook posts, tweets, and now through my blog posts, so I expected to get a few horrible comments thrown my way.  I was told I should be on a government watch list because I teach in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies.  I was called a communist.  I was told to “quit whining” and get a real job.  Some wrote:

“if you want to know why I seem angry, it’s because this “crisis” was a manufactured one ” much like the rape crisis you manufactured on campus. Watch, remove the gender studies courses and rape claims go way down;”

“so is someone going to start mocking and insulting her and telling HER to ‘quit your complaining and whining! omg! suck it up!” and all that?”

“Teach students something that will allow them to get a job and pay their mortgages, and then we can worry about your job and mortgage.”

All hurtful and frustrating but I had no idea how bad it would get.

Here are a list of things I have been personally called since I started blogging:
“Liberal union cunt”
“Dyke profesor”
“Lesbo cock sucker”
“Flaming liberal whore”

You get the idea. There are more. You won’t see these on my blog, because I have the ability to delete them, but they’re there.  Anonymous strangers who feel better about themselves by demeaning me.  Misogyny and ignorance at its finest.  And this is mild compared to some of the things other writers or those in the public eye have gone through–I don’t in any way want to diminish the very real death threats that have sent some into hiding for daring to speak out against that which they see as unjust. As John Oliver points out in a segment on online harassment this regularly happens to “any woman who makes the mistake of having a thought in her mind, and then vocalizing it online.”

Again, these were online comments.  And I’m clearly not the only one who’s experienced this. Just this week, a friend posted this:

Joel

Once again, none of these responses to his tweet were accurate (professors don’t teach children, tenure is not a job for life,) but that didn’t stop the immediate backlash against one tweet regarding the elimination of tenure from state statutes in Wisconsin and the very real ramifications of that.

Fast forward to two days ago.  I was at a gas station when a man approached me.
Man: “Looks like gas prices have gone up!”
Me: “Um, yep? I guess so?”
Man: (looks at my UW-faculty parking sticker) “If I had your kind of money, I wouldn’t be complaining about gas prices, bitch.”

I was dumbfounded.  A good friend noted, “Wow, eliciting sympathy purely in order to twist it around into mistaken and misplaced class rage. That is truly sociopathic.”  Agreed.  This man, this complete stranger, felt it necessary to make sure I knew how much he hated me.  I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I know it has happened to others. Example? One friend got punched in the face at a bar by a 70 year old man for simply trying to correct misinformation regarding faculty salaries.  Let me repeat that.  Punched in the face by a 70 year old man.

I posted my experience on Facebook, and perhaps most disturbing was the number of people who had reached out and told me they’d experienced similar interactions.  I don’t know when it became ok to physically confront someone and attack them just “because.”  Another friend pointed out, “The thing is – misconception aside – even if you were a billionaire it shouldn’t be commented on by a hateful stranger who would call you or anyone a bitch.”  Exactly.  And the fact that this is evidently happening more often and to more educators should call us all to take pause and ask ourselves, how did Wisconsin get this divided?  What happened in this man’s life, and what had he been told about educators that he felt entitled to speak his mind and let me know exactly how much contempt he had for me and everyone who does what I do?  It takes a lot of hatred and misplaced anger to behave in such a way.  And to know that this is not an isolated incident frankly both saddens and enrages me.

As I wrote in my Facebook post, I truly want to invent a sign that says “everything you know about college professors is wrong” and wear it daily.  As I pointed out in the letter I wrote to the Joint Finance Committee before they passed the budget, “I will officially make less now as a tenured professor than I did when I started in 2009. In most jobs, your pay is supposed to increase over time—not the other way around. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t make a six figure salary nor will I ever if I spend the rest of my lifetime working in the Colleges. Up until a few years ago, I was still eligible for the earned income tax credit.  Starting salaries of a professor with a Ph.D. remain at $43,000 and have stagnated. The highest paid professor with a Ph.D. at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, after 23 years of experience and service to our campus, makes $65,521.00. Most of my colleagues have second jobs, some at other institutions and others in any part time job available. Several who work full time on my campus and at other institutions are eligible for food stamps and reduced priced lunch programs for their children. They live paycheck to paycheck, working as line cooks and waitresses. They continue to pay off student loans and will do so for the next 25+ years at our rate of pay. Just the other day, a tenured faculty member asked if I’d be a reference on her application to Family Video. I bartended for several years during the summer to help pay off my student loans and make sure I didn’t find myself further in debt. As awkward as it was to have my students see me behind a bar, sadly, I couldn’t afford to leave that job because I made more serving alcohol than teaching in the UW System . . . . We are being asked, for yet another year, to do more with less. There is nothing left. State divestment in public education cannot continue. I get it. Defunding public education has become politically easy. As the Nation recently reported, ‘If states won’t raise taxes or cut back on mass incarceration, gutting higher education becomes the path of least resistance.’ But it’s a dangerous path we’ve been walking on for far too long.'”

