3 min read

wtf uw 3: faculty are an impediment

I’m in a position of great privilege: a tenured full professor with solid funding, a history of success in both methodology and collaborative research, and some well-used software packages. So it seems wrong for me to complain about a lack of respect.

When I joined the faculty at UW-Madison in 2007, I felt like the administration had our backs and the state legislators were the only ones to be concerned about. (Even before Act 10, it was clear that state government was not on our side.) But following the attacks on tenure and shared governance, I’ve come to feel that faculty are not viewed as the heart of the university but rather as an impediment to progress, and really as expendable cogs in the university machine.

The previous UW System President Ray Cross was straight up on this point:

Cross compared faculty to railroad brakemen, kept on the job for years after they were no longer needed, he said. “It was for the same reason — a job for life even when that job was no longer necessary.” (Capital Times, 2016-05-09)

The merger of the UW colleges with UW universities was a particularly blatant case of the arrogance of UW System administration — that they know what is best and that there is no need to consult with faculty.

The lack of faculty or staff on the search committee for the new UW System president showed UW Regents’ lack of self-awareness of personal limitations, lack of respect for university faculty and staff experience and expertise, and lack of recognition of the value of diversity on a search committee. Is it any wonder that the committee chose a white male as its single candidate, and one who had been the subject of no-confidence votes at his university?

The small things can be most telling: scheduling meetings at short notice and at some fixed time (“next Tuesday at 2pm”) rather than polling availability, because they don’t actually care if we attend and contribute. Or back when I was working on the proposal for our new PhD program, I was having trouble understanding some of the rules and asked an administrator if we could speak by phone but was told, “No, the phones over here can’t take incoming calls so let’s just handle this by email.”

The faculty develop the educational goals, curriculum, and courses, and we implement those plans, helping students to advance their skills. But the university administration, at least the UW System administration, instead views us like interchangeable middle management — that their high-level view is where the action is. Faculty are just here to carry out their vision, and if it weren’t for tenure they would replace us with something much more efficient.

(By the way, “privilege” is the word I got wrong in my 6th grade spelling bee. I came in second, and my mom was really surprised because my spelling was so bad how could I get 2nd place.)