Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...


Everything but tech support.

0659, 17 May 16

No Confidence

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

The University of Wisconsin System is an integral part of the success of our state. It is not only a primary source of higher education for Wisconsin’s youth, but it is also an economic engine that impacts almost every area of the state. For these reasons, and many others, passions run high whenever changes happen within the system.

That passion is running high right now with the universities’ faculties, as many have passed, or are considering, resolutions expressing their lack of confidence in the leadership of the university system. It started with the faculty of UW-Madison. Then UW-Green Bay and UW-La Crosse followed suit. UW-Eau Claire and other universities are considering doing the same.

While these resolutions do not carry any legal or formal weight, they are an expression of the faculties of those universities. What sparked these resolutions was a change in state law regarding tenure for faculty and the fallout from that change, but the spark set flame to some tinder that has been drying for some time.

Up until a few months ago, Wisconsin was the only state in the union to enshrine tenure protection for UW faculty in the state’s statutes. The Legislature wrote those protections out of the statutes and tasked the UW System leadership with creating tenure protections as a matter of university policy. UW System President Ray Cross and the UW Board of Regents have done just that, but the faculties are not satisfied with the resulting policy. In creating the tenure policy, the UW faculty demanded that tenure protect faculty at all costs — even if their department was eliminated. The Board of Regents’ policy allows for universities to terminate tenured faculty if the university leadership decides to eliminate the position due to educational considerations, comparative costeffectiveness, budgetary concerns and other factors. The faculty wants the university to only consider educational considerations.

Essentially, the faculty wants guaranteed jobs for life, paid for by taxpayers and students, even if there is no longer any justification for their jobs, and even if that means sacrificing other budget priorities like new programs, facilities and safety. The faculty wants tenure to completely insulate them from anything else happening in the world. The Board of Regents wants tenure to protect academic freedom, but allow for universities to take a more holistic approach to staffing decisions.

But the underlying issue is much deeper than just the battle over tenure. At the core is friction over the role of the UW System and the growing frustration that UW has drifted too far from its responsibilities to the citizens of Wisconsin. For decades, the cost of attending UW System universities has risen far more quickly than inflation or the wages of Wisconsinites. At the same time, students and their families, myself included, witness incredible waste on campus in the form of extravagant facilities, required courses of dubious value and courses taught by teaching assistants while professors are unavailable.

While UW faculty are expressing their lack of confidence in their leadership, many citizens of the state they are supposed to serve have lost confidence in the UW System as a whole. Meanwhile, many UW faculty members want impregnable job protections while being paid by taxes and tuition from students and families who enjoy no such protections. If those students lose their jobs, they still have to pay their taxes. They still have to pay off their student loans.

The strength and success of the UW System is incredibly important to Wisconsin, but the definition of success is subject to debate. There is a balance that must be struck in striving for multiple objectives within the reasonable capacity of Wisconsinites to pay.



0659, 17 May 2016


  1. Rufus T. Firefly

    Please provide examples of the “incredible waste on campus in the form of extravagant facilities”.

  2. Rufus T. Firefly

    Still waiting. (Crickets.)

  3. Todd N

    Another conservative hack no nothing that has no actual information but can somehow declare “incredible waste on campus in the form of extravagant facilities”.

    Anyone with half a brain would realize that as state funding for higher ed continues to drop that that lost revenue needs to be made up from somewhere. Fund higher ed and tuition would go down, do the opposite and it should come as no surprise that tuition goes up.

  4. Jason

    Rufus – Please provide examples of the “incredible waste on campus in the form of extravagant facilities”.

    I’m just following the example of the current leading loudmouthed ignorant liberal turd (Baldy, that’s you since I know you won’t understand this)…

    Here’s your example and citation…,,

    “I gave you multiple places to look up information. If you pass up the opportunity you are the only one that loses. Knowledge can set you free.”

    There, very helpful right? Too bad that Old Baldy won’t understand.

  5. Rufus T. Firefly

    I guess this is your way of confirming that Owen and you are blowing smoke out of your … The challenge was to ID a wasteful building project on a UW campus. You flunked.

  6. old baldy


    You hit the nail right on the head. jason doesn’t tolerant new information that upsets his narrow world view. And he wants others to do his homework for him.

  7. John Foust

    Slim on facts and reason. Drag out the “jobs for life” phrase du jour; apply it to all faculty even though half of them aren’t even tenure-track, ignore the actual numbers for past, present, and future tenure-track faculty, ignore the rise of the use of adjuncts. Ignore the actual intense competition for positions, within the UW and from outside, but tell the public it’s the faculty who are ignoring your world.

    Ignore any reason why universities have evolved the policy and form they have, suppress what should be a natural conservative tendency to not change existing structure without cause and careful study. Ignore centuries of teaching practice. If you can’t ridicule their classroom time, ridicule their office hours. Imply things would be so much better if class sizes were increased, office hours expanded (please, do the math), and fewer tenure-track positions existed.

    Ignore the evidence that political considerations might drive the first positions proposed to be on the chopping block. Ridicule the cushy buildings built with hard-won donations, at the same time praise the public-private partnerships.

    Stack the Regents with the Governor’s supporters, then offer their opinions as hard evidence, while ridiculing the mere consensus opinion of those actually doing the work at the UW. Let a few elected vicious monkeys from Racine and Juneau rip random wires under the hood and expect no effect on the performance of the educational and economic engine.

  8. old baldy


    Great post. Thanks.

    Your comment, “suppress what should be a natural conservative tendency to not change existing structure without cause and careful study”, is really telling about the so-called conservatives of today. They aren’t conservatives, but anarchists. Bill Kraus has been saying that for years. Thanks.

  9. John Foust

    My tinfoil-hat pet-theory is that before Walker is out, the WisGOP will shut down the two-year UW colleges. It’s the first project Ray Cross set in motion. They’re already strangling them with inept regionalization of administration, and when enrollments drop, they’ll have an excuse to close them.

    Those campus properties are owned by their counties, not the state, and the counties will be eager to flip the properties to, oh, the nearest branch of a for-profit Phoenix University or Upper Iowa University.

    These two-year campuses generally have a tech school nearby with much better facilities and a budget ten times the size of their two-year UW neighbor. They’ll merge the two, first disbanding the tech school and their much-despised taxing authority, but retaining the UW brand for the new entity, then diluting the value of a two-year UW degree by merging them with two-year tech school degrees.

    They’ll fire all the tech school staff and make them reapply, thereby lowering their much-maligned too-high salaries, and the pool of likely applicants is larger because all the two-year UW teachers were already out of a job.

  10. old baldy


    I tend to agree with your future theory. Guess only time will tell.

Pin It on Pinterest