So how did we get here? And what can we expect in the future? As Katharine J. Cramer writes in her piece regarding the politics of resentment, “Consistently conservative groups saw things differently, obviously. They wanted lower taxes and fewer government programs . . . and asserted that government programs —except for defense spending—should be as small as possible. They believed in bootstraps and lamented peoples’ apparent inability to use them. Besides spending on defense, they were also ok with funding for programs like the WPA [Works Progress Administration] and the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] that rewarded hard work. Notice how their support for government spending hinged on notions of deservingness. We have seen this theme before. In their eyes, government programs are only legitimate if they support deserving Americans. And this group, like others in my sample treated deservingness as a matter of whether or not the policy recipients are hard-working Americans like themselves (Soss and Schram 2007; Skocpol and Williamson 2012, ch. 4). They approved of government programs when they perceived the programs gave out benefits that were payments to people who had earned them, not handouts to the undeserving (Winter 2008). Hard work was a key consideration, not just for the consistently conservative groups, but arguably for the vast majority of the groups, including the groups who were ambivalent about small government. This is important. It suggests that support for limited government is not driven mainly by a principled belief in small government, but instead by attitudes about a particular program’s recipients (Nelson and Kinder 1996;Schneider and Ingram 1993) . . . Support for small government policies or candidates seemed motivated by something other than abstract adherence to the idea that smaller government is better, and was not a simple result of disliking government or feeling ignored by it. This is where the politics of resentment comes in. In the conversations, you can see how resentment toward target groups often served as the glue between anti-government and small government attitudes . . . . The blow-up over Governor Walker’s budget measures shortly after he took office in early 2011 illustrates these sentiments . . . Each of these groups was supportive of Walker’s proposal to require public workers to pay more into their health and pension benefits. As we saw in the previous chapter, they perceived that these benefits came directly from their own pockets and that as rural residents they worked much harder than the desk workers in state government. In addition, they perceived that the public workers in their own communities (especially school teachers) made salaries that were much higher than their own.”

The problem with this is that public sector employees like UW professors and public school teachers aren’t the enemy, nor have they ever been, and by placing the blame on them for everything from the recession to unemployment rates, we don’t focus on what actually blew up the economy. As Robert Reich argues, “Divide and Conquer tactics pit average working Americans against each other, distract attention from the most unprecedented concentrated wealth at the top, and conceal regressive plans to further enlarge and entrench that power.”  Similarly, Paul Krugman noted, “There is a better answer, and a teachable moment here, which gets at the real nature of inequality in America. It’s not about overpaid teachers. Let’s start by looking at the real winners in soaring inequality — the people who not only make incredible amounts of money, but get to pay very low taxes.  According to Forbes, in 2012 the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders took home a combined $16.7 billion. Now look at those supposedly overpaid government employees. According to the BLS, the median high school teacher earns $55,050 per year. So, those 40 hedge fund guys made as much as 300,000, that’s three hundred thousand, school teachers — almost a third of all high school teachers in America. OK, teachers get benefits, so their total compensation cost is higher than their wage, so maybe it’s only 200,000. But you should keep numbers like these in mind whenever anyone tries to shift attention from the one percent (and the .001 percent) to Americans who aren’t even upper-middle class.”

So why are we still blaming the wrong people for societal’s ills?  When will it stop? And how do we convince someone who only knows and truly believes that educators are the reason their lives aren’t where they should be–that educators and other public sector workers should be punished for “undeserved” benefits, and that their lives are truly better off because of the dismantling of public education–that all of these beliefs are based in false ideologies?

I have no answers.  But to those who hate me, who see no value in what I do, and who think I don’t deserve the privileges conferred by years of hard work and determination, I ask–if my job is so wonderful, so star spangled awesome, why don’t you do what I do?  If being a teacher is so easy, why not become one? If our benefits are so egregiously disproportionate to yours, what is stopping you from going to graduate school and obtaining your very own Ph.D.?  Because instead of dismissing my job, asking for (more) “shared sacrifice,” and belittling my career choice, maybe your time would be better spent becoming an educator, spending some time with people who live and work in my profession, and a little less time in the comments section of your local newspapers, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in peoples’ faces saying cruel and ugly things based on falsehoods, deeply rooted misplaced resentment, and ignorance.

Update:  this piece has been posted in the following places.  Thank you all who have shared:

American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Academe blog

Blogging Blue

Monologues of Dissent

Say no to Vouchers Facebook Page

Point Break: The 2015 Official UW-System Faculty Exodus Update

Point-Break-Crop

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.

Shawn Conley:
Shawn (2)

Jeff Linderoth:
Jeff Lindroth tenure

Carey Applegate
Carey (2)

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.

Yes, Changes to Tenure are a Big F**King Deal: An Idiot’s Guide to the Tenure Process

kermit the frog
Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Finance passed the University of Wisconsin System Omnibus Motion.  I was going to talk about each questionable provision in the bill like the changes to shared governance that would allow administrators to raid fund balances from student organizations (32 and 37), the deletion of the current law that permits the Board to deduct contributions from the salaries of football coaches for a pension (47), or allowing universities to use students’ social security numbers as their student ID numbers (63).

However, even though much has been focused on changes to tenure, it’s unclear to those outside the system (and to some inside) just exactly what that means.  So, to you, dear readers, I offer a breakdown.

First, the changes:

12: Tenure: Approve the Governor’s recommendation to delete the definition of a “tenure appointment” and language establishing the conditions under which the Board of Regents may grant a tenure appointment to a faculty member. Delete current law specifying that a person who has been granted tenure may be dismissed only for just cause and only after due notice and hearing. In addition, delete the definition of “probationary appointment” and provisions limiting the length of such an appointment to seven.

This has been probably one of the most extreme measures in the bill, but also the one most likely misunderstood.

As the Wisconsin State Journal points out, Wisconsin is the only state that has job protections for tenured faculty written into statutes, a primary reason faculty find System campuses a desirable place despite comparatively low salaries. “The GOP motion calls for the Board of Regents to determine whether to have tenure and what it would entail.”  Quickly, System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents swooped in to save the day, claiming “the board would approve a measure to enshrine tenure in Regents policy at a meeting next week — as they’d promised when removing tenure from state law was first floated by Walker in his 2015-17 budget proposal in early February.”  We will see if this promise is, indeed, kept when they meet next week.

However, “Putting tenure in Regents policy carries less weight, especially symbolically, than having the ironclad protection of state law, said Noel Radomski, director of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education. He said the loss of tenure will have immediate impact. ‘If I were other universities, I’d be poaching as many of our top faculty as possible,’ he said, noting that ‘star’ faculty typically have lucrative research grants that travel with them. ‘It’s going to be open season.'”

Here is the thing about tenure.  It’s a dirty word.  When most think of tenure, they think of the one teacher they had in high school who put off retirement to collect a paycheck, or the professor they had who could barely teach, but with the ironclad protection of tenure, was “unfireable.”

Here are some common myths about tenure and how it’s granted.

As the National Association for Education notes, “Faculty members win tenure because their senior colleagues are convinced they can perform with excellence and a great deal of independence. Tenured faculty are, in fact, successful, highly self-motivated people with a great deal of professional pride. Due process is a civilized value; the right measure of job security makes people more productive, not less. To reach the educational standards we all want, we need to have a corps of full-time, experienced faculty in charge of the academic program and committed to the institution. To keep up quality for the next generation of students, we need to keep up opportunities for the new generation of faculty. In the final analysis, who is in the best position to put academic standards first and shelve other considerations? College administrators? Elected officials? Professors are not perfect but they are educators. If it’s solid education we want, tenure matters.”

Myth:
Tenure is a lifetime job guarantee.
Fact:
Tenure-track professors routinely get observed by faculty in their departments every semester, sometimes by two different faculty members. Those observations are intended to maintain integrity and make sure the teaching that occurs in their classroom is up to par. If it is not, the university has the right to not retain them.

Faculty members are assessed by student evaluations in all classes, in all semesters, so that if there is a negative pattern, the university has the right to not retain them.

Faculty members are assessed by the amount of community and professional service in terms of how they positively add to their communities. If they lack in this area, the university has the right to not retain them.

Faculty members are assessed by their professional development in the form of conferences, publications, and other forms of research. As a tenure-track faculty member, even at a non-research 1 institution, it is assumed you will publish, regularly, in peer-reviewed academic journals (most with a 3% acceptance rate if they’re a national journal in that field) as well as conducting research in other areas and in other mediums. If that faculty member fails to publish, or publish in credible arenas, the university has the right to not retain them.

In addition, faculty members are still assessed in the form of post tenure reviews. In fact, most universities have instituted more stringent post-tenure review processes, generally about every five years.


What does that mean? Tenure does not mean one is immune from termination. Having tenure does not protect one from being laid off especially if they don’t continue to excel in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and service.  Tenured professors get fired every year for legitimate reasons. Others get fired for illegitimate reasons.  But the idea that it is “impossible” to fire a tenured faculty member is just patently false.

So, why do we have tenure, when did it originate, and what was its original purpose?

In David R. Loope’s “Academic Tenure: Its Origins, Administration, and Importance. South Carolina Commission on Higher Education Staff Position Paper” he states “By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colleges and universities in Germany and in the United States were striving toward a comprehensive establishment of academic tenure, or the contractual agreement with faculty of continuous employment (Bok 1982, p.5). In the wake ofVanderbilts,Rockefellers, andStanfords who forged new universities with their amassed wealth, an empowered faculty, who were themselves now making important contributions tothe industrialization of western society, needed a shield toensurethe integrity of their teaching and research. American faculty increasingly saw tenure as theultimate guarantor of free speech in the classroom and in the laboratory and as a practice that would ‘prevent the university administration from establishing officialortthodoxies that it might use, directly or indirectly, to inhibit professors from expressing unsettling ideas and unpopular opinions’ (Bok 1982, p. 5). With these ideas in mind, a group of influential faculty members, led by professors from the Johns Hopkins University, formed the American Association of University of Professors (Metzger 1973, p. 135).  By 1915, theAAUP, as flue association became known, had developed a codified set of regulationsregardingthe attainment of tenure and its application on campuses throughout the United States (pp. 151-52). Between 1930 and 1950, with major research institutions and selective liberal arts colleges leading the way, tenure became pervasive throughout the American higher education system (pp. 155-57) and became the benchmark against which most scholars measured their professional success in the academy.”

The “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” states that “Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.”

In 2015, do we still need tenure as a way of preserving academic freedom and firing without just cause?  I would argue yes.  Take the case of Dr. Steven Salaita.  Or Professor John McAdams.  Or the cases at the University of Oklahoma, Felician College and the University of Southern Maine.

But even if I haven’t convinced you that these job protections are necessary, that they make universities stronger, let me provide you with personal experience.  As an untenured faculty member since 2009, I’ve held my tongue during committee meetings or departmental meetings for fear of angering the wrong person sitting on my evaluation committee who determines, year after year, whether or not I can be retained.  As an untenured faculty member, I can be and have been exploited by senior faculty and filed no report for fear of termination or retribution.  As an untenured faculty member, I would be less likely to speak publicly regarding these budget cuts and policy changes.  As an untenured faculty member, I wouldn’t be blogging right now.  Tenure isn’t just about job security–it’s about having a voice.

Without tenure, professors everywhere would have little incentive to do controversial work or research, question their own administrators, or file grievances against those who are mistreating them either in terms of harassment or gross misconduct.  I highly doubt Professor Richard Grusin would have called for System President Ray Cross’s resignation had he not had the protection of tenure.

In addition,  if tenure is eliminated or even weakened, who in their right mind will want to work in Wisconsin?  As Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab claimed in a recent Facebook posting, “How does one fight without any rights or protections?? The new provisions make it very easy to close my tiny department and the Lab.”  What she is referring to is the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s first translational research laboratory aimed at identifying new and effective ways to minimize barriers to college completion so that more students can reach their full potential. As Inside Higher Ed notes, “Goldrick-Rab said she passed up a center directorship at an institution in another state several years ago, fearing that shared governance there wasn’t as strong as it was at Madison. But now she’s actively pursuing opportunities elsewhere, she said. ‘I can’t work in an institution without genuine tenure protections and I will not work in academia without shared governance. We cannot protect students’ interests without it.'”  For those not familiar with Professor Goldrick-Rab, to say she is a “star” is an understatement.  She could work anywhere and is currently a Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  To lose her and any of the immensely talented professors in Wisconsin due to this policy change would be criminal.

Lastly, tenure is not just handed down by the tenure fairy.  It is *earned.*  I cannot emphasize that enough.  As Chuck Rybak, Associate Professor of English and Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay states, “Let me put this,  another way, and again, forgive me for the personal tone and reference: tenure is not a perk for me. I did not erroneously stumble into tenure. It was not ‘awarded.’ I earned it. Twice. But more importantly, it is a symbol of my work, skill, and accomplishment. In my professional life, tenure is a source of pride not because I get to sleep on a state yacht, but because it signifies nearly two decades of my life: the study, training, job searches, students and their triumphs, individual and book publications, teaching awards, community work, institutional work, etc. Twenty years of my life and dedication, wiped away with a grudge and a brushstroke. I’m demoralized and, like many of us, wondering, ‘What was all the work for?’ In short, the only people who have done their jobs, who lived up to the promise of the UW, are faculty and staff. This is how we are rewarded. President Cross has said he and the Regents will ‘reinstitute’ tenure. Maybe in name, but not in any form that fulfills the promise and commitments made to us upon being hired (see item #39 in the bill). This is betrayal and it hurts. It has taken its toll on me, my mental health, my ability to focus on my job, my relationships. Have I failed in some way? President Cross, Robin Vos, Alberta Darling, I sincerely ask, where did I go wrong?”

Another faculty member, Mark Karau, Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan stated, “The process to get to tenure is so ridiculously onerous that I feel quite confident in saying that most people who would abuse that privilege will never earn it in the first place. First of all, you have to be willing to spend roughly a decade of your life in graduate school, which is NOT remotely like undergrad. Those who think grad school is just hiding in school for more parties and drinking have NO idea what they are talking about. A doctoral program in particular is an extremely rigorous and difficult journey. There is a reason that the vast majority of those who start such a program never finish it. Then, if you are one of the lucky few who land a tenure track job you are in for another six to seven years of extremely difficult work where you have to, in effect, justify your existence to your department every year by compiling massive amounts of documentation demonstrating your skill in the classroom, your development as a scholar etc. At any point along that spectrum you can simply be let go. All tenure really means is that you no longer have to do that. You are still evaluated on a regular basis, or should be if your school is functioning properly, and can absolutely be removed for negligence or failure. But most people who have successfully navigated that nearly 20 year journey are the kind of people who don’t the need the fear of job loss to do their job well. In fact I will go so far as to say that if you actually do end up having to fire someone who has earned tenure it was your institution that failed. That person most likely should never have earned tenure in the first place.”

So, to be clear, when you see faculty freaking out about the elimination and/or weakening of tenure, please understand we have very good reasons.  You don’t just get tenure by existing for 6-7 years on a campus.  As my partner can attest, I am much happier to live with now that I have tenure, and I worked extremely hard to earn it.  I feel free to speak out against injustices happening in my state or on my campus without fear of losing my job.  I can speak on behalf of untenured colleagues, students, and staff who don’t have those same protections.  Since 2011 and the passage of Act 10, we have seen colleagues resigning from UW institutions at astounding rates.  To say we are hemorrhaging faculty and staff would be an understatement.  My colleague keeps a list of all the faculty and staff who work on our campus on the back of her door.  At the end of the year, she puts an X through the pictures of each who have resigned or retired far before their time.  The list grows every year.  And with these policy changes, that list will grow exponentially.  Vacancies won’t be filled and we will be scrambling to find anyone to teach and work in this state.  That is why yes, my friends.  Changes to tenure are a big f**king deal.

Letter to the Joint Committee on Finance

Senator Darling, Representative Nygren, and members of the Joint Committee on Finance:

Sifting-and-Winnowing-Plaque1My name is Kelly Wilz and I am an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Marshfield/Wood County. I’m sure you have received many letters from faculty members, concerned about how much this budget will devastate their campuses. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the personal stories of how life altering these cuts will be for those who currently work in the UW System. But I know you’re meeting this week to vote on many of the issues proposed in Governor Walker’s budget. So consider this my hope that maybe my words will give you pause to consider how drastic these proposed cuts will be and an attempt to inform you of the irreparable damage the mere proposal of some of these policies has already had across the UW System. Perhaps this is more for me than for you, because at this point, my voice is all I have.

I’ve always taken for granted the educational opportunities afforded to me as a Wisconsinite. In high school, I looked forward to attending my English classes and can still name every book I read in my World Literature seminar. I thought I hated Chemistry until I had two teachers who made it so fun and engaging that not being excited about the periodic table and understanding how the world works was simply impossible. We had nine choirs and an amazing band and orchestra program. Stevens Point Area Senior High was robust in course offerings so that all students could find somewhere they belonged. When I was offered the opportunity in 2009 to work and live and give back to the community that had given me so much, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.

But reality struck as soon as I began working in the UW System: simply put, the Wisconsin I grew up in no longer exists. State support for education has decreased precipitously under Republican and Democratic governors alike—and Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that has not restored public funding for higher education to the level it was before 2009. Instead, year after year, we’ve seen more cuts. When my students’ parents went to college in Wisconsin, they covered 20% of the bill, and the state covered the rest.  Last year my students covered 70% of the bill themselves. Next year, due to proposals in this budget, it will be 80%.

Governor Walker has stated publicly, “Our budget changes are only 2.5 percent of the total UW System operating budget.” Sounds reasonable. But as John Conley clarifies in his article “This Is What Wisconsin’s 2.5% Budget Cut Looks Like,” “the cuts must come from the much smaller part of the budget that can be raised or lowered. In reality, the proposal slashes state support for the university system by 13 percent and includes a 25-percent cut in funding for ‘essential educational functions,’ such as instruction, student advising, and programming.” The majority of the eleven comprehensive campuses are offering faculty and staff buyouts. As UW-Milwaukee faculty member Nick Fleisher points out, “For UW, this is bankruptcy reorganization in all but name.”

Though the budget has not even been passed, people have already lost their jobs, some of our most talented educators have retired or found new jobs, searches to replace those who have left have been frozen, and those positions most likely will not be filled. As UW Rock County Dean Carmen Wilson said in her 20 years with the UW Colleges system, this cut is the most challenging yet, claiming that “‘This cut takes us back to funding levels that we got in 1998, so we are running a 21st-century institution on a 20th-century budget.’ Wilson also noted that ’92 percent of UW Rock County’s budget is for personnel, so there is nowhere else to cut back on expenses. In addition, the campus cannot take more students to increase revenue since admissions already accepts whoever wants to come.'” And, as Noel Radomski argued just today, “It appears likely that the UW System will receive significant state budget cuts, and the UW Colleges will not be spared. Unlike the comprehensive and doctoral campuses, the UW Colleges cannot raise tuition revenue by increasing the number of non-resident and international undergraduates and graduate/professional students. Non-resident undergraduate students make up only a tiny percentage of UW Colleges’ enrollment. The UW Colleges do not offer graduate programs. City, county, and state elected officials view international students as outside the scope of the UW Colleges mission — these campuses are a destination for place-bound students to complete their college education at reduced cost in their local communities.”

In the 2013/15 biennium budget, UW-Marshfield/Wood County reduced its budget by $76,633. In 2014, the UW Colleges cut $2.3 million, and positions were eliminated. Now we’re looking at a $6.7 million cut—about 2 ½ times the previous cut, which will mean more layoffs and even fewer resources for students.

You may have heard that we at the UW Colleges have already had to “shrink administration” to handle the proposed cuts. I want to explain what that means. We aren’t firing Chancellors, or Provosts, or those who work in Central Administration. The title and the article itself are misleading. When discussing “shrinking administration,” we are talking about cuts to campus services that directly impact students—financial aid and advising services, services to veterans, counseling services and many more. And again, with 8 years of cuts and tuition freezes, we’ve already drastically cut services to students, forcing those who still work at these campuses to take on the responsibility of any job that is cut. For example, with every year of budget cuts, we’ve had to cut back on mental health and counseling services. My office hours might as well be counseling sessions. Because when you can only afford to hire a certain number of counselors and they are only there on a certain number of days, you don’t just turn away a student who is having a panic attack, tells you they’re considering committing suicide and hurting themselves or someone else, or close the door to a student who has just been physically or sexually assaulted. You stay with them until you find them help. You listen until they’ve calmed down enough to at least get through the rest of the day. You do what you have to do because you’re human and they literally have nowhere else to go.

I simply can’t imagine what my campus and others will look like next year. Our mission is central to the Wisconsin Idea. The UW Colleges are the UW System’s open door, offering an affordable and accessible option for thousands of students. We offer the first two years of a liberal arts education with an Associate of Arts and Science degree, and six campuses currently offer a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree-completion program. We have the lowest tuition in the UW System and offer students the opportunity to pursue a degree while living in their home community at our campuses, online, or through the UW Flexible Option program. We serve more part-time students, more adult undergraduates, and more first-generation college students than any other UW institution. In fact, 60% of our students are the first in their families to go to college. Students from the UW Colleges graduate from 4-year campuses at a 20% higher rate than any other transfer group, including those from technical schools, private schools, and 4-year campuses. And our students—the Wisconsinites staying within their communities, seeking a college degree to improve their lives and others’ in these communities—are the ones who will be most hurt by these cuts.

For example, the mere proposal of these cuts resulted in the elimination of some academic majors and minors and entire departments and programs. Students are registering for fall courses that may not even exist. One of my former students who is now at a comprehensive UW campus stated that due to the elimination of specific course offerings, only 1 out of the 4 classes she’s signed up for will fulfill a requirement she needs to graduate, so she will have to pay for another year of tuition and another year not in the workforce to graduate and make a better life for herself and her 3 children.

And she is not alone. The ability of all students to graduate on time is at stake. The longer they have to wait to complete their coursework, the more they have to pay, and the longer it takes for them to get into the workforce. The inability to get into required classes is a prime driver of time-to-degree across the country. The conversations we have on our campus at our Curriculum and Budget Committee meetings are solely focused on the bottom line. We have been forced to make decisions regarding which classes to offer not based on student need but whether they will enroll and generate revenue for the campus. This means that instead of talking about what classes students actually need to graduate or what faculty are best suited to offer, we have to make decisions based on what will allow our campus to simply remain open. With 8 years of tuition freezes, the inability to cut from certain areas, and a loss of state funding, we end up cutting in places that simply shouldn’t be touched.

My friends often ask, “If working in the UW System is so horrible, why don’t you leave?” And the answer is that despite budget cuts, low morale, and a paycheck that forces me to seek additional work, I love the UW System and I am committed to my students. I feel incredibly privileged to teach at an institution that embodies what a liberal arts education should be, adding to the number of Wisconsinites who can think, who can communicate, who can be good citizens and get the job done. I love that I’m part of an institution that values teaching, scholarship, and community outreach. And I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated, intelligent, kind, and passionate scholars in the country. I love my job and can’t imagine working anywhere else. Despite what has been the most challenging semester of my teaching career, my students nominated me for the annual Teaching Excellence award this year. And I was not alone. A number of my colleagues won awards as well—one who managed to do an amazing job teaching his courses and publish two books. Because I work amongst some of the best academics in the nation. Tenured faculty who change their syllabus every semester to make it new and exciting to their students. Colleagues who serve as mentors, advisors, counselors, and who have and continue to put the needs of their students before themselves day after day after day. Though the emotional toll is high, they epitomize selflessness. And though every year I’ve seen some of the finest faculty leave UW campuses and universities for greener pastures, Wisconsin is home. This is where I belong.

However, I know I am not alone when I say I am close to my breaking point. Just last week, state employees were informed that our main out-of-pocket health care costs will double next year to avoid the ACA tax on “Cadillac Benefit Plans.” However, unlike other state employees across the nation who have the right to collectively bargain, this decision was just made and will be implemented in January with no say from faculty or staff. I’m hoping, members of the Joint Committee on Finance that, as state workers you also will be paying more for your healthcare next year. You know—solidarity and all.

This, is essentially, yet another pay cut. I will officially make less now as a tenured professor than I did when I started in 2009. In most jobs, your pay is supposed to increase over time—not the other way around. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t make a six figure salary nor will I ever if I spend the rest of my lifetime working in the Colleges. Starting salaries of a professor with a Ph.D. remain at $43,000 and have stagnated. The highest paid professor with a Ph.D. at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, after 23 years of experience and service to our campus, makes $65,521.00.

Most of my colleagues have second jobs, some at other institutions and others in any part time job available. Several who work full time on my campus and at other institutions are eligible for food stamps and reduced priced lunch programs for their children. They live paycheck to paycheck, working as line cooks and waitresses. They continue to pay off student loans and will do so for the next 25+ years at our rate of pay. Just the other day, a tenured faculty member asked if I’d be a reference on her application to Family Video. I bartended for several years during the summer to help pay off my student loans and make sure I didn’t find myself further in debt. As awkward as it was to have my students see me behind a bar, sadly, I couldn’t afford to leave that job because I made more serving alcohol than teaching in the UW System.

What angers me most is that none of this needed to happen. We face a $2.2 billion budget hole for 2015-17 because of $2 billion in tax cuts since 2011. Many simply accept as fact that cuts need to be made to balance the state’s budget. What doesn’t get included in the conversation is the fact that you, our representatives, are choosing to refuse federal funds. If we were to accept the Badgercare Expansion, we’d not only cover 80,000 more people, but much of this “crisis” would go away

“But what happens when the federal government stops paying for the program,” you ask?

Any state can request a waiver that states that after we no longer receive 100% of the funding from the federal government, we can go back to the current situation and not be on the hook for keeping that specific program going. According to the Henry A. Kaiser Family Foundation, “More states are discussing alternative models through waivers as a politically viable way to implement expansion in order to extend coverage and capture federal dollars . . . . To date, five states have received approval of a Section 1115 waiver to implement the Medicaid expansion (Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and most recently Indiana).” These waivers allow the states to implement the Medicaid expansion while also giving them time to figure out how they will fund these programs in the future once they no longer receive 100% of the funding from the federal government. These waivers allow each state to discontinue the program if there are no state monies to fund that particular program once federal money runs out. Wisconsin citizens have been led to believe that this just simply isn’t an option when that is just patently false.

This is also reflected in a report from the Wisconsin Budget Project citing, that “State policymakers could free up $782 million by making three changes: capturing our state’s share of the money Wisconsin taxpayers have been sending to Washington for Medicaid expansions; halting the continued phase-in of an ineffective corporate tax break that has mushroomed in cost; and reallocating $211 million that the bill uses for poorly targeted property tax cuts.”

I don’t understand how these cuts benefit anyone in our state, and it’s an especially hard pill to swallow when these cuts are not only unnecessary, but could have been avoided completely. We are being asked, for yet another year, to do more with less. There is nothing left. State divestment in public education cannot continue. I get it. Defunding public education has become politically easy. As the Nation recently reported, “If states won’t raise taxes or cut back on mass incarceration, gutting higher education becomes the path of least resistance.” But it’s a dangerous path we’ve been walking on for far too long. I urge the Joint Committee on Finance to reject these cuts outright and do what’s best for Wisconsin—for your constituents and everyone you claim to represent. If you have any conscience—any sense of what is right, fair, and just, you will vote against these policies and restore funding to public education. I want to forever call Wisconsin home, but doing more with less, year after year simply wears on the soul. The years of cuts and pummeling the UW System has taken can only go on for so long before what stands for public education in this state only bears a faint resemblance to the robust system in place for so many years. Thank you for your time and consideration. I truly hope you consider these words and the lives of so many when you make your final decisions.

Sincerely,
Kelly Wilz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication/Theatre Arts
UW–Marshfield/Wood County
2000 W. 5th St
Marshfield, WI 54449